Change Agents: Are Your Leaders Sponsors of Change?

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 @ 10:30 AM

Getting the Sponsorship you need is the single most important success factor for any project implementation. The fact is Sponsorship is the most critical success factor in ensuring a fast and successful implementation of any type of business change, but it is also largely misunderstood. Leaders as Sponsors of Change

Quality Sponsorship is determined by both action (behaviors) and positional authority. Sponsors must do more than just make sure the project gets launched, or authorize funding for an initiative. So, we ask the question... Are your Leaders truly acting as Sponsors of your projects?

Don Harrison defines Sponsors in his Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) change management methodology as follows:


Sponsors:  Authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for the change; possess sufficient organizational power and/or influence to either initiate resource commitment or reinforce the change at the local level.


There are two types of Sponsors:

The Authorizing Sponsor: Signs the check to commit resources
The Reinforcing Sponsor: Reinforces commitment to the change at the local level

Sponsorship is defined by three very specific activities. 

  • Express - commitment to the change
  • Model - commitment to the new behaviors
  • Reinforce - the new behaviors (the behaviors “we seek to see”)

Leaders must have alignment in what they say, do, and reinforce. In other words, what the leader says, what the leader does, and what the leader reinforces (rewards and consequences with direct reports) must be consistent. This is the formula for building trust, and that’s important because trust and speed are functional. The higher the trust, the greater the speed of implementation.

However, what Sponsors reinforce is much more important than what they say or what they do. We often hear that good leaders “walk the talk.” But what leaders say and model is far less important than what they reinforce. We can actually build a mathematical model around Sponsorship:

  • 10% depends on what leaders say
  • 20-30% depends on what leaders model
  • 50-60% depends on what leaders reinforce

Caution Ahead... Sponsors sometimes try to delegate their responsibilities to Change Agents! Some Sponsors believe 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!There are six Sponsor tasks that can’t be delegated:

  • Establishing and communicating a compelling “business case for action” for the change
  • Participating in goal setting
  • Allocating resources
  • Concentrating their focus on their direct reports by starting or continuing the cascade of Sponsorship
  • Aligning or applying rewards and consequences for their direct reports
  • Monitoring progress constantly

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. Be prepared for the fact that over the course of the business change, all of your Sponsors will not remain in the same position.

If you are a Change Agent trying to generate Sponsorship here are 5 Tips to help:

Tip#1: To be successful, you will need to spend the majority of your time building a cascade of Sponsors at each level of the organization. When we say “Sponsorship is the single most important factor in successful implementation,” we aren’t talking about the actions of one individual—we are talking about the “cascade” of express, model, and reinforce behavior by leaders, level by level.

Tip#2: A good Sponsor must express, model, and reinforce the change with his or her own direct reports! Sponsors should focus on their own direct reports.

Tip #3: If you have limited resources, focus on building the cascade of Sponsorship and a sound Reinforcement Plan for maximum uptake.

Tip #4: Contract with individual Sponsors for what you specifically need from them. What do they need to express, model, and reinforce at this point in the change? Focus on more impact for less effort and fewer resources.

Tip#5: Educate your Sponsors on their roles and responsibilities. Many Sponsors are unaware of the 3 best practice behaviors that good Sponsors must consistently demonstrate.

Nothing is more important than generating durable Sponsorship if you want fast and successful implementation! So, before you start implementing your next project make sure your leaders know what it takes to truly lead change.

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Topics: Sponsorship, Change Agents, Leadership