In this article we invite you to walk a mile in a minister’s shoes - hopefully a nicely crafted pair of heels - and through understanding better their motivations discover how to better work alongside them.
Have you ever thought you don’t understand the decisions ministers take? Sometimes they didn’t seem to really care about the people; other times it felt like they were not willing to go the extra mile or put up a fight. Some ministers seem not to understand the public sector or completely ignore the abundant evidence pointing in the other direction.
To quote our own Toni Alva upon finding herself Minister for Finance in Peru,
“things were not straightforward”.
As a minister, you do have lots of power to implement reforms, however you also have a number of constraints to consider such as:
The reaction of unions
Political parties… in extremis they can impeach you
Legitimacy of the government in general, and
Noise from social media.
This means most days, ministers are striking a delicate balance between what is feasible, what will have political support and what is technically correct - a delicate balance that can from a distance, or on a bad day look like a fiasco.
Here are some useful tips to have a more productive working relationship with your minister:
Diagnose your minister carefully to have more success in influencing them
For example, if your minister is already a strong believer in evidence-based policy-making ,you should focus on putting the most detailed and rigorous case before them. However ,this will be entirely lost on a minister who does not know the sector at all, and who may be more strongly swayed by showing how popular a policy would be. Similar changes of tack would be required when looking at different ministers’ motivations, their existing understanding of the public sector, their leverage within the cabinet and the strength of their political connections.
Bring them solutions, not problems or just ideas
It is worth thinking about the practicalities of your work with ministers. An average minister’s day is not for the faint-hearted: back-to-back meetings will always make brevity important in a ministerial briefing - shorter will nearly always be better.
Similarly it is important to bring solutions; many elements of a minister’s day will involve hearing about problems or big ideas - you will stand out if you can succinctly guide them to the action they can take to have an impact.
Understand the landscape around the Minister
Bear in mind the landscape around the minister. You need to understand who influences them in their taking of decisions - a trusted chief of staff can give your proposal the platform and support it needs.
Speak to their passions
Pay heed to the other roles and responsibilities a minister has and how they interact - a health minister for example is not just CEO of the Health Ministry but can simultaneously be a legislator, a constituency representative, a party grandee, a cabinet member or just a person with a family and hobbies. You should always consider whether the minister may respond better to one of your solutions if it also speaks to their passions in one of these other roles.