3 Common Sponsorship Challenges

    Mar 17, 2021 | Posted by Michael Campbell

    Prosci Best Practice in Change Management research studies over the past 20 years have consistently found that effective sponsorship is the number one contributor to the success or failure of an organisational change.

    Sponsorship is key in seamlessly integrating a change into an organisation’s operations and culture. However, not every employee can become a sponsor, there are essential skills that have to be taught. Great sponsors and leaders of change are more usually made than born.

    Gaining the right sponsor has the ability to make or break your change project. Having a sponsor who is active and visible in their promotion of a change, consistently throughout the whole lifecycle of the change project, accelerates adoption rates and positively influences employees' attitudes towards the change. 

    Ineffective sponsors might talk the talk, but often stumble when it comes to walking the walk. Saying the right things, but failing to put the resources and their own personal energy into the change will result in a loss of credibility and trust.  

    We've covered a few examples of challenges within the sponsorship role that can stop your implementation in its tracks.

    Failing to remain active and visible within the project

    One of the most common mistakes sponsors can make is failing to stay active within a change. Often referred to as ‘Launch and Leave’, these sponsors may attend the initial meetings, kick-off the change or send out an announcement email to employees and then never be heard from or seen again.

    An active and visible sponsor must remain active and visible throughout the life of the project. That means not only acting as a figure-head for the change, but also continuing to launch project-wide trainings and meetings and vocally supporting the change, both in these meetings and in their daily interactions with employees.

    Lack of consistent communication

    Sponsors can’t just assume that employees are aware of what change is taking place within the organisation, why the change is being introduced or what value this can bring to the business as a whole.

    73% of respondents in Prosci Best Practices Research stated that they prefer to hear the business reasons for a change from executive leaders or sponsors.

    Clear, consistent and repetitive communication, particularly about the business reasons for the change in hand, by the sponsor is a key factor in ensuring not only the role of a sponsor is effective but that the project remains on track and that the new ways of working are adopted  successfully. When sponsoring a change within the organisation, it is important to keep transparency in the line of communication and to enable a genuine open dialogue between employees and executives to enable legitimate concerns to be raised and solved and to create an ongoing sense of mutual trust.

    Delegating the role of a sponsor

    The aforementioned deficiencies in effective sponsorship of a change are magnified if sponsors delegate their role to the project team or lower level managers, citing pressure of time. Passing their responsibilities onto middle management means sponsors become a ghost to the project and so are viewed as a sponsor in name only.

    As a change management practitioner our role is not only to ensure we have the right sponsor for the change, but also that our sponsor  allocates the appropriate time required to see full adoption and usage of the new ways of working being introduced by the change. To facilitate this time commitment a sponsor needs to be shown the business consequences of a failure in adoption of these new ways of working by directly impacted employees and managers, in their language - usually negative financial impact.

    We’ve compiled a few attributes for an ideal sponsor as an initial checklist:

    • Has direct control over the people, processes, systems, budget and tools being impacted by the change
    • Is willing and able to be active and visible throughout the entire project
    • Will communicate directly to employees, at all levels, about why the change is being made and the risk of not changing
    • Will remain in the organisation throughout the implementation of the change, dedicating time to getting peers on board with the change
    • Is credible and respected by employees and managers within the organisation

    Gaining effective sponsorship can help internalise change best practices throughout your organisation. To learn more about Enterprise Change Management, sign up for our upcoming CMC Prosci ECM Boot Camp. This one-day interactive workshop covers: What & Why of Enterprise Change Management; The executive pitch for ECM; Prosci Change Management Maturity Model™ Audit; Implementing ECM as a project.