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Last week the Conservative party donor and venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft found himself at the centre of a storm over a report on labour law that he had prepared for the UK government. Is it worthwhile for business people to get involved in government-related projects if the potential for backlash is so strong? Or should more executives be willing to offer their help to the public sector when asked?
The strategist: Brian Millar
You need to remember that you are dealing with politicians who deal in ideals and ideologies. These are increasingly valuable commodities to companies, too; customers are making choices partly based on a business’s values.
So, the key is be judicious about getting involved. If an initiative perfectly matches your company’s values, then your contribution can add weight to your brand. But if there is even the slightest chance that the message could go awry or that your agenda could be overwhelmed by political expedience, then you should make your excuses and run from Portcullis House by the nearest fire escape.
The writer is director of strategy at Sense Worldwide
The academic: Roger Martin
Executives have the potential to bring valuable insights to the public sector but only if they calibrate their approach to the political context. The difficulty is when business people forget that their tools were designed for a different world and attempt to jam their usual methods into a government problem like a square peg into a round hole – think of how former Ford executive Robert McNamara operated as US defence secretary during the Vietnam war.
By contrast, entrepreneurs such as Sir Ronald Cohen and Jeff Skoll have been able to bring about important changes in social entrepreneurship policy and practice by adapting their tools to the public sector context.
The writer is dean of the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto and author of Fixing the Game
The consultant: Andrew Hooke
It is vital that business leaders continue to take part in government-related projects.
Business leaders such as Adrian Beecroft can offer a valuable, diverse opinion, and raise issues in a clear and thought-provoking way that no one else can. Private sector executives can put important ideas on to the agenda and instigate change in a way few other members of society can.
But business leaders need to understand the complexity of delivering in a public sector context. Contributing to government projects will always be worthwhile and more people from the business community should be prepared to put themselves forward.
The writer is chief operating officer and head of the government practice at PA Consulting
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