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Dancing With the Stars

A famous consultant is coming to your organization to give “the big speech.”

May 1, 2008
Related Topics: Strategy and Management
A famous consultant is coming to your organization to give “the big speech.” He penned a best seller; you wrote a few memorable e-mails. She has a 2-by-2 matrix to explain the four types of anything; you have a few rules of thumb that keep you out of trouble. He gets paid a lot to explain his hot new management theory; you get paid monthly. While you differ in many ways, you both hope the engagement goes well.

I’ve had the honor — and frustration — of working with many of these star consultants over the years. The engagements can go well if you see it as a dance and master two critical moves.

Before We Dance: Who Leads?

Some stars prefer to go it alone. We’ll call them the Lone Stars. They’re quick to expand activities beyond the agreed-upon base, and once in the organization, may try to establish a direct relationship with the CEO and, in the process, cut out HR.

Others will welcome internal help with open arms. These are the Partner Stars. Their role is to deliver an excellent training session and make internal HR work as easy as possible and make it look great.

Both types of stars are welcome in my organization. The Partner Stars are welcome to stay, and the Lone Stars are welcome to leave as soon as possible.

I help set up the Partner Stars for success by carefully navigating three topics.

First, get clear on expectations. What is the star to deliver? Why do we need it, and what does success look like? Partner Stars want to know how to craft their material to best fit your needs. Lone Stars will listen politely to your briefing and deliver the canned pitch.
Second, cover the context. Knowing the dance floor well allows a star to be at his or her best. Pass along relevant information on real business priorities and specific challenges at hand. Point out hot topics and hot stakeholders, or suggest ways to shape information delivery.

Connect Partner Stars with key leaders or audience members ahead of time to learn more about audience interests and build credibility. With Lone Stars, serve as a gatekeeper to minimize unnecessary contact.

Third, discuss roles. What will the star take responsibility for doing and what is HR’s role? While AV needs, material handouts and favorite beverages usually are discussed, it also is important to talk about how HR can best prepare the audience for the day and clarify the sustaining message.

After the Dance: What Remains?

The sustaining message is what happens after the engagement. Some visits are simple exercises in exposure to new thinking with no expectation for follow-up. The better Partner Stars leverage points to improve the organization. Others spend all preparation time on the event and skim over the day-after considerations. Lone Stars may see the day after as a timely payday for services rendered or an opportunity to book a second act to reveal the most important information that was held back from the first engagement.

To ensure follow-up efforts are worthwhile, in the premeeting discussion, identify the single-most important thing that must stick with participants after the presentation. The more meaningful the change, the more significant efforts and resources are needed, including the potential for a managed second engagement.

Talent managers can reinforce the day’s key points in participants’ minds by sending out short articles, how-to tools, notes of encouragement or Web-based reminders.

The second degree of stickiness expands the notion of support with more extensive knowledge and skill transfer. This may translate into train-the-trainer sessions or other ways to empower internal staff. The third degree is about integration of the Partner Stars’ principles and tools into the organization’s HR system and practices. Rarely will this happen as a result of a speech, and it only occurs when the Partner Stars’ visit is part of a larger vision of change. One engagement may not be enough.

When the music starts playing, figure out who is going to take you around the dance floor: a Lone Star or a Partner Star? Knowing this will help you take the rights steps in up-front planning, as well as follow-up support.

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