Everyone on the Outcomes Management Group (OMG) team was excited about the upcoming trip. We were headed to Palm Springs, CA to facilitate a series of focus groups for a client we had been working with over the past three months. The client had made our accommodations at the resort that was hosting their annual conference. Employees were flying in from all over the country. It provided us with the right opportunity to get feedback from a diverse group of employees in an efficient manner. The client agreed to give their employees hours they would get for attending a session if they participated in our focus group sessions. We thought a good strategy to facilitate participation. Our Research Associate randomly selected participants from the client’s attendee list to ensure we had diverse representation of employees across a number of variables such as position, geography, length of time with the organization, etc. We had just completed our last team meeting, reviewing our focus group protocol, and making sure we were prepared. During the meeting I was reviewing our checklist and indeed we had everything we could possibly need: flip chart paper, markers, copy paper, portable color printer, computers, projectors, power point deck, backup disks, names of participants, etc. Yes, we had everything except the kitchen sink.
Our experience working with this client had been that some employees from the organization inevitably would attempt to prevent us from accomplishing our objectives. Despite their attempts, we had been able to remain on schedule. I did not want to get out to CA and be surprised and then unable to conduct the focus groups. This was a major contract with a fortune one hundred company and I wanted to deliver quality work, on time, within budget, and of value to the client. As we departed, everyone was trying to decide what to bring on the trip, given that we had a day before work started. Some were planning to golf, others shop, sit by the pool, go to the spa. One thing for sure we were all excited and ready to go.
It was an uneventful flight and as the plane landed everyone was once again focused on the activities they had pre-planned. We checked in, exchanged room numbers, and then headed to unpack. I headed to the registration area to pick up our badges, and confirm our focus group meeting locations. I asked everyone to meet in my suite within 30 minutes so that I could disseminate registration materials, and provide any important last-minute updates. Our project manager was prepared to join me at Registration desk. After our brief team meeting, we would head over to check out the location of our focus group rooms, just to make sure everything was as requested.
To my surprise, when I checked in at the conference registration desk, they couldn’t find my company’s name. There were no focus group sessions scheduled which meant no rooms and no employees assigned to attend. The employee liaisons to the project had not yet arrived. My project manager and I looked at each other and both said as we walked away, “here we go again.”
I knew the team was going to be disappointed. But thank goodness we had everything except the kitchen sink. When the team saw the look on my face, they knew the news wasn’t good. I explained- no room- no participants; they couldn’t believe it. So what now? Well, I know you aren’t going to like this, but we have to get employees scheduled for the focus groups. Remember I have the list of who we had randomly selected. One team member immediately said, “So let’s divide up the list and each call and give them our best marketing pitch.” Immediately, everyone went to work. Our best marketing team members came up with a script and then everyone got busy making calls. The team worked all afternoon and into the night confirming participants. Our project manager began designing a Focus Group Reminder that we would have the hotel to deliver to all employees once confirmed. And I was on the phone with the Senior Vice Presidents letting them know we had no meeting rooms. Once reached, they were irate. Within 30 minutes, a memo appeared under my door with the assigned rooms. We had the materials needed to conduct out sessions. So everything was covered! I could hear the team cheering. The last employee had been reached and all focus group sessions were now filled. Exhausted, we all decided to celebrate with room service.
Everyone looked at me and said, “It’s a good thing we were prepared!”
During our debriefing, here are some of the lessons learned we identified.
- Don’t accept “NO.” Think “YES!”
- Don’t spend time on the problem, rather direct your attention to a solution.
- When everyone on the team is committed to the outcome, personal preferences are pushed aside so that the team’s outcome can be attained.
- Make checklists and take everything you might possibly need. It really is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
- Preparation pays off!