Engagement Training & Development

An Accidental Facilitator’s Simple Tool for Improvement

An admitted “accidental facilitator,” I love what I do. Here’s why.

I find my role in guiding the process of discovery among groups to be:

  • challenging – because it requires a high level of customization to meet a client’s specific needs while being unable to predict the outcome
  • intense and exhausting – because it involves being fully present to listen and observe what’s happening as well as being focused yet flexible to adapt on the fly as needed
  • exhilarating – because participants find their active engagement in the experience to be worthwhile, and so do I.

Facilitation is also rewarding in that it provides an incredible opportunity to learn and grow. That’s why I keep a special journal that helps me continually improve my skills.

In it, I briefly review each experience using a simple outline that includes:

  • Project name and date 
  • What worked that may prove to be useful in other projects, if applicable
  • What didn’t work that I should avoid doing again
  • Lessons learned from the experience that is also based on feedback compiled from participant evaluation forms.

Each journal page contains just enough info to refresh my memory about the experience. Viewing the pages individually and collectively yields valuable insights and ideas to consider with each successive facilitation project.

[“Ideas” image by Juan Marin on Unsplash. Photo at left is my facilitator’s journal.]



Customer service Training & Development

3 Simple Ways to Engage Employees in a Better Customer Experience

Need to have your employees better understand and improve the customer experience?

Here are three simple approaches designed to do just that. Each one can be applied to engage employees in sharing their experiences and building on their ideas to take care of customers.

1. Consider the customer perspective 

“Smart people walk in the shoes of their customers. But wise people remove their own shoes first.”

Because empathy is critical to improving the customer experience, it’s valuable for employees to consider and discuss their own experience as consumers. You can engage them in discussing one or more of the following questions, such as:

  • Thinking about a recent experience you had as a customer, how would you describe the quality of that experience? What stood out for you that made it that way? … Based on that experience, would you recommend that company to a friend? Why or why not?
  • As a consumer, how can you tell whether a company is customer-centric?
  • How do you see who you are and what you offer through the customer’s eyes?
  • [Based on the responses to these questions:] What does this say about how we serve our customers? … How can we do better?

2. Consider employee impact 

Use notable quotes from the business press that will work well as discussion-starters to elicit employee reactions and ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The easiest way to turn a service into an experience is to provide poor service – thus creating an memorable encounter of the unpleasant kind.” B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy
  • “Customers care about the degree to which you respect and value their business … If you provide customers with clues that you don’t value their business, then all the customer satisfaction in the world won’t help you.” David C. Lineweber
  • “If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.” Doug Smith
  • “Brands are built from within … [they] have very little to do with promises made through advertising. They’re all about promises met by employees.” Ian Buckingham

3. Consider combining both of the above approaches

Depending on how much time you have for discussion, you can start with the empathetic perspective and close with an applicable quote that supports delivering a positive customer experience. Or you can start with a quote and segue to discussing the customer’s perspective. As for selecting quotes, you can even invite employees to share a favorite or create their own.

Helpful tips

When you engage employees in these special discussions — whether as part of orientation, customer service training, staff meetings or retreats — you can elicit their understanding and ideas to better serve customers as well as co-workers who are “internal customers.”

Regardless of which of setting or approach(es) you use, it’s essential to conduct such discussions in a positive, non-threatening, and respectful setting. Your objective is twofold: 

  1. to encourage employees to comfortably share stories and actionable ideas that enable them to better serve customers, and
  2. avoid getting mired in a spiraling critique of complaints.

The key is to not dwell on negative barriers but focus on ways to overcome them.

And don’t forget the food (e.g., appropriate amounts of caffeine, water, sugar, healthy snacks, etc.) that can fuel the thinking and ideation process.



“You’re facilitating with what … ?!”

I’m proud to announce that I’m now a Certified Facilitator in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.

That’s right, I can help companies “solve real problems in real time in 3D” using specially selected LEGO® bricks.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a proven methodology based on extensive research from the fields of business, psychology, learning, and organizational development. It uses the power of “hand knowledge” that leverages the hand-brain connection: research shows the hands are connected to 70-80% of our brain cells. Using the neural connections in our hands, we can better “imagine, describe, and make sense of situations, initiate change and improvement, and even create something new.”

Participants engaged in this innovative approach “lean-in” to deal with business challenges in a safe environment. “Thinking through their fingers,” participants are fully engaged and empowered to unleash “insight, inspiration, and imagination.”

When is it helpful to use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®?

