Up Front Contracts — Agreed Action Before the Chaos

Over a decade ago, I went to a Sales Training course by Sandler Training, where they provided a sales framework called the Sandler Submarine.


When our founder, David Sandler, was developing his selling system, he chose the imagery of a submarine to communicate his vision. He was inspired by watching movies about World War II, when submarines were attacked to avoid flooding the crew moved through each compartment, closing the door of the previous compartment behind them. The Sandler Selling System requires the same procedure to avoid “disaster” on a sales call. Your goal is to move through each compartment, or step of the selling system, to arrive safely at a successful sale. — Sandler Selling System

Over the years, I have forgotten most of the components of the submarine. However, the “Up-Front Contracts” concept has stayed with me and has been surprisingly helpful in many areas. I think it is because it is remarkably simple and builds a tremendous amount of trust before the inevitable chaos arrives. But, more importantly, it provides an agreed path through the chaos when it shows up.

What are “Up-Front Contracts”

We all want a painless sale, meeting, or implementation. Unfortunately, this is not reality. The pain and pressure will come, and we need to be prepared when it does. If you aren’t ready and don’t have a solid foundation to stand on when the waves hit, you will be tossed around and chewed up. When troubles arise, you don’t want emotions to ruin the process. High emotions don’t equal an equal high rightness. Therefore, agreeing to action beforehand is a powerful way to navigate your day job’s many twists and potential turns.

When to set up “Up-front Expectations?

  • If you are nervous about missing a deadline
  • If history tells you that you expect future pain points
  • If you are at the beginning of an implementation
  • If you are afraid boundaries are going to be bulldozed.
  • If you expect to have to say “No” in the future

How to

You know that gut feeling about what might happen if the other shoe drops. These are the topics that will need “Up-Front Contracts.” A little while back, I wrote an article on how to escalate an issue. I go into detail in the article, and below are the high points. Your topic might be different, but the framework is the same.

  1. Agree that a future escalation event will most likely happen.
  2. Agree on what steps you will take if an escalation happens.
  3. Agree to the other side’s escalation steps and appropriate people.
  4. Agree to notify everyone that if either side starts the escalation process. No one likes to get blasted and not know about it.
  5. Identify possible solutions before escalation.
  6. Identify the people appropriate authority to make the appropriate decision.
  7. Escalate
  8. Work the best you can to honor both sides’ escalations process.

The key is to agree to the listed framework above before the problems appear. In your case, replace escalation with “product mismatch,” “capacity problems,” or “possible deadline slipping,” and you will see the power of having this agreed upon upfront.

How to Escalate an Issue in Project Management

You have probably been there. I know I have been. You are stuck on a project, and you have a blocker that can’t be removed. What to do, what to do. For the most part, knowing if you need to escalate something is easy. What is more challenging is know knowing how.

Chris J TerrellChris Terrell

The Benefits

The beauty in setting up these agreements is that you have a fallback when it all hits the fan. And counterintuitively, when stuff goes sideways, you gain more trust the more painful it gets because you fall back to an agreed plan. Work is full of battles, and trust is critical for your career success. You won’t win all the battles, but if you can leave every battle as a more trusted teammate, your company won’t be able live without you.



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