Choosing a Sponsor for your Change Project
In Change projects the Sponsor plays an important role and has a significant impact on the success or failure of the project. Understanding the impact of the sponsor on success is an important factor when choosing a Sponsor. In our experience, the Sponsor is often chosen based on their position in the organisation’s hierarchy rather than their understanding of the role and their ability and willingness to undertake it. In this post, we explore the role of the Sponsor and highlight some key factors to consider when choosing a Sponsor.
The Sponsor Role
So, what exactly is the role of the Sponsor? While the role of the Sponsor is not to be in the trenches managing the change on a day to day basis their role is much more than showing up for a steering committee meeting once a month. In our view, the Sponsor’s role is to do the following:
- Create the right conditions for success e.g. by ensuring that there is clear alignment between the change project and the organisation’s strategic objectives.
- Champion the change by participating actively and visibly throughout the project (i.e. not just at the launch) and supporting the project across the organisation.
- Build support for change at as many levels of the organisation as possible . Some refer to this as building a sponsorship coalition which recognises that sponsorship does not and should not come from just a single person.
- Communicate effectively i.e. communicate the vision for change, articulate why the change is being done, why they are supporting it, why it is the right thing to do and why others should support the change.
- Help to remove obstacles to change as they arise.
- Ensuring the benefits of the change can and will be realised by the organisation. This is an important element and the organisation should hold the sponsor accountable for delivering the benefits of the change project.
Choosing a Sponsor
Choosing a Sponsor is a key decision for any change project and getting that decision right first time can have a major impact influence on the success of failure of a change project. The following are useful questions to ask when deciding on the best Sponsor for your change project.
- Is the Sponsor clear on what the role entails (as outlined above)? Research from Prosci indicates that only approximately 32% of sponsors have an adequate understanding of their role.
- Are they willing to carry out the role i.e. do they have the commitment to be active and visible throughout the project ?
- Are they able to carry out the role? Do they have the skills, the time and the commitment ? Are they respected within the organisation?
- Can they build support for change and build the relationships of influence that will allow the projects to deliver on its objectives ?
- Are they wiling and able to communicate directly in relation to the change project ?
- Are they prepared to help manage resistance to change ?
- Are they prepared to advocate for the change project including resourcing it and ensuring it is prioritised ?
Project Manager and Sponsor
Where we work with customers on change projects, we always look to meet with the Sponsor to ensure that we as Project Managers and Change Consultants and they as Sponsor agree on the objectives and expectations. We believe that this is vital to ensure that the roles and responsibilities are well defined and understood and there is a high degree of alignment. We use this meeting to do the following:
- Ensure we all understand the background, issues and objectives.
- Discuss the Sponsor’s role and our own role and make sure we have a shared understanding of the roles, the responsibilities, the level of effort and the level of commitment involved.
- Have a frank discussion as to why the Sponsor wants to sponsor the project i.e. to ensure that they have not been handed something they do not want to do, feel unable to do or feel they don’t have the skills to do, and whether they can. In short, are they willing and able?
If you’re interested in discussing this further, get in touch with Pat.