Here is a sample of situations in which it works. Use it when you:

  • Are dealing with a complex challenge/issue that has no clear answers
  • Need to grasp the bigger picture, identify connections, and explore options/solutions
  • Want participants to equally contribute their respective knowledge and opinions on a topic/issue – with 100% engaged participation.

Its application is customized to each organization’s unique situation.

I’m excited to share this new addition to my facilitator tool kit. If your team or organization is ready to discover new insights and uncover fresh perspectives, let’s talk.



Customer service Engagement

A Client-Inspired Wish

One of the most amazing clients I’ve had the privilege and joy of collaborating with for 25 years recently retired. I wish there were more managers like her because it would mean more engaged and productive workplaces. Let me tell you why.

Peg helped grow a successful university distance education department, having started at a time when distance education was in its infancy. She navigated the changing technology that transitioned from broadcasting live classes via satellite to online delivery of courses. [Because she isn’t comfortable with attention, I only use her first name in this post.]

To inspire others, here’s a sample of what made Peg an impressive manager.

Management approach
All jobs come with some degree of stress from conflicting goals, operational and budget issues, internal politics, etc. Acknowledging this, Peg approached her work as an ongoing challenge: “I simply focus on what needs to be done and how to make it happen. Not just to push ahead, but with concern for how it will affect customers, employees, and everyone involved.”

I saw this play out in everyday situations and in crisis. The latter was a case of “lost in space” when a satellite failed a few days before the start of a semester. Peg rallied her team to find workable options for students and client companies with minimal service disruption.

Customer-focus was another part of Peg’s success. Besides responsive customer service, she believed in client outreach and appreciation as key to building long-term relationships with students and their employers. “Our programs may be by distance, but not our relationships,” Peg was fond of saying.

Internal marketing 
Peg also focused on building relationships with employees and internal partners by:

  • investing in team members by encouraging their professional development
  • engaging employees in staff retreats for strategic planning, transition planning, and marketing planning
  • communicating and collaborating with faculty and staff to maximize program development
  • keeping employees, faculty, and administrators informed and “in the loop”
  • being accessible to and respectful of those she worked with.

Her sense of humor allowed staff to comfortably let off steam in a busy, sometimes stressful environment — another key attribute to creating an effective team and supportive office culture with minimal turnover.

I know my wish for more managers like Peg is not realistic, but I can wish for people to learn from her success.



Engagement Training & Development

Let Employees Out of the Bubble for Better Collaboration

Whether getting together in person for problem-solving, planning, or idea-sharing, many employees are thrilled with the opportunity to engage in active discussion when management is truly interested in their input.

I’ve seen the positive impact of these employee gatherings first-hand in my work as a facilitator and trainer. Individual, team, and organizational benefits of effective in-person working sessions include:

  • expanded internal resources through networking and relationship-building with co-workers
  • reduced silos via interdepartmental communication and teamwork
  • enhanced organizational capacity through shared learning, idea-exchange, and renewed focus around a common purpose.

Bringing together employees from different areas of a large organization may incur travel costs compared with lower-cost alternatives of webinars and teleconferences. But the benefits and overall value of connecting employees make a well planned face-to-face gathering a worthwhile investment.

Employee feedback

Here’s what employees say about their experience in these sessions from actual meeting evaluations:

  • It’s good to get out of our bubble and look at the big picture.
  • It was an excellent open forum to bounce ideas off of other employees.
  • Brings together what we’ve been trying to accomplish and articulate in a cohesive, common platform.
  • It provided a sense of team and togetherness.
  • Excellent opportunity to exchange ideas. We’re all in the same boat with common goals.

Want better collaboration and engagement?

“Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” – Michael Massari


What I Learned About Facilitation as an Accidental Facilitator

“When I grow up, I want to be a facilitator.” I never said those words to my parents and teachers but that’s ultimately what happened. For the past 30 years, I’ve been developing and refining my skills as a facilitator, and it’s an ongoing endeavor.

It’s about people and purpose
Facilitation is “a powerful way of working that gives everyone a chance to be an active part of the decision making process,” according to the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

I find it appealing because it involves bringing people together for the purpose of:

  • establishing a foundation of mutual understanding
  • exploring possibilities and opportunities
  • communicating concerns
  • sharing and building on individual and collective ideas
  • setting clear direction and agreeing on next steps.

That’s why it’s used in planning, problem-solving, creative thinking, focused discussion, and other types of collaborative meetings.

