Avoid Reinventing the Wheel on Capitol Hill

Welcome back to this series of excerpts from my new research report Thrill on the Hill: How to Turn Congressional Testimony into Public Policy Success.


Some organizations—far too many in my experience—make themselves victims of lost opportunity when it comes to testifying on Capitol Hill. At the conclusion of the event, they heave a sigh of relief, put it behind them, then scramble on to the next panic attack.

On the other hand, the organizations that seem to come out on top time after time are the ones that devote energy and effort to learning from their successes and their mistakes at the witness table.

Your next Congressional testimony opportunity may well depend upon the relationships you build over time. Cultivate these relationships with care. “If you’ve properly built rapport with members, do follow-up visits so you’ll be invited to testify in future,” urges public affairs veteran Michael Hogan.

Plan, Do, Check, Act, Gear, Process, Business, Strategy

Modeling today’s testimony to benefit tomorrow’s should be par for the course. Says one respondent to our survey of Congressional testimony experts, “We can pull from ‘best practices,’ see what people best responded to, and take out anything that maybe didn’t play as well. We can also make responses to questions stronger depending on how it went.”

This research discovered a troubling note with regard to the importance of past testimony review. The two questions in our survey that dealt with improvement strategies were skipped by more respondents than any others. Could it mean that debriefing efforts and attention to improvement over time are given short shrift? Clearly more research is needed before offering a definitive conclusion. It does, however, bear monitoring as this would be a most troubling sign. Be sure not to let your organization and your witness fall victim to this failure.

With that said, how can you use today’s testimony as a learning experience for tomorrow? Rule number one is to ask yourselves the really tough and sometimes discomfiting questions. Consider these specifics:

  • Were our advance preparations good enough?
  • Was our witness’ performance up to par or do we need to look for someone else next time?
  • Did our government relations team put together an airtight case?
  • Was our communications team up to the job of crafting the oral statement?
  • How did we do at building relationships with key members of Congress and their staffs?
  • What are our allies and opponents saying about us now?
  • How was our reputation aided (or hindered) by our appearance?
  • Did we pay enough attention to debriefing our performance so that we can do better the next time?

Yes, these questions may cause some of your team to squirm. Some of them may verge on painful, but think of it this way: Would you rather inflict a little anxiety in the short term or subject your company to a reputational hit from which it may take years to recover?

Okay, your turn. What other questions do you ask when debriefing your testimony?


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