Dancing With The Stars

Dancing With The Stars

     He has penned a best-seller; you’ve written 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 theory of management; you get paid by the month.

      Yes, that famous consultant is coming to your organization to give the Big Speech. And while you differ in many ways, you do have one thing in common:  you both hope the engagement goes well

      I’ve had the honor (and frustration) of working with many of these star consultants and their Big Speeches over the years.  What I’ve learned is that engagements can go well if you see it as a dance and master two critical moves. 


Before We Dance:  Who Leads?


      This is the question of partnership.  Some stars prefer to go it alone and other will welcome internal help with open arms.  

The Lone Stars are like this reference I heard recently:   “He is quick to expand his activities beyond the agreed upon base. Once in the organization, he will try to establish a direct relationship with the CEO and in the process, cut out HR.”

      On the other hand, here’s how a Partner Star sees his role:  “I know my responsibility as an outside consultant is to deliver an excellent training session but it’s also to make the internal HR job in managing me as easy as possible and to make them 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 try to help set up the Partner Stars for a successful visit by carefully navigating three topics. 


     First, let’s get clear on expectations.

What is the star to deliver?  Why do we need it and what does success look like?  While tempted to cover these topics quickly, I find that Partner Stars really want to know how to craft their material to best fit your need.  Trusted Partner Stars can provide the objective point-of-view on an important issues that insiders are limited to address.  Lone Stars will listen politely to your briefing and deliver the canned pitch. 

      Second, let’s cover the context. 

Knowing the dance floor well allows the star to be at her best.  I’ll pass along relevant information on the real business priorities, the specific challenges at hand.  I’ll point out hot topics and hot stakeholders.  In providing context for material, I may suggest ways to shape the delivery of the information.  I have learned, however, to avoid rewriting the material.  It is her expertise, not mine. 

      If possible, I’ll proactively connect Partner Stars with key leaders or audience members ahead of time.  Even a few phone calls or email exchanges allow Partner Stars to learn more about audience interests directly and builds credibility.  With Lone Stars, I serve as a gatekeeper where possible to minimize unnecessary contact.

      Third, let’s talk about roles. 

What will the star take responsibility for doing and what is my role?  While AV needs, material handouts and favorite beverages are usually discussed, I’ve found it as important to talk about how I can best prepare the audience for the day and to clarify the sustaining message needed.


After the Dance: What Remains?


      The sustaining message is about what happens after the engagement.  Some visits are simple exercises in exposure to new thinking with no expectation of follow-up.  The better ones are leverage points to improve the organization.   It is a trap to spend all the preparation time on the event and skim over the ‘day after’ considerations.  Lone Stars may see the  ‘day after’ as simply timely payment for services rendered. Or it might be booking a second act to reveal the most important information which was held back from the first visit.  I usually stop at making sure the check is in the mail.

      For the Partner Stars, the follow-up effort is usually degrees of stickiness.  In the pre-meeting discussion, I try to clearly identify the single most important thing that must stick with participants after the presentation.  Of course, the more meaningful the change, the more significant efforts and resources are needed – including the potential of a managed second engagement.

 The first degree of stickiness concerns reinforcement.  How can the key points of the event day be kept in the minds of the participants? Sending out short articles, “how to” tools, notes of encouragement or web-based reminders are all examples of ways of keeping a topic alive.

The second degree of stickiness expands the notion of support with more extensive knowledge and skill transfer.  This may translate into train-the-trainer or other ways of empowering internal staff.   The third degree is about integration of the Partner Star’s principles and tools into the HR system and practices. Rarely will this happen as a result of a speech and only occurs when the Partner Star visit is part of a larger vision of change. Expecting one speech to do all the work is expecting too much.

      So when the music starts playing and the dance is about to begin, it’s best to figure out who is going to take you around the dance floor – a Lone Star or a Partner Star. 

© Kevin D. Wilde