I was recently reminded of an activity that I’ve participated in years ago: visiting Capitol Hill. If you’ve never done this before, the Society for Human Resource Management usually coordinates visits during their SHRM Volunteer Leaders’ Summit and Employment Law & Legislative Conference.
It’s always interesting to chat with people about going to Capitol Hill and meeting with legislators. I remember talking with someone who said that she wished she had known sooner how valuable it was because she had always been afraid to go because she didn’t feel prepared. I can totally relate.
Visiting Capitol Hill should not be a scary experience. Our legislators want to hear from HR. So, for those who have never visited Capitol Hill, or it’s been a long time, let me demystify the process a little.
Plan to meet with both Democrats and Republicans
First things first – meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. At no point will anyone require you to produce your Voter ID card or ask for your political party status. These meetings are about business. Specifically, how proposed legislation will impact your organization and your ability to recruit, engage and retain talent in the workplace. That doesn’t change based upon who you’re talking to.
If anything, it can be very enlightening to hear a political view different from our own. In HR, we’re used to hearing different points of view (POV) all the time.
SHRM handles all of the details!
I can’t speak for other organizations, but if you go to Capitol Hill with the SHRM Government Affairs team, they handle all the little details. The last time I went to Capitol Hill, here’s what happened:
- There was a webinar prior to arriving in Washington to go over what will happen on the day of the Capitol Hill visit.
- On the day of the visit, we were given time to meet with the other HR pros from our state. SHRM provided a high level debrief of the specific issues we will be discussing with legislators.
- SHRM gave each participant talking points about the legislative issues and a summary of data about your state (population, demographics, etc.) I didn’t have much homework beyond reading a few pages.
- SHRM also provided us with a notebook which includes the same talking points that you can leave at the legislator’s office. So, they can review the details at their leisure.
- Lastly, all of the logistics were handled by SHRM. We were bussed over to the Capitol (and back), given a couple bucks in lunch money, and an umbrella because the weather was unpredictable.
When I tell you SHRM makes sure you’re prepared, I’m not kidding! It was incredibly organized. Kudos to them for sweating the small stuff. It really allows us to focus on the conversations.
Build relationships with staffers
During my last visit, I spoke with my two Senators and one Representative. Well, let me clarify, I spoke with the staffers of my two Senators and one Representative. There was a vote going on in the House of Representatives, so my Congresswoman needed to be there. Totally understandable. But from a timing perspective, it was three appointments in a single morning.
I know some people were disappointed that they didn’t get to meet with their elected official. While I wouldn’t have turned down the chance to meet them, the important part was having my POV heard. And I believe that happens with staffers. They are responsible for being the subject matter experts (SME) and advising the legislator. No different than what happens in our organizations – the CEO looks to us as the SME in HR.
One voice can be powerful
Another comment I often hear about going to Capitol Hill is that it’s a waste of time because “my legislator isn’t going to listen to me.” I completely understand. But I do try to balance my frustration with the reality that I cannot expect my legislator to have an epiphany after one 30-minute conversation.
I would challenge people to think about their visiting to Capitol Hill this way: On this particular day, SHRM organized over 400 people to visit Congress. We came at the same time to talk about the same issues. To organize such an effort speaks volumes about the role that HR professionals want to play in legislation that impacts business.
There’s an old saying that “In Washington, you’re either ‘at the table’ or ‘on the menu.’” The point being that HR needs to be at the table – the advocacy table. Today’s business issues are human resources issues. If we don’t make our voices heard, we cannot impact change in our organizations. Washington needs our leadership. Get involved.
Oh, and P.S. If you’re planning to attend SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conferencein March 2019, plan to visit Capitol Hill. You’ll be glad you did.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Miami, FL17