The In’s and Out’s of Sponsor Contracting: How You Ask for What You Want from Sponsors is Critical

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 @ 10:16 AM

Getting all Sponsors to express, model and reinforce their commitment to your change is the single most important factor in getting a business change implemented at speed. What is the best way to do that? By developing Sponsor contracts for every Sponsor whose commitment is critical to the project’s success. Sponsor Contracting

If you aren't familiar with Sponsor contracting, we are talking about the dialogue that takes place between the Change Agent and the Sponsor in which the Change Agent secures the actions he or she needs from that Sponsor including:

  • What the Sponsor needs to say to demonstrate they are committed to the change.
  • What the Sponsor must model to show that their actions are aligned with their words.
  • What the Sponsor will do to reinforce their direct reports.

Contracting translates Change Agents’ needs into a clear, specific agreement which can be acted upon and measured against. Like any contract, it is an exchange of wants, needs, and offers.


No Contracting = Big Mistake

Just how important is Sponsor contracting to successful transformational change? Don Harrison, IMA President and developer of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) will tell you that “all failed transformational change can be traced back to poor Sponsor contracting with the Authorizing Sponsors.” {Tweet This}  With ineffective contracting, you are likely to experience these Sponsor problems:

  • Sponsors are unclear on what is expected of them during the change.
  • Sponsors are unable or unwilling to fulfill their commitments.
  • Sponsorship gaps or ‘black holes’ will surface.
  • No upward feedback mechanism will exist to enable Sponsorship improvement.
  • Sponsors will be inconsistent in what they say and do regarding the change.

Your Sponsor’s ability and commitment to do what you need significantly impacts your project’s potential for success.  Because of this, it is well worth the planning time required for you to identify your needs and develop the contract.


How to Develop Sponsor contracts

Ideally initial contracts are prepared early in the project. But, before beginning the contracting process, it is important to assess the culture and unwritten rules to determine whether to use an informal or formal process. In a formal culture a written, signed contract which is held by the Authorizing Sponsor may be appropriate. In another culture, discussions and verbal agreements may be the way to go.

After determining the culture, you can begin to identify individual Sponsor needs to pinpoint what they need to successfully act on and what will be expected of them during the change.

The strength of the Sponsor contracting process is that it enables Sponsors and Agents to engage in a candid dialogue about what Sponsors need to express, model, and reinforce to ensure successful implementation of your change, especially if it is transformational change. Strategies to promote candor during the Sponsor contracting negotiation process include:

  • Creating a safe environment to have a dialogue by finding a place and time free of interruption.
  • Being authentic by stating what you need and why.  Your chances of getting what you need go up significantly when your Asks are clear!
  • Listening and watching for both verbal and non-verbal information.
  • Providing an opportunity for both parties to identify what they need from the other person and what they can offer to meet the other person’s needs.

3 Tips You can Use to Develop Sponsor contracts

Tip #1:  You can't contract with a Sponsor who is in Target mode.
Remember the AIM principle that all Sponsors are Targets first, meaning they are focused on the impact of the change for them personally.  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.  As a Change Agent, you can't contract with an individual who is still dealing with his own resistance.Tips and Tricks for Contracting with Sponsors


Tip#2:  Don't try to contract for too much at one time. 
Contracting with Sponsors is an on-going process, not a one-time event.  In your contracting conversations, you should be very specific about what you need right now-- not 3 months from now. Don’t bring your Sponsor a laundry list of Asks. It's best to start with just a few simple requests and then build on your Sponsor's success. 


Tip # 3:  Select the person to handle the contracting based on that individual's trust and credibility with that Sponsor-- not on the project team role the individual plays.
You'll need to evaluate who should take on the contracting task for every Sponsor you are dealing with.  The question you should ask is, "Which Change Agent has the highest degree of trust and credibility with this specific leader?"  In other words, the decision regarding who should be doing the contracting is based on relationship strength, rather than on project role.  


Sound contracting significantly increases the likelihood that you will get what you need. It is arguably the most important skill any Change Agent must have. When you get this right, you will be on the way to getting Sponsorship right, and far more likely to achieve benefit realization for your project.

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Topics: Sponsorship, Change Agents