From “Why Us?” to “Why?”

By Michael Wilkinson, CMF
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.
Author, The Secrets of Facilitation andThe Secrets to Masterful Meetings

I’ll never forget it. It was undoubtedly the biggest marketing lesson for the first decade of our company’s existence. When Jaynie Smith, author of Creative Competitive Advantage, came to speak to my Vistage CEO group, she handed out a brochure of a financial services company and asked, “Would you do business with this company?”

The Lesson

It was a nice brochure and had the typical verbiage you would expect to see, “Serving our customers for over X years…We invest your money like it is ours…blah, blah, blah.”

Then she handed out the next brochure that was similar, but it said things like, “Beat the Standard and Poors index in 10 of the last 12 years; Elected as top financial services firm in the city, chief executive served on the President’s Economic Board of Advisors…”

She went on to explain that the first brochure was “About us” while the second brochure was “Why us.” She emphasized how important it is that every brochure, every email, everything on your website should answer the question, “Why us?”

For the next seven years, I preached to our marketing team, “Why us…it’s got to answer why us in terms that the customer would care about.”
The “why us” mantra has served us well. We are now the largest supplier of facilitation training in the country and, with over 450 facilitators under contract, the largest supplier of professional facilitators as well.

Beyond “Why Us”

However, as we continue to mature as a company, we have recognized a problem with our “why us” focus. By definition, “why us” assumes that customers already recognize they have a need and are seeking to determine what organization should help them meet the need. So while “why us” allows us to get a bigger slice of the pie of those who know they have the need, it doesn’t address the rest of the world.

There are far more people who don’t have a clue what facilitation is than those who are familiar with it. As the leader in the industry, we recognize we have the responsibility to focus on growing the entire pie not just our slice. We have moved beyond survival mode and must focus on strategies that grow the industry. We must invest in strategies that move from “why us” to answer  the bigger question: “Why?”

In our own strategic planning session in 2010, we made a major strategic shift in our thinking and direction as a company. In our strategy model, we define goals as broad aims that define accomplishment of the mission (versus “objectives” which are the measurable targets). Our plan has five goal areas: growth, customers, products, culture and brand. In our model, goals generally don’t change unless you have a change in mission or a major shift in direction. At this retreat we changed our brand goal.

Old Brand Goal: Maximize our brand awareness to drive business growth.

New Brand Goal: Maximize the awareness of facilitation and our brand to drive business growth.

We also adopted a new vision statement: Sharing the Power of Facilitation with the World.

And we established a set of core belief statements surrounding facilitation:

We believe facilitation is a powerful tool for helping people reach better decisions, often faster, with much higher levels of buy-in and commitment.

  • Better decisions…because of a diversity of views
    were openly shared and considered.
  • Often faster…because the processes used
    promote productive and efficient communication.
  • With much higher levels of buy-in and commitment…because those impacted by the decisions were involved in creating them.

We believe that…

  • The more people in an organization who understand and are skilled at facilitation…
  • And the more that facilitation is used in leading people, managing teams, creating strategy, developing products, running meetings, etc. …

the more productive and effective an organization can be.

What’s Next
Over the next several years, we will be looking to join with others who also have a passion around sharing the power of facilitation with the world. Some of the strategies we are considering follow.

  • We will be updating our website with a section that answers the common “why” and “how” questions, such as the following.

    • Why hire a facilitator?
    • How do you know when you need a facilitator?
    • Why should I build my facilitation skills?
    • Does facilitation really have an impact?
  • Speaking of that last question on impact, we are seeking to join with others to sponsor a research project with the aim of identifying the value facilitation brings.
  • Our company helped start the Facilitation Impact Awards program that is used by the Southeast Association of Facilitation. The program awards those organizations (and their facilitators) who have used facilitation to achieve measurable results. The program is designed to get the word out about facilitation and lets people know the kinds of impact facilitation can have. It is not a competitive awards program, but instead an inclusive one that awards every organization that achieves the criteria. A similar program on a national or international level could be a major focus for awareness raising each year.
  • We also expect to join with experts in other disciplines to expand the knowledge and use of facilitation by creating programs such as Facilitation for Consultants, Facilitation for IT, Facilitation for Trainers, Facilitator for Teachers, Facilitation for Parents, and so on.

What do you think of this shift from “why us” to “why”? Let’s continue the conversation. You can log your opinion on our LinkedIn Group – The Leadership Strategies Facilitation & Leadership Community.

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company, and a much sought-after trainer, facilitator and speaker.  He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator.  As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators and a board member of the National Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry.  You can get more tips from either of Michael’s books, The Secrets of Facilitation or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. You can receive a signed copy through our website.

Interested in learning more facilitation techniques?  Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.

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