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Tactics: The operative

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

GROVE INSIGHT
www.groveinsight.com
FOUNDED: 1996, Portland
EMPLOYEES: 4
DIVISIONS: Green Insight, reports on trends in the sustainability market

LisaGrove
LISA GROVE, founder of Grove Insights.

It was in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980s where Lisa Grove — today a political strategist and pollster but back then a fresh, idealistic Lewis & Clark graduate — learned a key commandment of the political game, and one that would later shape the success of her Portland-based political consulting firm. “It’s not issues; it’s politics,” she remembers being told after asking fellow pollsters what issues they were working on. “I realized that the issues are a vehicle to help get people elected. I was scoffing at that and then, of course, became part of it.”

Grove worked with two of the nation’s largest polling firms before returning to Oregon to found Grove Insights in 1996. In ensuing years, Grove says the company has racked up the highest win/loss ratio in the nation for initiatives it’s worked on: 58/8. Over the past 15 years the firm has also worked with probably every major Democratic name in the Pacific Northwest: Kulongoski, Gregoire, Wu, Hooley, DeFazio, Blumenauer, Wyden — the list stretches from the national level all the way down to Portland politics.  And as the list has grown, Grove has become what some Salem insiders say is one of the most powerful non-elected people in Oregon politics.

For many political strategists, the difference between personal politics and business is irrelevant. But for Grove, her personal ideals have inexorably shaped the work she does, and conversely shaped the success and limitations of her business. Travel back to the 1960s in Beaverton,  and you’ll find a young girl walking the streets with her education-activist mother knocking on doors and advocating for school bond measures. Travel forward in time and you find a consultancy firm that works exclusively with left-of-center candidates and issues. Which, obviously, eliminates half of its potential business.

It sounds antithetical to basic business practices, but it’s been a smart move. While Grove says it’s hard not think about the lost work, limiting the business scope has allowed Grove and her team to create what she sees as a boutique firm — a company that has a hands-on, often personal relationship with candidates. Other factors have helped push her firm forward: Following Sept. 11 and the last two presidential elections, politicians began seeing a disconnect between the major Washington, D.C.-based polling firms and what people were actually thinking in the rest of the country. Grove, with her inside-the-Beltway street cred but West Coast location, has been in a prime spot to capitalize.

No matter what the politics or the location, at the end of the day, Grove Insight has one major metric that defines its success: Election Day. What happens on that day determines everything else.

“It’s always about winning. People pay attention to the win/loss,” Grove says. “I think our success has had everything to do with winning.”

ABRAHAM HYATT


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Power Play

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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

In this issue, we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not just about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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