The 7 Habits of an Effective Sponsor of Transformational Change

Posted by Paula Alsher on Fri, May 20, 2016 @ 10:24 AM

Sponsorship is the most critical success factor in ensuring a fast and successful implementation of transformational change.  Sponsors must do more than just make sure the project gets launched, or authorize funding for an initiative.  Sponsors must be active beyond project launch.  In fact, quality Sponsorship is determined by both action and position. 7 Habits of an Effective Sponsor of Change

As for the position part, an individual is automatically a Sponsor if they have people reporting to them who will be impacted by the change. Equally important, an individual can only be a Sponsor for those people in his/her chain of command. The CIO can't be the Sponsor for the ERP system implementation in Finance!  However, Sponsorship is not solely the result of a position on the org chart. Sponsors must demonstrate their personal commitment to the change by three very specific actions.  They must:

  • Express commitment to the change by what they say publically 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

How do Sponsors do that?  In our SponsorShop (a one-day change management training session), we teach Sponsors the following 7 habits needed to be effective during transformational change. 

  1. Commitment We hear so much talk lately about generating and measuring employee engagement, but in reality, what is really needed is Sponsor engagement {Tweet This}!  Sponsors aren’t there to just review a press kit or appear in a video. Instead, Sponsors must actively and personally demonstrate their commitment to the change.  Sound difficult?  It is!  In reality, it takes a lot of time and energy to be a good Sponsor. 

  2. Consistency - A good Sponsor must express, model and reinforce the change with his or her own direct reports throughout the lifecycle of the project.  The key is there MUST be alignment in what the leader says, what the leader does, and what the leader reinforces (rewards and consequences with direct reports). 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.

  1. Credibility - Sponsor credibility is essential. Direct reports need to believe in them, and believe the Sponsor believes in the change. For example, if you are involved in a transformational change around the customer experience and your leaders talk about service excellence, but model and reinforce cost containment above all else, you have a problem.  Trust is only built when what Sponsors say is aligned with what they do and what they reinforce

  2. Responsibility - Some Sponsors believe Change Agents should be able to successfully implement on their own, and so they attempt to delegate Sponsorship tasks to the them.  But this won’t work!  The fact is there are six essential tasks that can't be delegated. Sponsors must: 

     - Establish and communicate the Business Case for Action

     - Participate in goal setting

     - Allocate resources

     - Concentrate on their direct reports

     - Align and apply reward and recognition systems, and

     - Constantly monitor progress

  1. Transparency - At the highest levels of leadership we need Sponsors who are willing to be transparent about their own transformational journey. In fact, the most successful leaders during a transformational change must make some observable, personal sacrifice during the change. 

  2. Courage - Transformation requires difficult decisions and actions.  If Leaders at the top don’t have the courage to act, change won’t happen.  It’s much easier to talk about the rewards of a new culture, a new business model, or a re-vamped structure than to demonstrate the managerial courage and commitment to the hard work of transformational change.

  3. Willing - Sponsors must be willing to change their own actions.  If Leaders behave in the same ways they always have, they are sending an important message to the organization, and it’s not the message they probably intended. The leaders may say “this is different” but if their own behavior is the same as it has always been, the message received is “this is more of the same.” 

A good Change Agent knows active, quality Sponsorship is the single most important success factor for transformation.  Thus, if you are a key member of a business transformation project, you’ll need to dedicate the majority of your time to generating a network of Reinforcing Sponsors. When you are able to cascade quality Sponsorship level by level in the organization, you are able to accelerate.  And you can use the AIM Sponsor Assessment Tool to actually measure your Sponsor against other best practice Sponsor behaviors!

This cascade of Reinforcing Sponsors must understand that transformation begins with them!  They set the tone for the transformation by what they say, what they do, and what they reinforce on a daily basis.  Take a look around your organization.  Do your Sponsors have these good habits?

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Topics: Sponsorship, Transformational Change, Leadership