Don’t Talk ‘Change Management Speak’ to Your Sponsors

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 @ 02:22 PM

“My Sponsor doesn’t care about Change Management.”  No surprise. If you want to connect with people, you have to speak their language, not yours. If you go to France, the best option is to speak French.  Going to Italy? It’s a good idea to purchase an Italian dictionary. That’s why Don Harrison, founder of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) Change Management Methodology says, “When you go to Sponsorland, How Do You Speak to Sponsors?you need to speak the language of Sponsors.”  It’s why we spend a lot of time practicing Sponsor Contracting in the AIM Accreditation program.


When Numbers Talk, Sponsors Listen

When you are contracting with your Sponsor for the actions you need from them, it can feel like you are entering a foreign country.  But if you take anything away from this article, it should be this: when you want the best results from your meetings with Sponsors, you need to speak their language, not Change Management speak! {Tweet This} What does that language sound like? 

The truth of the matter is Senior Executives don’t care much about Change Management.  In fact, if you drone on about the Change Management Methodology you’ve chosen or the importance of their Sponsorship, their eyes will most likely glaze over.  What do they care about?  It’s actually quite simple: Sponsors want to get projects done faster and cheaper, and at the needed level of quality.  They want to know three things:

  • What’s in it for them personally
  • What’s in it for their organization
  • What’s in it for the enterprise

When our Change Management Consultants go in front of a group of leaders to conduct an Executive Briefing we never talk in generic terms about Change Management.  Instead, we talk about their programs and projects, their risks, and what it will take to deliver value realization for their investment.  In other words, we use business terms to speak to business leaders, because we understand that Executives really aren't interested in what type of methodology will be used. They just want to see results.

The other thing we know about the language of Sponsorland is that data matters.  While anecdotal evidence is useful, Sponsors are more likely to sit up and pay attention to data. That's why we frame our conversations with Senior Leaders around data we have collected on perceptions of implementation strengths and weaknesses from our Implementation History Assessment and/or Implementation Risk Forecast.


Helpful Hints for Speaking to Sponsors

Below are a few tactics you can use when speaking to Sponsors in your organization:

1.   Discuss the project from the Sponsor’s "Frame of Reference" - Try talking about how you can help get projects done faster, better, and at a higher level of quality, rather than about vague terms such as Change Management and Sponsorship. 

2.   Keep in mind that even Sponsors are Targets first.  Unfortunately, some Sponsors never convert to becoming the Sponsors that we need.  When a Sponsor remains in "Target mode," that individual is still focused on how the change will impact him or her, rather than being focused on demonstrating active commitment to the change with his or her direct reports.   

3.   Avoid the overuse of buzz words – One of the cautions we have for Change Agents who leave our Change Management Training programs is that they should not go back to their organizations using a ton of industry buzz words, particularly what Don likes to call the “dreaded ‘e’ words.”  As we talked about in #1, your Senior Leaders don’t want to hear it.  Try getting through your next presentation without using words such as:

Change                                     InvolvementTips on How to Speak to Sponsors

Implementation                         Empowerment

Support                                     Endorsement

Agent                                        Engagement            

Tangible                                    Encouragement

Resistance                               Capacity                  

Readiness                                Climate

Culture                                     Process

Humor                                      Disruption

4.   Skip the PowerPoints – Yes, PowerPoint presentations can be used as a guide, but overuse just won’t work.  Instead, sit down and try talking face to face with the Leaders in your organization.  Be very clear on what three to four actions you need right now.


5.  Don’t be comforted by a Sponsor who says you have their “support” – If all you leave with is support, you have absolutely nothing you can count on. 

At the end of the day, the one single question every Sponsor has is, "Can I trust you?"  It may take many forms, but it all leads back to trust!  This trust is built when Change Agents do what they say they are going to do, and when they put Sponsors in a position for them to be successful and look successful.  For example, if you know your Sponsor isn't a great speaker in a town hall setting, don't ask him or her to lead that session personally. Find a way to make your Sponsor look good! In other words, preserve their currency.

When Change Agents learn how to speak in the language of what Don Harrison calls Sponsorland, conversations are much more productive. So the next time you step into the foreign land of Sponsors, don't speak Change Management language. Instead, talk about what matters to them.

PS - We can teach you how to improve your skill in Sponsor Contracting. It’s the most important skill for any Change Agent!

Change Management Training


Topics: Sponsorship, Communication, Change Management Consulting