Navigating the Sponsorship Landscape
Securing corporate sponsorship – both for time and financial support – is often a process that will require you to sell your plan and to navigate firm policies and politics. Sixty percent of students in the MIT EMBA program have some level of company financial sponsorship. You can increase your chances by carefully planning your request. Viewing your organization through the following 3 Lenses (Strategic, Political, and Cultural) will help you navigate the sponsorship landscape.
The Strategic Landscape
Evaluating your organizations strategic landscape means understanding what education funding options and procedures exist. It also means understanding the goals, priorities, and strategic initiatives at the firm level and at your boss’s level. You can use this information to frame the question of why you are pursuing and MBA and answer how it will align with the organizations priorities.
Key questions to ask yourself to understand the Strategic Landscape are:
• What are my boss’s priorities?
• Does my organization have a formal MBA/EMBA financial sponsorship process or does it consider sponsorship on a case-by-case basis?
• What processes and procedures should I note, align with, work around and/or leverage? Which avenue should I investigate first?
• What/when is our performance review cycle?
• When should I make my proposal?
The Political Landscape
To evaluate your organizations political landscape you will want to understand who the key stakeholders are in approving your sponsorship and who is likely to support or resist your initiative.
Key questions to ask yourself to understand the Political Landscape are:
• Who are the key stakeholders? What is important to each?
• How compatible are their interests with mine? Can the situation be redefined to construct joint gains to all parties?
• What are the sources of power of the various parties? Can sources of power be changed?
• Can we negotiate a win-win and what would it look like?
• Who is likely to support or resist my proposal? Why?
The Cultural Landscape
Your organizations cultural landscape consists of the unspoken beliefs and value of the organization. This includes how your organization thinks about professional development, staff retention, and experiences with previous EMBA programs.
Key questions to ask yourself to understand the Cultural Landscape are:
• What is my organization’s culture? Is it competitive or collaborative, secretive or open? Does my organization value innovation and independent thinking?
• Does my organization value professional development on an enterprise-wide level? Or are employees encouraged to take ownership for their own development?
• Does my organization prefer to develop employees, or hire EMBA talent?
• Are there heroes or villains who have earned an EMBA?
• Has a sponsorship precedent been set?
In addition to understanding the strategic, political, and cultural nuances of your organization, it can be very helpful to recruit an organizational champion. Your champion will be interested in what you will gain from the program, will actively support your growth throughout the program, and will support the application of classroom learning back at work.
Top 5 Tips for Negotiating Sponsorship
1. Start Early
While some applicants are hesitant to begin the process of negotiating sponsorship before they are admitted to the program, there are things you can do to lay the groundwork. Identify your champion, ask yourself the questions listed above in the Navigating Sponsorship Landscape section, and test the waters to see if the organization is open to a sponsorship proposal.
2. Make Your Case
As you are framing your strategy, understand what makes the MIT EMBA unique, and how it aligns with and supports organizational objectives. Start to gather information from across your organization to support your candidacy and negotiations.
3. Sell Benefits Not Features
Think about your request in terms of the benefits that your organization (or boss) will realize through you. These benefits could be realizing a key strategic initiative because of your new knowledge, increasing competitiveness or profitability, growing the firms management team, retaining key employees (YOU), and bringing in a new viewpoint that will help the organization to be more innovative. Emphasize that you will be applying what you learn in real-time to your company.
4. Frame Your Financial Request
Framing your sponsorship in terms of how much you request each year of the program can make the financial commitment more manageable. For example, the program touches on 3 calendar years (one semester in 2015, three in 2016, and one in 2017). Think about asking for X thousand dollars per year. This will map to how budgets are created and spread out the financial commitment. Also, putting your skin in the game by asking for less than the full tuition shows mutual commitment.
5. Be Persistent and Follow Through
Earning company sponsorship can feel like an endurance test. It can help to think of it as a diplomacy process that has multiple avenues to success and requires patience and persistence navigating to a successful solution. While this may be a high priority for you, you have to be responsible for making it your stakeholders’ priority by following up and following through. Once you earn corporate sponsorship, remember that your stakeholders are likely very interested in what you are learning and how you are putting it into practice, so follow through with regular updates and invite your champion to the MIT EMBA Bring Your Boss to Class Day – an event designed specifically for this purpose.
“MIT feels like a stadium with no seats—everyone is in the game. There’s a crackling drive and curiosity that fills the air.”
MIT President (2004-2012)