I regularly watch the television show Shark Tank. The basic premise involves entrepreneurs going before a group of potential investors, or sharks, who are considering investing in their company. Of course, with that investment often comes giving up a percentage of their company to the investor. I’m sure for many of you, the thought that would cross your mind is, “Not only would I be skeptical of giving up part of my revenue, but I would hate giving up control to someone who doesn’t understand my business like I do.”
Fair point, but what if I told you that whether you realized it or not, there was already a “shark” involved in your company? One that dictates how you hire employees, how you operate your business, what products you sell and of course takes a healthy share of the profits, all while never showing up to your place of business to have a sit down and learn about your company.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the federal government.
And I write this column today not to simply remind you of all of the ways that government impacts your business. My purpose is to ask you to reconsider your view of your role in engaging our government. Why aren’t we addressing the challenges that government lays before us with the same vigor that we would handle when addressing an issue with a key vendor or customer that might end up hurting our bottom line?
I have the distinct privilege of serving as your representative in Washington, D.C., and I absolutely love my job (you can debate amongst yourselves what that says about me) and I am not suggesting that you all pack up, head to Washington and register as federal lobbyists. Trust me, there’s enough of us already. What I am suggesting is that there are things that we can all do to engage with the government, and given its impact upon our businesses, we would be negligent if we didn’t make some effort.
So what can we do?
• Attend the HARDI Congressional Fly-In in Washington, D.C. (May 19-20). This isn’t just a shameless plug for an event that I’m a part of. This is an opportunity to make a real difference. There is strong power and influence in having a large group of folks from our industry talking to a large number of legislators on Capitol Hill. Look at it this way; in a good day on the Hill, I may be able to visit seven offices. Last year, HARDI Fly-In attendees visited more than one-third of the entire Congress (approximately 180 members). That’s a huge number, and it only stands to strengthen our voice. Lest you think you need to be a policy expert, you do not. The only thing you need to be an expert on is your business.
• Invite elected officials to visit your workplace. Elected officials are often looking for ways to do outreach in their respective states or districts. One of their favorite things to do is take a tour of a business. This allows them to meet employees, learn about companies in their backyard and get a nice photo-op. This gives you the chance to establish a relationship with a member of Congress and their staff (who are arguably more important). You will have the chance to bend their ear about something that is affecting you and it costs nothing. Every HARDI member company should put out an invitation to a member of Congress or their staff.
• Talk to your employees. According to an article in The Hill [a publication that covers Capitol Hill], a recent study stated 31 percent of respondents ranked their employers as the most credible sources on politics and public policy issues; 53 percent said company management or an employer should be active in promoting public policies that are favorable to the industry and the company’s economic success; and 63 percent said the information shared by their employers made them more likely to vote.
“The employer should never tell their employees how to vote, but they can be very effective messengers in educating and informing them about how both politics and public policy directly affect the markets and our system of free enterprise,” the study said.
There are 8,760 hours in a year. I contend that if we take a few of those hours and dedicate them to improving a system that takes more than 40 percent of your revenues and dictates how you operate your companies, our industry would be better served. To ignore these issues borders on negligence and could leave us swimming with the sharks.