Sponsoring Change Effectively

The first thing you might be wondering when you read the title of this blog post is, why do I even need a sponsor for change? What do you even mean by”sponsoring” change?

Well,  we know from research,  that a key aspect of successful change is communication.  People want to have information about change, and preferably from a senior person in an organization.   A sponsor is really somebody that fits within that sphere of the organization.  Likely to be a director or executive level leader, the ‘sponsor’  is effectively the face of your change.   They are the person that goes out there and says “I am the person driving and backing this. I believe this to be important”. That level of endorsement is important if you want people to see your change as a priority.

So that’s why you need to have a sponsor. So what does a sponsor actually do?

First of all, they are the face of the change, so they should be out there driving communication about the change:  talking to people formally and informally about why the change is happening, talking to employees, answering questions, and making sure that your change stays on top of people’s priority list.

They should also be the person that builds your coalition for change:  they should be influencing their peers and other senior stakeholders in your organization to get on board with change, to allocate resources when required, and to remove barriers when they’re in the way of the change being successful.

And, they should be there to support you as the person driving the project or the initiative, talking through plans with you, helping evaluate and mitigate risks, helping identify where things may come up that you haven’t thought of and being available to the project team to make sure that things are on track and moving forward in the way that they should be.

Given the importance of a ‘Sponsor’ and their role, its important to be thoughtful about who you select.  At ethree, we talk about sponsors needing to have a “Triple A” rating.

The first “A” in that list is authenticity:   they need to be somebody that employees look at and say, “yes, I buy you. I buy what you’re saying. I buy into what you’re telling me. I trust you as a senior leader. You have a strong track record with this organization and a strong track record in delivering successful change. You are an authentic face for this venture that I’m going to listen to and pay attention to”.

The second “A” is about authority.  If you think about the role of the sponsor, they need to be in a place to influence others, to allocate resources, to help get decisions made, and to remove barriers. The person that you want to select to be your sponsor needs to have the authority to make sure those things happen. Preferably, sufficient authority over the areas impacted by the change, but in some cases you might choose to have somebody that has a different level of authority because of the things that they bring to the table.

The third and final “A” is around availability. If this person is going to support the initiative, if they’re going to help drive the change, if they’re going to work through issues and challenges, they need to have enough availability to be able to be present, to be at meetings, to share their insights, to discuss things with the project team, to basically be around.

The challenge with the three “A’s” can often be that the person with sufficient authenticity and authority, doesn’t have a huge amount of availability.  Ideally, a Sponsor is all 3 of the As. But if that doesn’t work, there are options.

It is unlikely that a CEO or another senior VP necessarily has the time for long project meetings with you, but they can potentially make themselves available for a monthly check-in or a status report update.

You may ask that senior sponsor to allocate somebody from their department be more connected to the initiative and to talk through issues and problems with you.

Whichever way you cut it,  make sure that all those three “A’s” are covered and so that you have the effective support to deliver overall sponsorship, but don’t spread yourself too thin by having  too many senior stakeholders labelled as ‘sponsors’ (as opposed to Stakeholders).   Anyone you identify as a Sponsor  is going to need even more support from you than a regular stakeholder would, and that costs time.

The Sponsor role in change is a critical one and it’s one worth paying attention to setting your Sponsor well from the beginning so that they can support you effectively every step of the way.

For more information on driving change, for sponsorship, you can check out some of our other blogs:

Top Tips for Change
Creating change culture
Is your company ready for change?
Leading change? you’re a habit maker
Change Management: it works
Are you good at change?

And check out our change management program:
Making Change Happen
We run this as a public program but also in house for organizations.

Just want more help with the changes you are trying to drive? connect with us at contact@ethree.ca

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