I have a little secret to tell you. If you are a Change Agent it is probably something you don’t want to hear, but I’m going to let you in anyway. Ready? Here it is… your Sponsors don’t care about change management.
Shocking, I know. Especially since we all know change management is the one sure thing that can help organizations implement a business change faster and more successfully. But when it comes to people outside the change management world, including senior leaders and other project Sponsors, the cold-hard truth is they don’t want to hear about it.
What Not to Do
I’ve seen it time and time again. Change Agents who drone on about the change management methodology they’ve chosen, how they’re going to build readiness through involvement while minimizing resistance and disruption. All the while their Sponsor’s eyes have completely glazed over. I have no doubt the Sponsor is thinking:
- How much is this going to cost me?
- How much time is this going to take?
- How am I going to resource this project?
- Change Management
Yes, these words all have relevant meaning to those of us who are doing the hard work of implementation. It is obvious to us that change management involves Sponsorship, Resistance and Disruption. But do your Sponsors care? Probably not.
The Language of “Sponsorland”
What do Sponsors care about? It’s actually quite simple: Sponsors care about three things and three things only. They want to get projects done faster, cheaper, and at the needed level of quality. In other words, your Sponsors care about results.
The bottom line is if you want to connect with people, you have to speak their language (i.e., in their frame of reference), not yours. It’s like this, when you go to France your best option is to speak French. When you go to “Sponsorland” you need to speak the language of Sponsors.
So, in your next Sponsor meeting instead of talking in generic terms about change management, empowerment and resistance try talking instead in business terms that focus on results. For example, talk about how you can help get their strategic initiatives implemented quickly and at the intended benefit realization. Focus on how you will be able to identify the specific risks that are embedded in the organization that will slow down or stall the change.
Tips on How to Speak to Sponsors
Here are a few tips from the AIM Change Management Methodology on how to speak with your Sponsors in order to influence them to do what you need to get done:
- Be Specific: Throw away phrases like, “I need your support” because Sponsors will always say you have their support. If you leave the meeting with only their support, you’re not leaving with anything at all!
- Work to Build Trust and Credibility: The one question every Sponsor has is, “Can I trust you?” Trust is built when Change Agents do what they say they are going to do, and when they put Sponsors in a position for them to look and be successful. Remember, trust and speed are functional. The more trust your Sponsor has in you, the faster you’ll be able to implement.
- Data Matters: The other thing we know about the language of “Sponsorland” is data matters. While anecdotal evidence is useful, Sponsors are more likely to pay attention to data. That's why I like to frame my conversations with Senior Leaders around data I’ve collected from the Implementation History Assessment and/or Implementation Risk Forecast. When numbers talk, Sponsors listen.
- Make Your Sponsor Look Good: Be sure when you ask for something from your Sponsor, you are protecting their time, money, energy and reputation. Make your Sponsor look great and you are far more likely to get what you are asking for.
At the end of the day, every Sponsor wants to pay the least price to get the best results possible. It’s why I say change management is an exercise in power and politics. When Change Agents learn how to speak in the language of “Sponsorland,” conversations will be much more productive, and your Sponsors are much more likely to be invested in what you are saying. Which in turn will be your first step to building the relationship you need in order to implement your change faster and at a higher level of success. And that’s a win-win for both you and your Sponsor!