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Role of executive sponsors when managing change

From Prosci's Change Management Best Practices Benchmarking Report


288 organizations participated in the Change Management Best Practices benchmarking study. They were asked to identify the most important sponsor activities during a major change project. Upon analysis of the data, three main audiences emerged that the sponsor must interact with: 1. Project team 2. Stakeholders (executive and senior management) 3. Employees

The figure below is a 3 x 3 diagram illustrating the responsibilities of the sponsor in each project phase (start-up, design and implementation) and the associated audience for these activities.




Sponsor roles at the beginning of a project

During project start-up, the primary activities are:

  • Acquire the necessary project resources
  • Build management support and sponsorship
  • Create awareness with employees of the business drivers and need for change

A detailed breakdown of the input from participants is shown in Table 1.


Role of sponsors during the start-up of a new project

With the project team:


With other stakeholders:


With employees:


   Select the best project leader and team members; include resources with change management expertise

   Provide necessary funding for the team, including training for all team members on change management

   Set priorities related to day-to-day work vs. project work to allow adequate team member participation

   Help the team understand the critical business issues or opportunities that must be addressed

   Provide clear direction and objectives for the project; describe what success will look like

   Jointly develop a high-level view of the future and link the change to the business strategy

   Be directly involved with the project team; set expectations; review key deliverables and remove obstacles

   Take ownership for success of the project and hold the team accountable for results

   Enlist the support of executive managers and create a support network

   Create a steering committee of key stakeholders to monitor progress

   Educate senior managers about the business drivers for change and the risks of not changing

   Work directly with managers who show early signs of resistance

   Create change advocates within the leadership team

   Provide training on change management for senior managers

   Establish change activities that the leadership group is responsible for completing

   Define accountabilities for mid-level managers


   Describe the current state of the business and share the business issues or opportunities

   Explain why a change is needed now; share the risk of not changing

   Share a vision for the future; show how the change will address the business problems or opportunities

   Answer the questions: how will this change affect me, what’s in it for me

   Be proactive, vocal and visible; communicate frequently, including face-to-face

   Listen and be open to dialogue and resistance

   Tell employees what they can expect to happen and when

   Understand the organizational culture and beliefs

   Repeat key messages over and over again

   Share plans with customers and suppliers

   Show project milestones and provide progress updates


Table 1 - Start-up activities of executive sponsors



Sponsor roles during the design phase

During the design phase of a project, the primary activities for executive sponsors are:

  • Provide direct support to the project team
  • Develop sponsorship and support with mid-level and senior managers
  • Be active and visible to employees and educate them about the future state

A detailed breakdown of the input from participants is shown in Table 2.


Role of sponsors during the design phase of a new project

With the project team:


With other stakeholders:


With employees:


   Stay involved: attend key project meetings, review project status and hold the team accountable for results

   Provide the necessary resources and funding, including ensuring that the right people are made available to support the design work

   Be accessible to the team: be a sounding board, provide ideas and constructive criticism to the team, ask “what if”

   Remove roadblocks; help manage conflicts and political issues

   Communicate expectations and feedback from other senior managers and stakeholders

   Keep the team on track and manage “scope creep”

   Reward success stories and achievements

   Take the time to understand the solution

   Identify linkages to other projects that may impact the team

   Continue to build support and sponsorship among senior managers; reinforce the key messages; resolve differences in perception; address areas of resistance

   Let senior managers know how they can proactively support the change

   Conduct steering committee meetings; keep stakeholders informed; use this forum to resolve critical issues

   Use public and private conversations to reinforce leadership support

   Communicate project progress to all executive managers

   Hold mid-level managers accountable

   Communicate frequently to employees; make your personal commitment visible including face-to-face conversations

   Reinforce the reason for change, risk of not changing and the evolving details about the future state

   Answer the question “what will this change mean to me”

   Listen to what employees have to say; take the pulse of the organization and collect feedback

   Share project progress and provide updates on a regular basis; update employees on “what can you expect to happen and when”

   Enable employee participation and involvement

   Involve customers

Table 2 - Design-phase activities of executive sponsors



Sponsor roles during the implementation phase

During the implementation phase of a project, the primary activities for executive sponsors are:

  • Maintain momentum and support for the project team
  • Align managers around the change and manage resistance
  • Reinforce change with employees - maintain active and visible sponsorship

A detailed breakdown of the input from participants is shown in Table 3.


Role of sponsors during the implementation phase of a new project

With the project team:


With other stakeholders:


With employees:


   Secure resources necessary for implementation

   Stay engaged with the team: attend meetings, reward successes, hold them accountable for results and build enthusiasm

   Remove roadblocks and help the team overcome obstacles

   Stay the course; avoid shifting priorities too early

   Continue to meet in public and private with senior managers and stakeholders; align sponsorship; provide progress updates; resolve issues

   Communicate expectations to senior managers for their support of the change; provide activities they can do and messages they can communicate to their organizations

   Manage resistance from middle managers; correct or remove managers who will not support the change

   Reinforce key messages; align business strategy with project objectives; increase personal communications

   Set expectations for employees; clearly communicate consequences of not changing

   Enforce application of new processes and behaviors

   Look for quick wins; share successes

   Publicly reward and share successes; visibly celebrate success stories


Table 3 - Implementation activities of executive sponsors



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To learn more about sponsor roles during change and change management best practices:

Change Management Toolkit: a comprehensive change management process, includes specific sections on sizing your change management effort, communication planning, training development, sponsor roadmaps, and reinforcing change. Change leaders, consultants and change management team members - get templates, assessments, guidelines, examples and worksheets that help you implement organizational change management
Best Practices in Change Management: 411 companies share experiences in managing change and lessons on how to build great executive sponsorship. The report makes it easy to learn change management best practices and discover the mistakes to avoid leading change. Change leaders, consultants and change management team members - learn what is working for others, what is not, and what mistakes to avoid - includes team and sponsor activity lists. Includes success factors, methodology, role of top management, communications, team structure and more.
Change Management: the People Side of Change: introductory guide to change management -  an excellent primer and catalyst for change leadership with best practices from Prosci's latest research and case studies. Change leaders, executives and managers - learn the 'why,' 'how,' and 'what' of change management. "Change Management is like a driving school for change agents."  This 'quick read' includes the ADKAR model and the Prosci change management process.
Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors: complete with team and individual coaching activities, best practices findings and frequently asked questions. Managers and supervisors - a guide specifically designed for managers and supervisors dealing with change. This tool is ideal for managers who are directly dealing with employees facing change. Use with the Employee's Survival Guide to Change and the Change Management Toolkit.
Employee's Survival Guide to Change: a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change. Employees facing change - answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to be effective change agents with the ADKAR model.


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