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The Importance of Sponsorship in Change Management

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past several weeks about the importance of executive sponsorship in project implementation and coincidentally, in a Prosci certification course that I attended this week, it was cited as the single most critical factor in successful change management. Effective executive sponsorship can increase a project’s chance of achieving its intended business benefits from 25% to 85%.1

The key words in that course, regarding executive sponsorship, were active and visible. For employees to feel that an initiative is important, they need to hear strategic direction from top leadership and understand how any given change initiative aligns with that vision. Moreover, the following elements must be exhibited:

Direct communication. Employees want to hear about company direction, major initiatives and their intended benefits straight from the top. So sponsors need to speak directly with their employees, rather than delegating communication to others lower in the organization. To be sure, line managers have an important role in supporting their teams through change; however, these specific items should be articulated from the top.

Building coalitions among the senior leadership team. Especially with large, highly cross-functional initiatives, the sponsor must build support laterally across the executive team, so when questions come up and resistance surfaces in other departments, the project team can leverage those leaders to remove obstacles that cannot always be addressed at lower levels of the organization.

Active and visible participation. Employees need to see their leader involved in the work and speaking powerfully about the project and its benefits. To be most effective, the executive sponsor should attend key meetings and convey progress achieved throughout the process – not just be the figurehead at kick off

Two key challenges in getting executives to live fully into their sponsor role are a) their depth of understanding about the impact their active and visible participation has on the successful adoption of new behaviors and b) making time in their busy schedules to do this work. It’s not easy.

Effective change managers can help their sponsors succeed in this role by creating a roadmap for them – outlining explicitly when and where they need to be present to move the project and intended behavior change forward. Additionally, change managers can ease the burden of time by preparing project updates, talking points and presentations for their leaders so the latter can optimize the time they spend on the project by providing the visible leadership their people need.

Notes: 1 Prosci, Best Practices in Change Management, 2014

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