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Change sponsorship is the securing and maintenance of executive support for the change and, more importantly, the change management. This is a crucial aspect of change management all too often overlooked because it is assumed either to be there or be irrelevant. That is an extremely risky calculation.

Change management sponsorship

If you’re wrong about the first—it’s not there—and you’re always wrong if you assume the second, at best your change management and the project itself will be less certain of success and more difficult than necessary. This is because successful change in any organization is political. There are almost always competing interest and opinions. (If there weren’t, change management would be largely unnecessary.)

As such, successful change requires influence to help persuade the reluctant. Ideally your preparations would have revealed centres to be rallied to your cause. In the absence of a detailed search for holistic influencers, which is probably too unwieldy as change impact zones expand, our proxy is the executive change sponsor. For clarity, executive influence here is the ability to persuade and otherwise secure change up to and including organizational force.

What is organizational force? On a continuum from subtle to overt, it’s the ability to successfully and efficiently alter behaviour due to the perception and caché of formal authority at one end through to the formal authority to eliminate (personnel) obstacles. While there are others with the informal sway to lead people to and through a change, very few of them wield that capacity across organizational lines, up and down the hierarchy. Fortunately, that’s the executive job description. Remember, even with the broadest formal authority—that of the CEO—sponsorship is still mostly an act of selling.

Sponsorship in change management

A sponsor—and there can be many—may not actually do anything to advance the project, but change sponsorship—the sponsor—leads it. Among other things, a sponsor’s patronage helps:

  • Convince and align any peers whose departments, teams, areas, etc. are affected.
  • Assure all levels of hierarchy from the board of directors down to the workers, that the entire organization is behind the change.
  • Ensure resources required for the change—money, people, time—are available as needed.
  • Remove obstacles to the change that are too high, wide, or deep for the project team and change manager.
  • Ensure the project team—including the change manager—have the necessary authority (and deference to that authority) required to properly execute. This applies irrespective of whether the change is being pushed top-down or percolating ground-up.

Why sponsor change?

  1. If change is being imposed from above, it needs an executive champion to make the case and drive it across independent teams that have unharmonized objectives.
  2. If change is holistically bubbling up from below, it needs a senior executive to affirm for the middle layers that the whole organization is now behind it so working level champion(s) can drive it. Either way, sponsorship is critical and there are strategies for utilizing optimally.

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