A Sponsorship Reality Check: 5 Common Myths Debunked

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 @ 08:00 AM

Nothing is as important to project success as Sponsorship. Nothing. But, unfortunately, securing lasting, active Sponsors is one of the biggest hurdles faced by Change Agents during any organizational change. In order to help you secure Sponsors for your next project, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 Sponsor-related myths-- and a reality check to go with each one.

:  Sponsors can volunteer for the job.

Reality Check:  Sponsorship is determined by both position AND action. Change Management Myths

One thing we know from our change management consulting work is that leaders can’t just raise their hand and say, "That's a great idea--I'll Sponsor that.”  Leaders can only Sponsor changes in their own area of authority. And whether managers realize it or not, they are a Sponsor for every change that has an impact on their direct reports. That’s the position part.

Then, there are three very specific actions every Sponsor must visibly and consistently demonstrate to drive the adoption of change. They must Express commitment to the change. They must Model commitment to the new behaviors. And they must Reinforce the new behaviors on a daily basis with their direct reports.

Reinforcement, though, is the most important action a Sponsor will take. The Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) breaks it down like this: 10-20% of effective Sponsorship depends on what leaders say. 20-30% depends on what leaders model. But 50% or more depends on what a leader reinforces with direct reports. Reinforcement is the real power lever for driving change faster and more successfully!


Myth:  The Executive Sponsor has more impact on reinforcing a change than anyone else.

Reality Check:  The Executive Sponsor can really only reinforce new behaviors directly with his or her own direct reports.

One of the most difficult truths for Sponsors to accept is that they can’t change behavior of people who don’t report to them. Many changes stall out because the Executive Sponsors fail to start the cascade of demonstrated commitment with their own direct reports, falsely assuming that these senior leaders will just do the right thing.

It’s important to remember that leaders reinforce the behavior of their own direct reports through what they reward, and what negative consequences they put in place. This is exactly why Steering Committees are not a substitute for Sponsorship—these leaders do not have the authority to apply reinforcements to anyone outside of their own direct reports.  Steering Committees are decision-making bodies for governance of projects, but you will still need to have Sponsors at each level of the organization, and in every area impacted by the change in order to actually change behavior {Tweet This}.


Myth: Sponsors should care about "Change Management."  

Reality Check:  What Sponsors care about is getting their projects done better and faster (and probably cheaper, too.)  

In our change management consulting, we don't talk to Sponsors about change management, or culture, or why the human side of projects is so important.  We don't talk about our change management methodology. We talk about their programs and projects, their risks, and what it will take to deliver value realization for their investment.  

So, if you're a Change Agent, don't go to Sponsors and talk about change management.   Your Sponsor's eyes will likely glaze over! Instead, discuss the project from the Sponsor's "Frame of Reference"-- in other words, use language like "We could get this project done faster and at higher quality if..."


Myth:  Your Sponsors are only really needed at project launch.

Reality Check:  You need your Sponsors to be active for the entire lifecycle of the project.

It makes sense that Sponsors need to be very active at every stage of the project.  You will need different actions depending on where you are in the lifecycle.  In fact, one of the greatest challenges Change Agents face is getting sustained Sponsorship.  

Remember too, what you need from Sponsors is different at the beginning, middle, and end of your project. Getting Sponsorship right is an ongoing process, not a one-time event that can be covered on a simple checklist. Also, be prepared for the fact that over the course of the business change, all of your Sponsors will not remain in the same position.


Myth: Sponsors can delegate their responsibilities to Change Agents.

Reality Check:  There are six Sponsor tasks that can’t be delegated.

Some Sponsors believe Change Agents should be able to successfully implement on their own, and so they attempt to delegate Sponsorship tasks to the Agents. But this won’t work! Here are the 6 actions that Sponsors cannot delegate away:

  1. Establishing and communicating a compelling “Business Case for Action” for the change

  2. Participating in goal setting

  3. Allocating resources

  4. Concentrating their focus on their direct reports by starting or continuing the cascade of Sponsorship

  5. Aligning or applying rewards and consequences for their direct reports

  6. Monitoring progress constantly

By definition, Sponsors authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for a change. It is the cascade of their Express, Model, and Reinforce behaviors that accelerates adoption of change. It’s that simple. No myths--just reality.

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Topics: Sponsorship