Using Contingency Contracting

Contingency contracting can be an important component of a weight management programme. Personal trainers who sell packages of training (12 sessions) have already got an implicit degree of contingency contracting because clients have paid up front for their sessions. It very much depends on the cancellation policy and the cost of the sessions as to how much contingency this will build in. In my research trainers got their groups to agree to a sum of money they were willing to commit to show they would complete the twelve-week programme.

The individuals in the group decided on the amount, but it does need to be a sufficient amount that they would feel a degree of pain if they were to lose it. Some groups committed to sum of £50 per person, other groups opted for £100 per person. The trainer needs to ensure that the sum of money committed is sufficient that for most of the clients, losing this would cause them a fair degree of discomfort.

Once committed the groups then decided what would happen to this money should one person drop out. Some groups decided to give the sum to a nominated charity and others split the money between the rest of the group. This all needs to written down in a clear document so there is no ambiguity should the need arise to withhold the money and redistribute in the agreed manner.

The contingency contracting appears to have been a useful tool. Most trainers anecdotally reported that if they could keep clients in the programme for about eight weeks it was if they “got it”. In other words, the education had sunk in and they were managing their weight loss far better. It may be that the contingency contract got them over this hump. The thought of losing their money may have spurred them on to stay with the programme. There certainly is a time element to making lifestyle changes. The literature is equivocal as to how long you need to maintain a behaviour before it becomes habitual. As I said this is very much based on the anecdotal evidence of individual trainers but somewhere in the six-to-eight-week range seems to have been the case in my research programme. This is consistent for both the UK based research and the same research that was carried out in NZ.

I talked about this aspect on one of my webinars and one trainer told me that she builds the contingency into her contract and then refunds the £50 at the end of the programme. I think this is a great idea. As long as the client is made aware that they will get money back on completion this is certainly a good way of building a contingency contract into the programmes you offer.

Contingency contracting works when you are mentoring and coaching because it is very similar to being accountable. It is just in this case you are accountable to the disquiet of losing a sum of money. It is effectively first level coaching basics in terms of accountability tends to yield results.