It’s about discovery
My primary role as facilitator is to guide the process of discovery that enables participants to determine where they want/need to go and what they need/want to do to get there. It starts with learning about the group’s situation, culture, and dynamics to develop the key questions and activities needed to effectively engage participants in a comfortable, non-threatening environment. Then I serve in a dual, somewhat contradictory role: guiding the group to stay focused and on-track while also being flexible if/when the discussion takes a different tack that’s critical to the issues at hand.

What’s most fascinating about my work as a facilitator is that I never quite know what the outcome of a session will be. For example, at one organization’s strategic planning retreat, board member discussion raised more issues than answers that needed to be explored further. With the group’s consensus we suspended the strategic planning portion of the retreat to instead identify important concerns that needed to be addressed before planning could resume at a later date.

It’s about asking the right questions
Although they may not realize it, most of my clients know what they need to do in planning, problem-solving, idea-gathering or ideation. They don’t necessarily know that they know, so my job is to ask the right questions that will help them develop and articulate the answers.

The challenge for me as a facilitator is to identify focused and thought-provoking questions that will be most effective in helping clients. Some questions may also be basic ones that the clients are too busy, overwhelmed, or distracted to ask themselves. Questions are an essential part of any facilitator’s toolkit, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ones.

To showcase the power of facilitation, IAF recognizes October 15th-21st as International Facilitation Week. I’m proud to be an IAF member that week and every week!

Engagement Training & Development

Engaging Workplace Wisdom — Tips on What Works to Engage Others

While I typically speak about employee/volunteer engagement with people currently active in the workforce, the prospect of being with an audience of retirees was too good to pass up.

My recent session for Penn State Lehigh Valley’s SAGE Lecture Series was designed with a dual purpose: 1) share the current state of workplace engagement and 2) tap into the rich reservoir of the audience’s job experiences to be shared with students. Twenty-six students also participated as part of their Intercultural Community-Building class – a first-year experience course that introduces students “to the concepts of identity and multiculturalism, and encourage them to engage in interactive discussions with others,” according to Kristy Weidner Hove, instructor and Institutional Planning Coordinator at Lehigh Valley Penn State.

After discussing the importance of engagement and what leads people to engage or disengage on the job, the audience broke into small groups of retirees and students to share their experiences in the workplace. Each breakout group then identified and shared their top three tips on engaging employees, volunteers, and co-workers.

Here are the resulting tips, compiled and organized by Kristy Hove, that reflect a variety of leadership, management, and collaborative practices based on actual experience.

Penn State Lehigh Valley SAGE Workshop


  • Don’t just hear what others have to say but listen to them and retain what they say.
  • At all levels, the person must be able to listen as a sign of respect.


  • Respond to others in a way that indicates you understand them.
  • Communicate among each other and comment whenever the person did well.
  • Find a way that works to communicate with the group; i.e., face-to-face or online.


  • Acknowledge people at all levels, both intrinsically and concrete incentives.
  • Give credit to the person who comes up with the idea; mention his or her name in front of the group or boss.
  • Create an environment for recognizing and rewarding achievement.


  • Learn people’s names.
  • For new employees or volunteers, ask the people they’ll be working with to introduce themselves and what they do.


  • Ask volunteers what they’d like to do. Explain you’ll try to accommodate if you can. Leaders need to be prepared for alternative, unexpected requests.


  • Team work makes the dream work.
  • Group activities and communication help with teamwork.


  • Create an environment where employees enjoy what they are doing.
  • Attitude – people will mirror what they see.


  • Recognize the value of socialization. Some groups value the “journey” and inclusion as much as achievement.
  • Provide opportunities for social introductions.
  • Social gatherings can help with comfortability/familiarity .
  • Encourage openness among employees.
  • Find a friend at work.


  • Show sincere respect and interest in people.
  • Management should maintain distance and yet be open to employees and their ideas.
  • Recognize abilities and limitations of the employees.
  • Act responsibly.
  • Treat everyone equally (Golden Rule).

Special thanks to Diane McAloon, Community & Alumni Outreach, and Kristy Hove for helping with this special workshop, and to all retirees and students for their active participation.


Overcoming Intention Deficit in the Workplace

Move aside attention deficit – not the clinical kind but the one found in the workplace where people are overwhelmed and/or distracted by constant communication from too many directives, emails, text messages, phone calls, social media, etc.

A serious consequence of this distraction is intention deficit, or more aptly, intentional deficit. It’s not that managers and employees lack intention – defined as “a determination to act in a certain way.” What they often lack is the actual doing or proactive follow through of an intention particularly when it comes to strategic or business-specific planning, special problem-solving, idea-sharing, and training/development. I hear about it from my clients, workshop attendees, and colleagues: they know what needs to be done but they’re so overwhelmed they’re not always able to follow through or follow up on their efforts. They tell me they’re so busy putting out fires that they don’t have the time to prevent most of them in the first place.

