Unlocking the Sponsor Role...Creating Influence and Ensuring Success
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Overview: If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times - one of the most important indicators of transformation/implementation success is an active and visible sponsor. But, what does that really mean? What is the role of the executive sponsor and how do you learn to do it well?
Active and Visible Sponsorship…sounds great, right? Everyone wants an executive leader who supports, champions, and provides endless PR for their project team, all but guaranteeing acceptance and success. As leaders in your organization, many of you have or will be asked to sponsor a large and visible project, but what does it really take to master this role and provide the kind of added value that will set your team up for success in the long term? Early in my career I worked with an executive client who was asked to sponsor his first project, a large technical implementation that would affect a significant portion of the organization. He seemed excited about the role, and I was looking forward to partnering with him on his sponsorship journey. Every time I made an effort to sit with him and work on the sponsorship strategy, the meeting was rescheduled to a later date or cancelled completely. When I finally had a chance to discuss the way forward for sponsorship, he turned to me with surprise, and a little annoyance, asking why it was necessary to pre-plan all of these activities, after all, wasn’t sponsorship just a matter of signing his name to a letter or two thanking the team at the go-live? Since that experience, I’ve interfaced with countless senior leaders who have the same initial response to the sponsorship role. I’ve since realized that it’s not about making the time, or performing the activities, or even lack of vision or strategy, these leaders simply don’t understand what they need to do to be an effective sponsor. Why should they? Learning to be a good sponsor is not part of the MBA curriculum, it’s not generally not part of leadership training, and it’s not something that senior executives spend a lot of time fretting about when they network with one another. It is, however, essential to ensuring a business transformation, implementation, or mindset change is efficient and successful.
So, what exactly does it take to be an outlier in this seemingly ambiguous role of executive sponsor? Believe it or not, there are things you can today that will put you on the path to effectively mastering sponsorship.
Getting Started…The Sponsorship Journey
Let’s start by understanding what it takes to be a sponsor and how to maximize contributions to the role without creating a burden in the C-suite.
Getting the Lay of the Land
During the first few meetings with your OCM (Organizational Change Management) partner, leaders should get an overview of the project from an OCM perspective. This means the practitioner provides insight about some of the general best practices in change management and discusses specific OCM objectives. These general conversations are meant to get leaders thinking about what needs to be done in order to put the project, transformation, or implementation in the best possible position for success and to help the leader understand what kind of commitment will be needed.
Mapping Out and Committing to Sponsor Activities
After getting an overview about the project, the OCM practitioner will suggest activities, oftentimes accompanied by a timeline, which clearly outline ways the leader will participate. These activities can include, but are not limited to:
Approving and signing high-level communications – that are meant to set the vision, define expectations, communicate the need for change, and show positive leadership and support of the project.
Speaking at events – such as town halls or employee forums about the benefits of the project.
Promoting the project among executive peers – by taking every opportunity to socialize the benefits to other executives who may not fully understand the details. The OCM practitioner typically provides a set of documents such as an elevator speech, Q&A and talking points to facilitate efforts.
Recognizing project team members and stakeholders – outside of public events. Leaders can and should commit to making it their job to know who’s involved and contributing to the effort, and to personally thank them for their work. This small effort goes a very long way in creating goodwill and maintaining morale.
Going the Distance
A good sponsor remains “in the game” from project initiation to go-live and beyond. A willingness to embrace and “live” the change sets the tone for the entire organization and is perhaps the most important determining factor for long-term adoption.
Finally, sponsorship starts with making and keeping appointments with your OCM practitioner, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes per week. There’s no substitute for these interactions which create the dedicated time and framework that’s necessary for a meaningful and successful sponsorship experience.