4 Signs Your Transformational Change Projects Are at Risk

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Sep 01, 2016 @ 11:40 AM

Given that somewhere between 30-50% of the success of any transformational change program depends on maintaining visible, active Sponsorship throughout the duration of the program, it is no surprise that if your Change Project is at RiskSponsorship is not what it needs to be, your entire change may be at risk.  

When we talk about Sponsorship, we are referring to the development of a cascade of Sponsors at each management level—each of whom is expressing, modeling and reinforcing his or her personal commitment to the transformation both publically and privately on a daily basis. 

Here are four warning signs to look for in your own transformational change that indicate you don’t have the Sponsorship you need.

The Four Warning Signs

Sign One:  Sponsors Express transformation, but Reinforce “staying the same.”

When there are inconsistencies between what Sponsors say, versus what they do, and even more importantly, what they reinforce, you have a problem.  For example, if you are looking for customer-centric behavior, but your Sponsors continue to reinforce “making your numbers” as most-valued, your transformation is going to be in trouble. Remember, your current reinforcements are perfectly designed for the outputs you are getting right now, so if you are looking for radical change, it just stands to reason you also need radically different reinforcements to move the needle. The gravitational pull of the status quo is enormously powerful!  Reinforcement is defined by the application of positive rewards, negative consequences for non-performance, and intentionally making the desired, new ways easier than continuing to operate in the old ways.

Sign Two: You have Sponsorship at the top of the organization, but weak accountability in the middle layers of the organization.

This is the ever-present conundrum of Sponsorship for transformational change; you will often have the most resistance for the transformation from the very individuals from whom you need Sponsorship!  In fact, one of the common pitfalls for transformational change is that your cascade of Sponsorship starts at the top but falls apart in the mid-to-upper levels of the organization.  When this happens, a “black hole” is created that needs to be addressed for transformational success. 

Sign Three:  Sponsors believe that they can achieve transformational change without changing their own behavior.

When Sponsors believe the transformation is for everyone else “out there” but they continue to operate just as they have always done, they are signaling that they really aren’t after transformational change. Sponsors must visibly demonstrate some personal sacrifice in order to signal that this change is truly different.  The Sponsors of the most successful transformations we have seen have been transparent about the difficulties of the journey and their personal sacrifice.

Sign Four:  Sponsors measure success by the level of project activity and claim victory based on “Installation” rather than “Implementation.”

The pace of the transformation is based on Sponsor behavior, not on the amount of activity of Change Agents! If Sponsors individually and collectively consider transformational change complete at the point of Installation, you most certainly won’t achieve value realization for the significant investments being made.  One way Sponsors demonstrate their commitment for transformational change is when they provide resources up through full Implementation—meaning that all business, technical and human objectives have been accomplished. 

Causes of Poor Sponsorship

Over our 30+ years of change management consulting we've seen some examples of great Sponsors.  But we've also seen more than our share of poor Sponsors who can really cause Change Agents a lot of grief and frustration!  What causes poor Sponsorship?  Here are a few of the reasons Sponsors may not be doing what they need to do.

  1. They aren't educated on their role.  Change Agents may understand that Sponsors need to visibly "express, model, and reinforce" their commitment to the transformation. However, if the Sponsors aren't aware of these expectations, then why would we expect them to change their behavior?  You can solve this through formal training options like the AIM SponsorShop, and by individual coaching.

  2. They are not treated as a Target.  If Sponsors are just assumed to be in "Sponsor mode" based on their position, Change Agents are making a mistake.  Everyone, including Sponsors, are Targets initially.  Even Sponsors need to understand the impact of the transformation on them, and what "is in it for them" personally.

  3. They are over-extended.  Change Agents are well aware that they can easily be over-extended, but the same is true for Sponsors.  Sponsors who are actively demonstrating commitment to the change have limited bandwidth, too.  It takes time and energy to be a good Sponsor.

  4. There is no plan for Sponsor succession.  The fact is that in multi-year transformational change, you can assume that you will have new Sponsors at some point in time.These new Sponsors may come in later in the project lifecycle, but don’t forget they are still Targets first!  If you don’t plan for changes in Sponsorship, you are at risk of slowing down the transformation.

  5. There is poor contracting.  Change Agents who are unclear, or unable to contract effectively with Sponsors will likely not get the required behaviors in return.  Contracting is an ongoing processnot a one-time event at project inception.  The ability to contract with Sponsors for what you need at any one point in time is the most important skill that a Change Agent must have.

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times…generating Sponsorship is the most critical success factor in ensuring a fast and successful implementation of any type of business change {Tweet This}.   Without quality, active Sponsorship your project is at risk for failure.  Is your transformational change at risk?  Are your Sponsors fully prepared for this critical responsibility?

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Topics: Sponsorship, Transformational Change, Barriers to Change