I’ve been advocating for my industry in Washington, D.C., for almost 20 years. It’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my job as a chief compliance officer.
I remember my first congressional visit. Of course, I was nervous, but the association that I was working with assured me that I would be fine because one of the organization’s legislative team members would go with me to see my district’s congressman and my two senators.
That morning we had a brief breakfast meeting where we reviewed our industry’s leading concerns. I was handed a folder that contained three issues, each on a single page with bulleted talking points, a map of Capitol Hill and an agenda with all my contact names on it. And just as we were leaving to go to our first appointment, the person who was assigned to go with me got a call. He turned to me and said he had an important meeting that he couldn’t miss and that I had this. “Had what?” I asked. He told me the appointments were all set, the agenda was in my folder, and I could use the map to find my way around.
This was my very first trip to Washington, D.C. I’d never even been there as a tourist. My first appointment was with a U.S. senator. I think my handler could read my body language, which probably looked like someone who just came face to face with a grizzly bear. He told me to relax. He said that no one knows my industry better than I did and that my senators and congressman need me to share my story with them on these pieces of legislation. They needed me. That helped. But I was still nervous.
During my first visit, I recall stuttering and stammering until Senator Pryor asked me the effect one of the pieces of legislation would have on my business. I went from being nervous to being passionate. That is when I realized he did depend on me to share my personal story. He was genuinely interested in hearing my opinion and working with me to learn more to help him craft the best legislation he could for his constituents.
After that visit, I was on fire to get to my next appointment, and the one after that, and the one after that. By the end of the day, I wished I could talk to more legislators. It turned out to be one of the most fulfilling days in my career.
As we built relationships with our legislators over the years, we started inviting them to come to visit our locations so they could see our business firsthand to help them better understand the impact the legislation that they were working on would have on our industry.
In Arkansas, we have had Senators Mark Pryor, Tom Cotton, John Boozman, and Congressman Steve Womack in the plant. Sen. Boozman and Congressman Womack have been in the plant multiple times now, which has helped strengthen our relationship with them and their staff. (Getting to know the staff is an essential component in effective advocacy.)
I enjoyed my first congressional visits in D.C. so much that I hadn’t missed a year until COVID-19 hit. Even with the COVID-19 issues, we were able to arrange our congressional visits via Zoom meetings. Those visits, although not as much fun as the in-person visits on Capitol Hill, turned out to be highly productive.
In one day, we visited with Sen. Lankford, Sen. Inhofe, and Congressman Hern, all of Oklahoma, and Sen. Boozman and Congressman Womack of Arkansas. The visits were good, and I never had to leave my office.
I joined SHRM in 2008, and a few years later I started going to D.C. for my industry. Not long after that, I started getting involved with SHRM’s A-Team through my local SHRM chapter because many of the issues that SHRM was advocating for also impacted my industry.
Working with SHRM and its vast resources helped me become a subject matter expert in HR-related matters we needed to address with our legislators. SHRM’s philosophy of policy, not politics addresses issues that directly affect the workplace—yours and mine.
If your local SHRM chapter has a legislative affairs committee, I highly recommend getting involved. It’s a great way to learn more about the legislative process while advocating for your business as you learn more about HR-related policy. It will raise your level of expertise.