I recently received a facilitator report from a colleague who had enormous difficulty delivering the event that his sponsors and their client wanted. The fact that he was unable to organize more than cursory sponsor meetings was at the core of his difficulty.
His troubles came to mind today during a series of interviews with client executives to prepare for a Sponsor Meeting in ten days. This is a large event – 50 participants for three days – for a service company emerging from several years of disastrous performance. They have a new leadership team, a clumsy structure (imposed from abroad), and a desperate desire to accomplish a turnaround without a clear idea of how to identify and implement concrete change.
The event objectives that emerged from our first Sponsor Meeting were terribly vague:
• Mobilize key actors for the re-launch of the go-to-market strategy
• Assign roles and responsibilities within the organization for obtaining profitable revenues.
Even though I enjoy a good relationship with these client sponsors, I am guaranteed three days in hell if I fail to come up with more convincing, and more concrete objectives. So I have the client’s agreement to interview ten top people plus two people lower down prior to our next Sponsor Meeting. The purpose of these interviews is two-fold: First, I am soliciting their help in figuring out what these two generic objectives might mean in their context. Second, and more important, I am looking for specific problems to solve, issues whose resolution will provide a concrete manifestation of the meaning of these objectives.
I call these solutions “Outcomes” and they differ from “Objectives” insofar as event participants should go home after three days with a high level of certainty that outcomes have been achieved. As for the objectives, it may take months to know whether they have been achieved (when Henry Kissinger asked Chou En-lai his take on the French Revolution, the Chinese premier, who had lived several years in France, replied, “It’s too early to tell”). The sponsors must be confident that the outcomes you jointly identify prior to the event (and which largely determine the event’s design) make sense to them as key indicators and drivers of the event’s desired objectives.
So with only these two anemic objectives to guide my work, I began my interviews today. I spent 45 minutes with each of two executives and managed to identify four concrete potential outcomes:
• Resource planning model
• Protocols and tools for re-use of sales and delivery materials (knowledge management)
• Re-define role of project managers
• Define the role of strategic marketing with regard to Sales, Delivery, and product/service development.
My objective, after 12 such interviews, is to have 20 solid ideas for event outcomes. At our next Sponsor Meeting, we will discuss and prioritize them and highlight 6-8 themes (the number of break-outs I can expect on the final day of the event) which will form the basis of my event design.
I already feel I’m off to a good start and the time I’m investing in this scoping exercise will be paid back many times over in the event itself.