Top tips for effective Sponsorship

Introduction

In the flurry of meetings generated by the September return to work, effective sponsorship has emerged as a key theme. Transformational change only happens if senior leaders are closely involved, driven by an understanding that achieving their objectives is dependent on achieving the transformation.

Sponsorship is a key trend

In my discussions with clients, there is a growing recognition that the remit of a Sponsor is much wider than ensuring a project delivers on time and on budget. There is a need to champion and promote the creation and adoption of new ways of working.

As the new way of working becomes the norm, productivity, customer service, staff engagement etc all start to improve. It is these improvements that generate financial and reputational benefits for the organisation. Realisation of these benefits is the ultimate goal of sponsorship but too often sponsors and the teams delivering the change view the Sponsor as the point of escalation for difficult issues and the overall approval of progress.

Role of Sponsor

I believe that Sponsors are a core part of the change team. Their responsibilities align to their level of authority within the organisation, but that should not set them apart. They have a vital role to play in generating the enthusiasm and motivation needed for staff to participate in making change happen.

Great Sponsors are pro-active, looking ahead all the time for roadblocks that will prevent staff from changing how they work. They are not merely the recipients of progress information, where they praise or criticise the work of other team members. They are integral to the team, with their ability to champion the change, fund the necessary resources, remove obstacles as key achievements on which the other team members rely upon.

Define the Vision

Sponsors need a clear understanding of what success looks like, so that they can identify the measures that will tell them if the change initiative is on course to achieve these objectives. This means thinking through the vision in practical terms:

  • What tasks will be the top priority in the future?
  • What tasks will no longer be required?
  • What skills will be prized, and which will be obsolete?
  • Who are the key stakeholders that must be engaged?
  • What are the key messages for customers and suppliers?

Create new success measures

It is this detailed understanding of how the Sponsor expects the business to operate in the future that will drive the creation of relevant success metrics. For example, if we want customers to be aware of our new services, what evidence is there that customers have been informed of these changes?

If we want staff to apply new skills, have relevant courses been created or procured by Learning and Development?

If we want to stop using paper based templates, have new input screens been created in our systems, and have users been trained in how to use them?

Effective sponsors ask practical questions about the progress in defining and adopting new ways of working. They move past the easy questions about whether a project has created the tangible change, to evaluate whether staff are using the tangible project deliverables to work differently.

Conclusion

I think this kind of sponsorship requires a much deeper level of engagement than traditional project sponsorship. It is the willingness to be a part of imagining the desirable future that enables a Sponsor to ask the relevant questions about ‘business readiness’ and the level of preparedness that staff have for working in new ways. It is a lot more involved that sitting as the head of a steering committee and asking a project manager whether they have completed all their activities and if the project is still within budget.

Follow up

If like me you think Sponsorship skills are the key to effective change management, read this paper for a step by step guide on how to make sponsorship work in your organisation.