Bridging the Gaps Between Private and Public Sector - In conversation with Alexandra M. Hughes

3 min readFeb 12, 2024
Photo on Pexels by Walter Saravaia

From navigating regulatory processes to motivating elected and appointed leaders to help move a project forward, many businesses work with the public sector in a wide variety of ways. Due to its unwieldy and bureaucratic nature, working with the government can be daunting, especially for companies trying to navigate the complicated regulatory and legal landscape. These two sectors seem widely different, whether they’re working together or in opposition; however, in reality, they are two sides of the same coin.

We’re in conversation with Alexandra Hughes, a strategic executive navigator who knows how to align various stakeholders and navigate obstacles throughout the public and private sector industries. From her 20-plus years of experience in government communications and policymaking, Alex has earned a reputation as an effective communicator and no-nonsense strategist.

Transitioning from a government leadership role into consulting for corporate and institutional clients requires a unique skill set. Could you share an example from your experience where you successfully transferred your skills and expertise from the government sector to help a client better navigate a complex problem toward success?

“One of my clients was under the impression that they needed new legislation developed in order for their company to implement a high-level strategic goal, adopted by their Board of Directors. They spent dozens of hours of meetings and outside legal consultation to try to draft the perfect piece of legislation — spending significant corporate investment and staff time along the way. In reality, they needed to think outside of the box and work backwards from the goal they were trying to achieve. Their strategic corporate goal could work within the existing law if they just thought about it in a different way and had a different approach in the discussions with regulators. Much of corporate America misunderstands the pace at which government works and how it tackles legislation, often having a tendency to be unrealistic about what is possible.

“Fundamentally, the private sector and the public sector are operate in a very similar way — people sitting in a room, spit balling ideas about what they think should happen — but they struggle to understand one another and use language to communicate to make themselves understood by the other. The more you can identify the connective tissue between the two, the more successful you’ll be at bridging the gap between them.

“Many of my clients have concerns about the unpredictability of government. They think all these processes are clearly laid out, but government is incredibly unpredictable in terms of timeliness, process, and costs. Elected leaders are not very different from private sector leaders: they can move very quickly when things are prioritized and they understand the value to their constituents and their goals. But it is important to frame the issue and the priority in a way that provides additive value from their perspective — not just yours. The more upfront you can be with one another, the better off the result. On both sides of the spectrum, I find that people use a lot of words, believing that that leads to better understanding by the other party. It does not.

“Governments, like large corporations, are often siloed. So, if you have a project that touches multiple government agencies, and there’s no one individual focused solely on your priority, how do you frame your work to ensure success?

“Oftentimes, the more upfront you can be in communicating with the public sector, the clearer the process will be. If you can build outside pressures, either in the media or community organizations or other influential voices, the more likely you are for success.

“I advise companies about to deal with the government that it’s all about clear and direct goal setting. The more that you can tell somebody about something specific that you want and why you want it, the better. Though government processes can be lengthy, you want to be clear and concise when you frame ideas — effective communication is the best bet.”

Thanks for sharing, Alex.




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