Industryweek 14637 Learning Change

Sponsors Create Change

Jan. 16, 2014
A sponsor is not a project manager. Rather, it’s a top leader—preferably at the executive level—who authorizes a project and creates an environment for it to be carried out.

Sponsorship means involvement and participation.  It means championing a change from start to finish, and knowing why the change is needed.  It means communication.  Maybe most importantly, it means commitment to seeing the change through from beginning to end.  It means creating the change you believe in.

The people at Prosci, one of the top change management methodologies, have studied best practices in change management for fifteen years.   In every study, responders to their survey say that an active and visible executive sponsor is the #1 contributor to successful change.  

A sponsor is not a project manager.  Rather, it’s a top leader—preferably at the executive level—who authorizes a project and creates an environment for it to be carried out.  Sponsors often are responsible for defining the scope of the project and finding common ground between stakeholders. 

The terms “active and visible” sponsorship are important.  History is full of examples of leaders who succeeded because they were involved and accessible—whether in business, politics, or any other activity.  There are just as many, if not more, examples of projects that failed because the leader wasn’t around or engaged. 

Solid sponsorship is so important that I’d venture to say that a company shouldn’t attempt a major change without it.  In Prosci’s research, an invisible or uninvolved sponsor is also listed as the #1 reason that change efforts fail.

In change processes, the most effective sponsorship has several elements.  Ideally, the sponsor will be involved throughout the entire process—not just at the start.  Leaders and managers immediately below the sponsor also need to get on board early.  The sponsor should communicate directly with employees at all stages of the project, demonstrating consistency and commitment.  

To be sure, a successful change needs more than a sponsor.  Frequent communication about the change and using a structured change management approach are two factors that survey responders say are important to success.  The company’s goals for change should align closely with its overall strategy.

These and other success indicators flow from strong sponsorship, and will not make much sense without it.

“Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change you believe in.”  ― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

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