Turning a Public Affairs Function into a Community

29 Jan, 2018

Turning a Public Affairs Function into a Community

Alan Hardacre, Head of Group Corporate Affairs, Imperial Brands

Anywhere between three and 1,000 people dispersed across different countries can constitute a global public affairs function. While for many companies this might feel like an achievement in itself (it often is), it’s only half the journey. The true challenge lies in pulling this group of people together so that the sum is greater than the parts, all within a function that is inherently local and regional in scope and activity.

The motivation for tackling this challenge is the huge potential pay-off. Ultimately, the belief is that a public affairs community (or “ecosystem,” if you prefer) can deliver more for the business – especially in terms of greater commercial benefit. This can be accomplished by leveraging existing expertise, energy and contacts across the function more effectively. For example, by motivating and engaging people in something bigger than themselves, you effectively create a professional work environment that people want to be part of. Sharing best practices further drives greater effectiveness across the function. The incentives to take on this challenge are clear.

At Imperial Brands, we embarked on this journey nine months ago. We believe that the future of our public affairs function is intrinsically linked to the success of this community building initiative. So what have we done and learned so far? Let me share our top 5 actions and takeaways:

Top 5 things we are doing:

  • Surveyed and polled our public affairs community to ensure we hear everyone’s voice on what building a Community means to them
  • Developed a structure of working groups (senior leaders, communications, talent) to pull people together and foster a sense of collaboration
  • Developed a public affairs-specific Employee Value Proposition to articulate what sets our function apart
  • We will hold our first Global Public Affairs conference with everyone in the function attending
  • We are looking to launch a dedicated public affairs App to try and use technology to drive our community

Top 5 things we have learned so far:

  • Building a community is a journey. It takes time, and you can’t do everything at once. You need a clear plan that is built from the bottom-up, and includes all stakeholders who will be involved throughout the process
  • We are discovering a 30-30-30 rule. 30 percent of our staff are highly supportive and engaged, 30 percent need to be persuaded, and 30 percent tend to resist change.
  • Not having functional reporting lines is a major constraint on the ability to build your community – it leaves you at the good will of others at critical junctures.
  • You can’t expect to build a community virtually – face time matters.
  • Co-creation is a very empowering process that actively involves staff in shaping the global function.

We are proud of the progress we have made on this journey, and of the feedback we are already receiving. While we recognize that moving from a centrally-driven community to a self-sustaining ecosystem will not be an easy feat, we are excited about the potential for our global function. We would love to hear from anyone on a similar journey or with experiences to share!