Change Leadership:  The Three Actions Needed by Every Sponsor

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Mar 02, 2017 @ 10:40 AM

In the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) change management methodology, developer Don Harrison defines 4 crucial implementation roles as a CAST of Characters.  Sponsors are defined as those who authorizelegitimize and/or demonstrate ownership for the change (Authorizing Sponsors) or reinforce the change at the local level (Reinforcing Sponsors).Leadership During a Business Change

Sponsorship, however, is not a voluntary position. Leaders can’t simply raise their hand and say, “That’s a great idea, I’ll Sponsor that project!” Management team members are automatically Sponsors if they have people reporting to them who are impacted by the change. 

Equally important, a leader can only be a Sponsor for those people in his/her chain of command.  So if you have a technology change, the CIO can only Sponsor that change in the IT group.  You will need to have active Sponsorship in all the business/clinical areas that are ultimately impacted. 

And note this:  steering committees and task forces are not a substitute for Sponsorship in the lines of business!  Why not?  Because members of these groups can only Sponsor in their own chain of command. 


What Sponsors Say, Do and Reinforce

Contrary to popular belief, Sponsorship is not solely a position on the org chart. Sponsorship is both Action and Position. It is a very active condition!  We are not talking about the actions of one individual Sponsor—we are talking about the demonstrated behavioral commitment level by level in the organization.  This is the single most important factor in achieving benefit realization for strategic investments!

This means that Sponsors must do more than just make sure the project gets launched, or authorize funding for an initiative, or sign memos and emails. There are, in fact, three very specific actions that all Sponsors must demonstrate on a daily basis to show their personal commitment to a change. They must:

  • Express commitment to the change by what they say publicly and privately
  • Model commitment to the new behaviors by the resources they allocate and the decisions they make
  • Reinforce the new behaviors by applying rewards and consequences as behaviors are observed

There must be alignment in what Sponsors say, do, and reinforce. However, reinforcement is the real power lever for driving change faster and more successfully. AIM builds a mathematical model around Sponsorship like this:

Expres, Model and Reinforce: The Three Actions Needed by Every Sponsor

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

That is the definition of “Change Leadership.” But how many times have you seen examples of inconsistencies between what a leader says, does, and what is reinforced?  

3 Sponsor Mistakes

Ineffective Sponsors may say the right things, but don't put the resources and their own personal energy into the change.  Sponsors have to do more than “walk the talk.”  If they don’t they will begin to lose credibility and trust.  Here are a few examples of Sponsor mistakes that can stop your implementation in its tracks:

Mistake:  Sponsors express change, but reinforce “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!  If you are looking for change, it just stands to reason you need different reinforcements.

Mistake:  Sponsors Delegate the Wrong Tasks

Senior Leaders must understand that change begins with them.  However, many Sponsors think implementation is the responsibility of Change Agents, so they attempt to delegate Sponsorship tasks to the Agents. 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

Mistake:  Sponsors believe they can get 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 not providing the cues that reflect the enormity of Transformational Change.  Radical change requires radical changes in Sponsorship. 

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: Sponsorship is the single most critical success factor in ensuring a fast and successful implementation of any type of business change.  But, again, we aren’t talking about the actions of one individual—we are talking about the “cascade” of leaders, level by management level, each of whom is Expressing, Modeling and Reinforcing his or her personal commitment to the initiative. 

Change doesn't just happen "out there"-- it's the actions of Sponsors that drive the pace of the change {Tweet This}. So now we ask, what are your Sponsors expressing, modeling and reinforcing every day for your change?

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Topics: Sponsorship, Leadership