Talking About Change Management with Your Sponsors

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, May 24, 2018 @ 01:01 PM

Have you ever been in a meeting, talking about change management with an important Sponsor, and slowly watch his or her eyes glaze over? Or how about, when you are telling your Sponsor all about the Reinforcement Strategy, Resistance Management and Key Role Map you’ve put together and they suddenly appear antsy and announce they need to move on to their next meeting. Frustrating, right!? shutterstock_1043108527

Don’t worry, you are not alone. It happens in every organization all of the time. The simple truth of the matter is Sponsors don’t care about change management. As change management practitioners ourselves, we know this is difficult to hear, but it is the simple, cold-hard truth.

The Language of “Sponsorland”

What Sponsors do care about is getting projects done fast, cheap and to scope. So, when you start talking about “change management” senior level executives will automatically start to think:

  • How much is this going to cost?
  • How much time is it going to take?
  • I don’t need to be involved, we have HR or “other” people to worry about that.

Don Harrison, developer of the AIM Change Management Methodology, puts it like this, “Every Sponsor wants to pay the least price possible to get the best results possible.” It’s why we say change management is an exercise in power and politics. In order to get things done, a Change Agent needs to be able to influence both Sponsors and Targets.

One of the first steps in getting your Sponsors to sit up and pay attention, is to speak their language (i.e., in their frame of reference), not yours. Don says, “When you go to France your best option is to speak French. When you go to 'Sponsorland,' you need to speak the language of Sponsors."

It’s actually quite simple: Sponsors want to know three things:

  • What’s in the change for them personally?
  • What’s in it for their organization?
  • What’s in it for the enterprise as a whole?

So, in your next Sponsor meeting instead of talking in generic terms about change management, talk to your Sponsors in business terms and focus on results. Talk about how to mitigate the risks on their projects and programs and what it will take to deliver value realization for their investment. By doing this, your Sponsors are much more likely to be invested in what you are saying.

Practical Tips for Speaking to your Sponsors

Below are a few tips on how to speak to your Sponsors, in order to get the results, you are looking for:

  • Discuss the Project from the Sponsor’s Frame of Reference - Remember, their frame of reference does not include change management speak! Instead, try talking about how you can help get projects done faster, better, and at a higher level of quality.
  • Don’t Use Buzz Words – While we do say to use business terms for business leaders, one of the cautions we have for participants who leave our training programs is they should not go back to their organizations using “change management” buzz words. As we talked about in #1, your Senior Leaders don’t want to hear it. Try getting through your next Sponsor meeting without using the following words:

    Change Management Involvement Implementation
    Empowerment Support Endorsement
    Change Agent Engagement Resistance
    Readiness Change Climate Culture
    Process Disruption Sponsor
  • Data Matters - The other thing we know about the language of “Sponsorland” is data matters. While anecdotal evidence is useful, Sponsors are more likely to pay attention to data. That's why our change management consultants 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. When Numbers Talk, Sponsors Listen.
  • Work to Build Trust and Credibility - The one question every Sponsor has is, “Can I trust you?” 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 look and be successful. Remember, trust and speed are functional. The more trust your Sponsor has in you, the faster you’ll be able to implement.

At the end of the day, Sponsors are simply looking for a way to preserve their currency. Sponsor Contracting  sessions are your opportunity to ask for specific actions from your Sponsor in exchange for making that Sponsor’s job easier, faster and/or more effective. These meetings are not easy and, in some cases, can be quite intimidating. Framing your discussion around your Sponsor’s currency and not yours is the first step towards building the relationship you need to be able to implement your change successfully.

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Topics: Sponsorship, Change Agents, Leadership, Change Management Consulting