Being intentional involves:

  1. Focus and clarity – clearly knowing what one needs to do and why, and
  2. Deliberate thought and action – investing the time to make it happen.

Here are several ways to overcome intention deficit in each of these areas.

Focus and clarity

  • Explain your organization’s purpose and direction; i.e, your mission, goals, strategy, and rationale.
  • Clearly communicate what’s expected of employees to achieve those goals.
  • Reinforce the above often – including any changes in direction and strategy – and share progress/results so people stay on track or can adjust accordingly.

“The biggest lesson has been the importance of constantly repeating the mission. It means spending meaningful time with everyone that joins, even if that’s in a group setting. It means bringing the team together every week to talk about all of our projects, progress, and vision. Most importantly: It means focus, to keep everybody moving in the same direction.” David Karp, Tumblr CEO

Deliberate thought and action

  • Commit to and invest the time to accomplish what needs to be done in special meetings or retreats for planning, problem-solving, idea-sharing, or training.
  • Create a comfortable climate that encourages nonjudgmental thinking and discussion. It’s important to disconnect yourself and others from any technology that diverts your attention such as cell phones, email, and social media. (Note: This may be difficult for some people who are always plugged in. Remind them that the messages, emails, tweets, and posts will still be there.)
  • Know the end goal – what you’re trying to accomplish in a special session – while also staying mission-focused.
  • Set up appropriate “next steps” – such as interim or progress report(s), resulting strategic or action plan(s), additional meeting(s) – and just do it.

Staff members brought together for a specific purpose in a setting with minimal distractions tell me they’re better able to focus on the topic at hand. An added benefit of participating in a well-run intentional session is that employees appreciate the opportunity to work with their colleagues in a face-to-face setting, especially in silo’d organizations.

Focused attention and intention. Communication and collaboration among employees. The ability to move forward and/or resolve issues. What are you waiting for?

“Never mistake motion for action.”  Ernest Hemingway




People to People: Favorite Quotes on Collaboration

From important historical figures and contemporary business leaders, here are my favorite quotes on how working together makes a difference.

“The value in human interaction is greater collective wisdom as a result of improved communication and collaboration.” Michael Katz

“In speaking, we humanize ourselves. In listening, we bring our worlds together. In learning, we create understanding.” Yvonne DiVita

“More people would rather enjoy the camaraderie of smart collaboration than be lead, persuaded or managed.” Kare Anderson

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

“Never do anything about me without me.” David Zinger

Featured Post Marketing

A Facilitator’s Top Three Tips for Strategic Marketing Planning

I recently shared why it’s important to commit time for strategic marketing planning.  Based on my combined experience as a marketer and planning facilitator, here are my top three tips for developing a successful planning session.

1. Be Mission-focused.

The basis for your strategic marketing plan is rooted in your organization’s mission. If your marketing efforts don’t support the company’s mission and goals, then don’t bother.

I post and review the company or nonprofit mission statement in every planning session I facilitate. Keeping the mission front-&-center is critical to helping participants avoid the situation that one executive described: “We spent more time focusing on what we could do rather than what we should do.”

2. Be Creative

Critical thinking and creative thinking are not mutually exclusive. To keep your planning process interesting, you can better envision and explore possibilities while engaging in “What if … ?” questions. For example: What if we had unlimited resources — what could we achieve? What if we could start over from scratch — what would we do differently? What would happen if our products, services, or brand disappeared — would we be missed?

You can also try a different perspective with this two-step scenario. First, you’ve been hired away by a major competitor’s consulting firm to help them assess your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Following this assessment, return to your current company role and consider how you can improve your marketing to gain and keep a competitive edge.

3. Be Realistic

Besides being mission-focused, it’s also important to recognize the scope of your organization’s capacity and commitment. In the course of creative and meaningful discussion, it’s easy to develop an extensive list of marketing ideas for consideration. That’s why I advocate planning participants develop and agree on a realistic set of two to four mission-focused marketing activities that support their company’s strategic goals. The worst possible outcome from a strategic planning session is for participants to generate an exhaustive laundry list of ideas and actions that overwhelm them. Seriously, it’s a small step from discouraged to disengaged.

For being realistic when it comes to marketing planning, here’s my favorite quote from Dr. Phil Kotler:

“Marketing is a learning game. You make a decision. You watch the results. You learn from the results. Then you make better decisions.”

Happy marketing planning!