Marketers should be the orchestrators of a company’s strategy, responsible for leading an organization to find the perfect intersection between customer needs and a company’s cross-functional capabilities.  This vision – in fact, any notion of effective leadership — requires the ability to facilitate broad input and help drive consensus on how to move forward. 

That’s why we’ve embarked on this three-part series to reveal our very best advice and insights for becoming an excellent facilitator.  We’ve spent that last quarter century in hotel ballrooms and boardrooms helping companies turn what could be months of strategic conversations into 2-3 highly productive days, leveraging the magic of skillfully facilitated sessions.

The first article in the series covered ways to maximize workshop/working session attendance, practicality and pace.  The second article dove deeper into how to engage participants before and after the session.  In this third installment we provide three pieces of advice that help strategies and training “stick”, turning a workshop from an “event” into a real change initiative.

Tip #1:  Get The Right Personalities Involved in Your Strategy at the Right Time

Everyone loves an optimist.  Creative people are fun and stimulating to be around.  But do those who see the glass as “half empty” have a roll in facilitated strategy sessions?

We’ve seen situations where negative people have killed the energy in a room; we’ve also seen these personality types save organizations from potentially disastrous approaches.  How do you get the best that these people have to offer without ruining the excitement of a new approach?

If someone with a less-than-rosy outlook is important to have buy-in to your strategy, try bringing them into the proceedings later – as follows. 

Build your initial strategy with a group of people that are reasonably positive and creative.  Tell the potential naysayers that they are going to be a part of a follow-on war-gaming exercise where the strategy is going to be pressure-tested. 

The structure of a war-game causes these people to be at their best, fully considering the strategy that has been hypothesized by the more optimistic groups while requiring the pessimist to justify their reasons for why “it won’t work.”  We’ve seen this two-part approach work very well in getting all types of people to ultimately buy-in to a particular strategy — which is the key to execution. 

Tip #2:  “My Manager Does (Not) Support the Use of These Tools

Let’s move from personality management to “manager management” in the next two tips. Something that is extremely difficult for us to understand happens all the time.  Managers don’t take the time to learn the content and skills their people are learning, and therefore don’t even know how to support the training. 

Consistently, the lowest rated question on our surveys is “my manager supports the use of these tools back on the job.”  In other words, companies spend money on training their people in new marketing skills, even to the point of developing exciting, creative and differentiated plans, yet make no provisions to ensure that managers foster, support and nurture the ongoing use of the new tools.  Thus, the sessions become an “event in time” rather than a true change initiative. 

It’s not easy to accomplish, but if you are trying to facilitate any kind of change, executive support is key.  If executives will invest the time to learn new tools and approaches, at least enough to encourage their use when their people are implementing them back on the job, positive change will ensue.

Tip #3:  The Key to Cultural Change: When Managers Ask to See the Content Demonstrated in Plans

In fact, when leaders specifically ask to see the use of new tools and skills demonstrated in post-session follow-ups and plan reviews, they bridge the gap between strategic vision and operational execution. This commitment ensures that workshop outcomes align with broader organizational change goals.

All this leadership involvement requires managers and executives to know enough about the new approach to be “dangerous.”  It’s not that big of an ask given the training investment. 

Executives are typically in their leadership roles because they are fast on the uptake and willing to continuously learn.  This level of involvement in supporting new skills is something that any organization that is serious about change does. 

In the world of facilitation, success isn’t measured solely by the insights generated within a session but by the enduring impact the sessions have on organizational performance.  By following the advice in this three-part session, workshops and working sessions can become catalysts for meaningful change by driving alignment, innovation, and sustainable growth. 

Marketers who learns these skills well can help position Marketing in its rightful place in today’s organization; a function full of leaders who can successfully orchestrate differentiated, customer-centric strategies across disparate company groups for the benefit of all.   

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