We often hear that, if leadership is not involved, the change needed for a successful project is doomed. However, involving leadership is not enough, change needs sponsorship. Every change initiative project needs a sponsor. Sponsors help allocate budgets and resources, align critical stakeholders, work through cross-organizational conflicts, and provide visible leadership and support for change. Active sponsorship is essential to achieving successful change in organizations. Sponsors bring leadership, visibility, and information to projects so that the team can work efficiently and effectively. They make available resources and clear potential roadblocks. Good sponsorship can go a long way in helping a project be successful.
Acquiring project sponsorship is a practical first step to ensuring project success. But, not everybody can or should be a sponsor. “Sponsor” is an active title that connotes participation and involvement. Sponsors can vary by level and by functional area and there may be more than one person needed to truly provide sponsorship for a change effort. Consider the following activities that you need your sponsor to perform when lining up sponsorship for your initiative:
- Sponsors allocate resources. Leaders have the responsibility for allocating budgets and resources. They are able to allocate funds, people, and even their own time to move forward a project. Good sponsors ask for what the team needs now and plans for what the team will need in the future, even after the change effort is completed.
- Sponsors create alignment. They help teams seek out diverse perspectives and opinions and engage with the team to make sure that plans align with corporate direction and market demands. A good sponsor will make sure that implementation plans fit within the overall cultural blueprint for the company and support the strategic intents of the enterprise.
- Sponsors communicate well. Communicating well is not just being present to deliver a message but it means actually reaching people. Can a leader communicate genuinely? Is their message clear and simple? Do they have the credibility so that the message is actually believed? Do they look for opportunities rather than wait to be asked to talk about the change? All these are considerations for a communicative sponsor.
- Sponsors use their influence. As leaders, they can shape and reinforce behavior, but a good sponsor will be able to shape behavior without using the authority of their title. A good sponsor will bring people together to work through roadblocks, move people towards productive agreement, and inspire teams to keep working even when it is very tough in the trenches.
- Sponsors demonstrate commitment. Perhaps worse than no sponsorship, is sponsorship that changes opinions often, won’t stick to decisions made, or just isn’t convinced that a direction is correct. Leadership is about providing clear direction and a call to action. Sponsorship is no less. The sponsor is not just committed to their role but they are committed to the project success. They do not just support success they commit that the project will be successful.
- Sponsors work toward sustainable change. Corporate leaders who sponsor a project assume responsibility for the project and its associated team during the course of the project and far beyond. They avoid short-term solutions and seek long-term sustainable benefit. When the project team or the agents of change disband, sponsors remain. Some of the best sponsors are those who have a stake in the overall success of the project.
By assessing project needs and requirements, a project team should be able to develop a list of criteria, qualifications, and responsibilities that the sponsor will need to be able to fulfill in the course of their work. Setting down these responsibilities in advance ensures that the sponsors have a clear sense of their role within the project, so they can champion the project from the start. Furthermore, developing a clear sense of the responsibilities for a project will help the project team narrow their search to leaders who have the necessary connections and qualifications to fit the needs of their initiative. Our experience is that most leaders who are asked to be sponsors are genuinely interested, but they don’t understand what they should do to be a good sponsor.
Once the project team has procured sponsorship from impacted organizations, both the team and the sponsor must work to engage each other throughout the course of the project. The sponsor needs to be kept current on project news and information. If there’s a need to course correct, they should be among the first to know. The project team needs to be alerted by the sponsor if something in the larger context is changing or may bring about challenges to their vision. Both the project team and the sponsor should frequently remind each other of the value they bring to the project. Asking the sponsor for help and offering them assistance in return when they need clarity or guidance is a method for developing a strong relationship with a sponsor.
We work regularly with projects that have high-level leaders named as sponsors, but those leaders have neither the time nor interest in the details of the initiative. While a big title turns heads, these kinds of projects struggle to get decisions made and resources allocated. Their implementations are challenging because there hasn’t been much discussion in the budgeting cycle from their leaders. Often times these projects are implemented but returns are not realized. There needs to be organizational energy in the form of sponsorship post go-live to keep things going. “If leadership is not involved, change is doomed.” That’s not always true but a good sponsor can sure make a world of difference.
Sponsors allocate budgets, work through conflicts, talk regularly with project teams and stakeholder, and are committed to the long-term success of change initiatives. How are your sponsors doing? Could they use some coaching? Can we help?
We’re Expressworks International. We believe change is inevitable, but results are intentional. Let us help you experience results!