February 18, 2016
Thomas Edison once said, “Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.”
Most elected officials and government appointees would probably agree.
Time is a precious commodity, particularly in government service. Wasting it is neither appreciated nor easily forgotten. From the moment many officials step into their office (and sometimes before) until they leave, they often are booked solid. If they have a great scheduler, they may get to eat lunch and take a few bathroom breaks on lighter days!
Officials and appointees often do their reading, writing, genuine thinking, and “real work” outside of normal business hours, because it is uninterrupted.
They are generally pleased to meet with constituent groups; however groups should always be respectful of time. On average, most groups receive around 15-to-30 minutes for a meeting, so it should be used advantageously. First, do not be late. It is disrespectful, may subconsciously indicate a lack of commitment to the cause, and can either back up the official’s day or prevent the group from receiving the full meeting time.
A group’s poor organizational skills are no excuse for impacting someone else’s schedule. Prepare for security lines. Plan for getting lost. Add extra time for parking. Furthermore, a group running late should always call the office (with the number they kept readily available just in case of emergencies).
It is also a good idea to arrive a few minutes early, but not too early. Most government offices do not have much of a waiting area, if any, so lingering voices can become a distraction for the staff trying to work. When several busier Hill staff were asked about day-of requests to bump meeting times up, most preferred groups sticking with the original time. If a group wants to check if the meeting can be moved earlier – even if the meeting is with staff – calling or emailing is preferable to simply showing up.
With that said, prepare to wait. Hearings run long. Problems emerge. Things come up. Officials and appointees do not want to keep a group waiting any more than the group wants to be waiting. If this happens, and multiple meetings are on the group’s schedule, they should be prepared to divide up to avoid being late for other appointments.
When meeting start, “Wisconsin Nice” requires exchanging pleasantries, but it usually behooves groups to keep introductions short, such as highlighting constituents and explaining the purpose of the meeting.
Some leaders will initiate with a “what brings you in today?” Others would love to discuss deer hunting or the Packers for 15 minutes and consider the meeting a success, especially if the alternative topic is not as appealing. The group must remember the meeting’s purpose and help guide the conversation when needed.
To stay on point and time, groups may find working from a prepared agenda helpful, even if they do not share it.
Finally, recognize when the meeting is over. If a staff person gives any cues, the scheduler walks in and out, or the voting bell rings, wrap it up. If the official wants more, he or she will indicate it. If the scheduler or aide makes a second move, close faster – even consider standing. Trust the staff – they play the bad cop role for a reason.
We all have 24 hours in our day. When an official or appointee makes time for a group, that is time they could be spending doing something else, so respect it by planning ahead and making the meeting worth everyone’s time.