Show me the ROI: Here’s what professional facilitation is really worth

What’s a professionally facilitated session really worth? Can the value be measured or quantified?

I say yes.

Just like any other professional service, professional facilitation offers real value to your team, your projects and your organization.

Though some may brush it off as a feel-good, warm and fuzzy exercise (trust falls, anyone?), in my experience, those who take part in a well-run, facilitated session nearly always take something away. And not just nebulous positivity, but actual, measurable, bottom-line value.

My clients continue to tell me that facilitation offers them numerous intangibles that, much like having a good boss or feeling passionate about your work, are difficult to put a price tag on. But, for those who are looking for a return, the value per dollar can be proved.

So, if you’re trying to determine whether your organization can justify the cost of a single or multi-day session with a facilitator, bring out your own calculator and see what kind of savings you’ll actually be walking away with.

Here are some examples that I have experienced.

Recouping the cost of a bad meeting

In recent years, analysts and professionals have become increasingly frustrated with the tried-and-true traditional boardroom meeting. Volumes have been written about how poorly run meetings waste time, money and goodwill amongst even the keenest staffers.

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Read enough of articles in this vein, and you might walk away wondering if you should ever host—or attend—another meeting again. (You can find a few more thoughts, from different industries and professionals, here, here, here and here.)

With professional facilitation, you flip that equation.

Instead of being a drain on money and resources, a well-run meeting can in fact offer tangible rewards. Think: a meeting where the real work happens. This is what happens when you hire a facilitator.

Reap returns from employee engagement

As above, researchers continue to demonstrate the benefits of having a well-engaged workforce. Employee engagement—measured by happiness at work, willingness to try new things and understanding how one’s role serves the organization’s greater strategies —has been shown time and again to lead to measurable profits, because employee morale is linked to performance, which is linked to organizational success.

Professionally facilitated sessions or meetings draw heavily on the principles of employee engagement and are designed to leave attendees with a sense of belonging, a strong voice and, yes, a sense of being personally engaged in the process from start to finish.

Time is money – and so is time saved

I had a client who was new to an organization and had inherited a team she characterized as “traumatized.”

She needed to get to know this team, and importantly, she needed to get past the trauma so the team could be productive, quickly.  We hosted a three-hour workshop where the group explored its past and its impacts. My client believes her onboarding and relationship-building with her new team was accelerated by at least two months.

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She leap-frogged over the common new-leader hurdles, and was able to see problems and opportunities at the organization in a more complete way.

She says this was all thanks to her team’s open and thorough input during our facilitated session, and that it led directly to operational efficiency (not to mention an improved sense of morale!).

For the price of a half-day facilitated session, she told me later she estimated she had gained two months of improved productivity.

Let’s do the math:

According to articles highlighted above, if an average salary is $60,000 (this is was a not-for-profit organization), and eight people were in the room, for three hours, the cost of participant meeting time was $720 (assume 2000 working hours a year). The cost of the manager’s time was another $120 or a cost of $840 cost for meeting participants. Add in the cost of the facilitator at $1,200 and the meeting cost was $2,040.

If productivity, due to improved employee engagement improved by just 10% (i.e. suggesting that $66,000 worth of work would be accomplished annually) the cost of the meeting is recovered in less than two weeks!

(Disclaimer:  I’m not an economist and I am often guilty of bad math!)

Harnessing the power of alignment

I often run an exercise called an historical scan, where the group create as a visual representation of their history-to-date. As they see their highs and lows and the shifts that they have experienced, they explore the implications of their experience. Individual stories merge to become a shared story, a common context emerges and a sense of belonging often results.

This collective understanding is a powerful springboard for planning  for future success.

The impact of stakeholder buy-in

When everyone takes part in a strategic planning session—and actually takes part, not just sits in the back row on their phones—the result is a team-wide, or company-wide, ownership of that strategy. I create space for every participant’s voice which supports both stakeholder engagement along with the time-savings of collective understanding and power of alignment – it’s like a project-accelerating trifecta!

This is an example of going slow to go fast.

The cost of 10 people in a room for eight hours of strategic planning at $40 / hr., plus $3,000 for the facilitator puts this cost of this meeting (not including lunch or meeting space at a hefty $5,500).  Now, subtract the cost of the four meetings with 10 people each for two hours trying to align themselves, which have now been avoided ($3,200), not to mention 15% of everyone’s day reading lengthy email chains for the next month ($48 / person / day for email time= $9,600) now that they have shared understanding, and the cost of a facilitated meeting is recovered many times over, very quickly.

The dividends of risk avoidance (a.k.a. the money you’ll save by doing things right the first time)

If you fail to include a group of stakeholders that are required as part of a formal consultation process, you could potentially find yourself facing missed deadlines, increased project costs, and the addition of scope. Even if not required, missing out on including a stakeholder group’s input could still ding your budget in a big way. My sessions are designed using careful discovery and a nine-step planning tool, help teams and organizations avoid this type of risk up front.

I ask the questions you might’ve forgotten to ask yourselves at the outset!

How to calculate value:

If you take any of the above scenarios and estimate that they represent even 1% of a project’s value (whether by adding performance-enhancing information, improving attitudes/productivity/efficiency/understanding or avoiding a costly missed discovery), the return begins to add up pretty quick. On a $1 million initiative, you’re already representing five figures worth of payback for your time and effort put into organizing a facilitated session.

Ways to sustain the value:

Now that you can start to see some of the value of this type of planning, you can even plan to multiply it! Do this by:

Following up

  • Plan a similar engagement each year (i.e. for annual planning) or schedule a follow up (I recommend at least one, 90 – 120 days following the initial planning) to ensure you’re keeping your promises to yourselves. These can be professionally facilitated or internal, but following a similar style.crissy-jarvis-1316073-unsplash
  • Committing also to regular third-party or internal check-ins for a multi-month or -year project will allow you to keep the conversation going and continue to build listening and analytical skills among team members or participants.

Engaging the next level down

  • If you’ve completed strategic planning or visioning with senior levels, ensure that this work is passed down to the next level of leadership and follow up with those leaders, and their direct reports, to measure understanding and adoption of those ideas.

The multiplier works both ways

The cost of disengagement and productivity loss can be reversed with a facilitated process. And, if you follow up, that gain endures.

But, if no follow up action is taken, not only do you lose the productivity and plans of the day, you reverse the engagement. If you’ve promised yourselves the world and then do nothing, this encourages people to feel worse than possibly even when they started.

 

Keep this in mind as you embark on your next strategic or project planning journey. If you need me, I’ll be close by, ready to offer real impact — to your people and your books.

One thought on “Show me the ROI: Here’s what professional facilitation is really worth

  1. Thanks for this Robin, I am often asked how to make the case for professional facilitation, albeit mostly by professional facilitators rather than those who might consider hiring one. I think I may be referring people to this post again and again!

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