How to Speak Sponsor

As year-end budgeting comes up, sponsors are likely to find themselves in a position where it’s necessary to explain what they do, why they do it, and what they need to meet those goals to overlapping teams.

There are two types of people in this world, and it’s not people who prefer cake vs. pie, or are tall vs. short, or even dog lovers vs. cat aficionados, it’s something more universally shared by plan sponsors. I’ll give you a hint: what do teachers, custodians, doctors, musicians, lawyers, and writers all have in common? People know what they do the second they tell them their job. Sure, there may be follow-up questions about what grade or subject they teach, the type of doctor they are, or what instrument they play, but in general, people (both adults and children!) know what they do. But plan sponsors are on the other side of this divide where their job title and description are often met with blank stares or vague understanding, which can become a workplace roadblock as collaboration becomes necessary.

As year-end budgeting comes up, sponsors are likely to find themselves in a position where it’s necessary to explain what they do, why they do it, and what they need to meet those goals to overlapping teams like recruiters, management, and others. How to communicate what you do depends on your audience; after all, your explanation if you’re talking to a room full of fifth-graders on career day is going to be vastly different than the description you give to a recruiter on why a trendy new benefit can’t be immediately added to a plan. For starters: do they know who you are, both individually and as a plan sponsor? If not, working on a 30-second elevator pitch of “what is a plan sponsor, and why that’s relevant to you” will help inform and orient those who are unaware of the glamorous life of plan sponsors. Then you can move into why you’re reaching out, and how what you need from them fits into the larger picture of providing healthcare, retirement, and other benefit offerings.

When it comes to improving interdepartmental communication (as well as communicating benefits and enrollment details to employees, to a lesser degree), the first step of clear communication is to cut the jargon. Simplifying is your friend, and studies show that participants are often intimidated by financial speak and are more engaged when sponsor communication uses layman’s terms. Terms like “allocation”, “mutual fund”, or “employer contribution” can be daunting to the uninitiated, inhibiting communication and others’ willingness to engage. While these terms can’t and shouldn’t be avoided all of the time, using straightforward language is helpful in many situations, as the nitty-gritty responsibilities of a sponsor may not be well understood by those working in departments that tend to be further removed.

In terms of expressing your needs to colleagues, medium is similarly important. We have more options now than ever before in regard to communication methods, and it’s important to pick the right one based on the level of detail and interactivity necessary to bring someone into the loop. Could this zoom meeting be a phone call? Could this phone call be an email? Carefully choosing between Zoom, Teams, a Slack message, or sending an email (while also being mindful to ensure you’re carefully and accurately selecting the correct target audience) is a crucial part of balancing between ensuring engagement and adequate understanding, while also not wasting other people’s time as well as your own.

To that end, the scheduling assistant on Outlook is your friend. Depending on your organization’s calendar settings, it’s very possible that you aren’t able to see others’ schedules. Never fear, however, because the scheduling assistant in Outlook is here to save you. After you select meeting participants the scheduling assistant will block off times for each individual when they are otherwise occupied, making it much easier to find a time that works for everyone. Your colleagues will appreciate the consideration, and it eliminates the need to waste time with the back-and-forth dance of finding a time that works for everyone.

Especially for those who are less familiar with sponsors, benefits, and enrollment requirements, being prepared with an ask, relevant background details, specific goals, and takeaways will help ensure that your needs are clearly communicated and understood, and that the other party knows exactly what is being requested of them. If there’s a timeline involved, a follow-up email or a spreadsheet of important dates can be pertinent and helpful tools if necessary. With these skills in your arsenal, with luck, the hardest part may just be communicating what a plan sponsor is (and using this opportunity to suggest they update their benefit elections during open enrollment!).  

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