Workshops: A Conduit For Change
by Clay Dethloff
Conduits are channels or paths designed to help convey or move things better from one destination to the next; basically, they are a means of distributing something as efficiently and effectively as possible.In ancient days, conduits were often built to move water from its source to a nearby town or village. These conduits were needed in order to navigate the uneven and often uphill terrain. Without this intervention, the natural landscape would not allow the water to flow to the needed destination, without constant trips back and forth to the source, wasting time and resources.
Continuing this idea of moving things along a path as effectively and efficiently as possible, at Decision Analyst we have found that, for modern businesses, conducting workshops with internal stakeholders after the presentation of the marketing research results can be one of the most effective conduits for change that a business can employ. Workshops allow all of the relevant stakeholders involved in a brand, a new concept, an existing product line, etc., to come together at one time to begin the process of moving decisions and behaviors through the organization. In other words, in addition to the primary goals of the workshops, these sessions can help to rapidly diffuse the learnings across a company as well as hasten the development of a cohesive approach to the execution. In essence, a workshop helps generate “buy-in” of a goal or objective across the organization. It’s funny, but as an added benefit of these workshops, we find that it is the first time many people have the opportunity to come together in person within an organization. After spending a day together, relationships have been formed that continue and that foster increased cooperation in the future.
There are three key parts to a successful workshop: understanding the goals and objectives, having the right people in the session, and designing the session to not only encourage participation but also get the best out of each individual. Many of the techniques used in our work sessions are designed to spark both individual and group creativity. Sessions feature both open/unaided discussion as well as the use of aided and projective techniques. Given the myriad ways in which people think and feel, we believe it is important to attack the issues from multiple facets to best gather insights from all participants. In order to achieve this, we utilize our “toolkit” of ideation/brainstorming techniques to identify those techniques that are most applicable for each session.
I have historically liked to use the illustration of the ancient conduit mentioned above when talking about workshops, as often the culture, the habits, and the processes within organizations can be like immoveable mountains or valleys that can hamper change—just as the mountains in ancient time would hamper the ability to get water to a population center. Interestingly enough, in today’s environment, businesses just as often can feel like they are on another type of conduit (as pictured here as a raging water slide) and are at times just reacting to the quickening world in which we live. Workshops are also proven effective in these situations, helping companies navigate unchartered strategic “waters,” ensure brakes are applied when needed, or put processes in place to enable organizations to positively affect the change they want, and not just be along for the ride.
Not too long ago, we conducted a workshop with a retail client to develop new promotions for their stores. Several new concepts had gone through consumer research and marketing, and two in particular had risen to the top. In order to get the promotion out in the market as soon as possible, we recommended a workshop with the relevant internal teams and any external agencies to choose the ultimate “winner” as well as to introduce the promotion to most of the organizations in the company. One concept was rising to the top as far as popularity and was considered to be the more attention-grabbing of the two from a marketing and advertising standpoint. As serious implementation discussions started in the workshop, one of the operations executives spoke up. Paraphrasing what he said, “If we do this, we’re going to need to totally reorganize our checkout/register system.” Needless to say, almost without hesitation, we immediately pivoted and began work on the second of the concepts, which in itself became successful. That insight gleaned from a workshop attendee is exactly one of the primary reasons that workshops are so valuable. They get everyone involved and feeling ownership. Again, it’s all about getting relevant information from relevant players to make needed decisions and plans.
Following along with this idea when thinking about workshops or work sessions, they should really be considered “home grown” or grassroots efforts; in other words, the insights and resulting actions come from participants, rather than as a “top-down” approach from the session leader. Nobody knows our clients’ businesses like our clients, and the role of our facilitation is to bring out the best in each participant. The facilitator is there to keep the session moving and lively, make sure all objectives are met, and ensure that all voices are heard. To that end, one of the primary benefits of an outside facilitator is the ability to go into the session as an “unbiased” session leader—one who should be perceived to be without an internal agenda.
Workshops can be used across many situations and can help in many opportunities. Several of our recent workshops have followed large segmentation studies in order to help clients work through and identify the best segments to target and to determine how to target them. See a recent blog by a colleague, Felicia Rogers, which discusses the benefit of a pre and post-project workshop within the framework of segmentation.
In addition to workshops following segmentation work, we have conducted many types of workshops:
1) Ideation and innovation workshops centered around new product development, oftentimes incorporating design teams that spend the night making prototype revisions between daily stakeholder sessions, and
2) Branding and positioning (or repositioning) workshops following research to spread communication and messaging through the organization. Workshops can be one-time opportunities or can entail multiple sessions with different audiences, such as the work done with an international client based in the U.S. After conducting a worldwide study to better establish a “global identity” for one of their brands, we conducted a series of workshops at their U.S. offices and then presented the same results in workshops across the different regions with a contingent of corporate officers. The first parts of the workshops were designed to review the research and present the results; then large- and small- group brainstorming sessions were designed to deliver a better understanding of results and to incorporate those results into local marketing and advertising activities. The benefit of this approach was that it provided “buy-in” of the global identity across all of the regions. In addition, as part of the strategy, a corporate decision was made to have each country add any needed regional “twist” to the positioning to make it more relevant to that area of the world. With this approach and given the participants present in the workshops, once the session in that area was complete, that area was onboard with the strategy and was approved to amend it somewhat to appeal to local audiences.
Workshops can make a difference in an organization, and there are a multitude of uses and reasons to use workshops. At its top levels, workshops provide the opportunity for organizations to internalize and process information and then, as a more cohesive group, funnel that information and the desired behaviors throughout the organization, making workshops truly a conduit for change.
About the Author
Clay Dethloff (email@example.com) is Senior Vice President, Director of Qualitative Research at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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