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Want Buy-In? Recruit an Advisory Committee

Once upon a time I joined a big, global company. My initial assignment was to create a world-wide conference for a whole range of people throughout multiple divisions. I hardly knew anyone, and the culture and the audience were new to me.

05-16 Blossom Clusters

Choose an Influential Person from Each Major Area

So I did what seemed like the logical thing: I created an Advisory Committee.

Even if you’ve been where you are for a long time, if you’re designing a learning event or program for a large audience, consider enlisting the help of opinion leaders across the enterprise to help you. Here are some suggestions for doing this:

  1. Influencers. Choose influential people (if you’re new, start by asking your manager for recommendations). They can be members of the target audience, or you might invite their managers.
  2. Input. Give your advisors multiple opportunities to provide input. Don’t ask them to do a lot of work. At a minimum, ask for their ideas early in the analysis phase. Once you have one, share your design plan. You might ask for additional input once or twice more before launching the program.
  3. Time. To make the best use of everyone’s time, make specific requests for the kind of feedback you want. Also, your advisors will be busy people, so be sure to give them deadlines.
  4. Feedback. Some advisors will give you great ideas. Unless you are very lucky, you will also receive a few conflicting suggestions or those you don’t find useful. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to do about that.
  5. Socialize. As you are planning the program, ask your advisors to be evangelists for it. Make this easy with some talking points, or ask them to gather additional ideas or feedback from the people in their organizations.
  6. Thanks. No matter what you do with your advisors’ feedback, be sure to thank them for their time and contributions. Here are some ways to do that:
    1. Just Thanks. Send a thank you via email to every advisor who contributes.
    2. General Changes. Thank your advisors and let them know that where there was conflicting feedback, you made a call (maybe with input from the sponsor).
    3. Thanks with Specifics. Send individual thank-you notes to your advisors to say what part of their feedback made it into the final product, what did not, and why.
    4. Credit. Be sure to give public thanks to your advisors. For example, add their names to the invitation to the event or to the program materials.
    5. Go Up a Level. Also, as you get ready to launch your program, send a thank-you to each advisor and copy his or her manager. Or, you can ask a higher-ranking person in your department to do this with a little more clout.

An advisory team can be a huge help. Your advisors will provide great ideas and information about the audience and the context for the program that you might otherwise miss. It’s an efficient way to make sure that you are not designing a big program in a vacuum. Pick the right people, listen, use their great ideas, and show gratitude.

If you choose them well, your advisors will enjoy shaping an important program and ensuring that it is relevant for their organizations. Using an advisory committee was a great help to me in that new organization I mentioned earlier, and I’ve also found them to be helpful when I knew an organization well. The bigger and more complex the organization, and the more visible your program, the more this idea can help you.

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