The Thin Line with Lobbying

Recently lobbying has gained a whole load of currency (no pun intended) in the Indian market, with Ms. Radia in the news for probably perceived incorrect reasons. Lobbying has been defined in many ways and has a huge history. The common definition of lobbying is that it seeks to influence decisions made by governments or legislators for specific interest groups or institutions or groups of people. In fact in many countries, lobbying is not such a “bad” term as sometimes referred to in India and in some it is even the fundamental right of every citizen. For example the ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Lobbyists actually use time spent with legislators to explain the goals of the organizations they represent and the obstacles elected officials face when dealing with issues, to clients. At its fundamental level lobbying is just another way of communicating your point of view, to people who could make a difference.

Lobbying is not inherently good or bad. It is one of the tools that we all use to represent ourselves. Great leaders lobby entire populations when they speak; President Obama’s recent talk at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India comes to mind or even his election victory speech “yes, we can”. Non government and non-profit organizations use lobbying routinely to further their cause, whether its land rights, equal opportunity, cure for AIDS etc. Similarly profit-making organisations (who are also large employers and play a big role in society) use lobbying to see the best way to represent their interests. The question is where does lobbying end and where does manipulation begin. The US has a good history of keeping lobbying professional, protected and useful. Thus even while the first amendment protects the right of every citizen in the US to lobby the government for any cause,  at the same time there is public disclosure of lobbying efforts. India could similarly professionalize the business, to avoid confusion. Systems need to be introduced to efficiently manage lobbying in a transparent and open manner. Of course money and numbers are often going to influence, but systems can be set to protect the process, like is done with the Singapore government. In all cases, the best solution is to have leaders and followers with high standards and ethics – perhaps a bit too idealistic eh!

So do organizations need to lobby? In my opinion there no real substitute for dedicated hard work, smart solutions and a focused approach to ones talents, career or business. Nevertheless there are times when, while you are focused on doing what you do best, you still need to communicate what you do, to either enlarge the playing field, rope in a wider audience or to even just share your vision. This is where good communication strategists can step in, so that you may carry on doing what you do best – which is focus on your talent, skill, career or business; while the specialist can look at how to best position and communicate that.

Then there is another question that comes up for the individual. Is lobbying required within corporations to move up the ladder? Lobbying within organizations often depends on the corporate culture of the company you work in. Though it often does help to effectively communicate your good work to your colleagues, superiors and partners; at the same time if you are only seen as someone “tom-toming” ones work, you could get labeled as a “show off” or people could get fatigued from your personal communications. Lobbying or not, there is no substitute for a genuine and heart filled approach. People can often subtly pick up a person’s genuineness from their tone, manner and behavior. As a brand strategist that is my overriding counsel to my clients: to say what you say in a genuine manner, just the way you feel about it, with honesty and uprightness.

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