Waging a campaign for political talent – Think Twice

Waging a campaign for political talent – Think Twice – Biography

Todd Raphael

Senator John Kerry, perhaps the next president of the United States, wouldn’t be good for business, couldn’t make up his mind about whether he was for or against the Iraq invasion, but doggone it, he knows how to run a workforce.

The Bostonian–a recipient of a Silver and Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in the military–ought to get something for his recruiting and workforce-management efforts, which have resulted in his being the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many of the techniques Kerry has used to get the most well-known and experienced campaigners on his team have parallels to corporate America. Included in the Massachusetts senator’s bag of tricks:

Training potential employees. Like a corporation that trains employees for projects that the company may not even be able to afford right now, Kerry isn’t waiting until his employees have something to do before putting them to work. He’s using his political action committee to train future campaign workers and then relocating them throughout the United States to work on other campaigns, according to the Boston Globe. Jamil Khan, political consultant for the Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group, which has advised campaigns around the world, says that this is “both an effective and smart thing to do. The Kerrys of the world get to send their young talent to other campaigns to learn the ropes and make their rookie mistakes. By the time their own campaigns roll around, they’ve got a cadre of trained staff ready to go.”

Flouting conventional wisdom by letting people know you’re a winner. Many candidates play the “expectations game.” They talk up all the reasons why they’re underdogs, and then when they get only 17 percent of the vote, they try to convince everyone they’re superstars for surpassing expectations. Kerry’s message, on the other hand, was that if you want to work for a winner like Microsoft or Dell, come work for me. Kerry tells me that he wanted not only to win the primaries a year from now but also be “first out of the starting gate” right now, in order to attract top talent. This strategy has enabled him to sign on a combination of Gore/Lieberman veterans, top money people from Michael Dukakis’s campaign, top senate operatives, and Democratic graybeards. “The end result has been that he definitely has the highest-grade staff of all the presidential candidates right now,” says Josh Kurtz, political editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

Hiring people before there’s work for them. Woe be to the company that waits until the economic expansion picks up speed later this year to recruit or re-recruit the top talent in its industry. Candidates who snooze will lose. While Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman was waiting to decide if he was going to run or not, Kerry signed top Democratic operatives. “This campaign moved early and aggressively to try to lock up the very best talent in the Democratic party,” he says, adding that he looked for people throughout the country who believed–as he does–that President Bush is sending the nation in the wrong direction. Kerry’s signees include Chris Lehane, who was a spokesman for then-Vice President Gore in the 2000 campaign, as well as top political consultant Robert M. Shrum. Rumor has it that Kerry has been paying some people to sit around and do nothing–not such a bad strategy if it keeps key people from working for your competitors.

Extending the workplace culture to recruits. Last fall and winter, Kerry began connecting with potential staffers before he officially announced a run for the White House. He invited prospective campaign employees to his Georgetown mansion for get-togethers. Kerry got to meet people who could be working for him, and potential campaigners were made to feel a part of the process before they were on board.

John Kerry is a liberal who is married to Teresa Heinz, a millionaire thanks to her family’s ketchup company. The race for the nomination may come down to Kerry, the more conservative Joe Lieberman, and Florida Senator Bob Graham. All have reputations for being relatively well liked, hardworking, honest, experienced, and knowledgeable. That brings us to Kerry’s edge in the talent sweepstakes and reminds us of what Carly Fiorina says about workforce management: “People make up the business, and the business with the best people wins the competitive battle.” Kerry’s people will leave Lieberman and Graham at an enormous disadvantage, the same place workforce-management kings like Google, the New York Yankees, and Starbucks have left their competitors.

COPYRIGHT 2003 ACC Communications Inc.

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