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Neutralizing change threats in the new year: The missing sponsor

Prosci and the Change Management Learning Center's final tutorial series of 2008 is titled Neutralizing change threats in the new year. Each tutorial in the series will address one of the biggest obstacles currently facing change management professionals and project leaders as this year comes to a close and the new year begins. Visit the first tutorial in the series to see all six threats and a snapshot of the tactics used to neutralize each threat.


This week's threat: The missing sponsor


Why are sponsors so important?

In all five of Prosci's benchmarking reports in change management - spanning 10 years and over 1400 participants - the role of the sponsor was identified as the #1 contributor to success. Tangibly, the sponsor of a change provides the authorization and funding for the change to more forward. They are the ones who launch change efforts. Intangibly, their involvement sends a strong signal to the rest of the organization. If the sponsor is active and visible in his or her support, the organization notices. Likewise, if the sponsor announces the change and then disappears, individuals in the organization see this equally strong signal. The effectiveness of the sponsor is one of the strongest predictors of project success or project failure.

There are many consequences of a missing sponsor. Resistance to change throughout the organization increases when there is not a strong leadership presence. The team encounters more obstacles and is not able to resolve critical conflicts between schedule, resources and scope. Changes are often delayed. When a sponsor has not built the necessary coalition, changes fail to gain the necessary momentum across the organization. Each of these consequences has real, financial impact on the value a change delivers, i.e. ROI. Given the current economic climate and the importance of the initiatives underway, a missing sponsor cannot be tolerated.


Why do they go missing?

There are a number of reasons a sponsor goes missing during a change. Some of the most common include:

  • They do not understand the role of sponsor - they do not see their role beyond signing a check and charter; they have not embraced the "active and visible" role required for project success.

  • They fail to personally engage - they do not give the necessary energy, effort and focus to being active and visible.

  • They are present only at the start of the change, then walk away - they launch changes and then move on to other issues, leaving the change to move ahead (or flounder) on its own.

  • They abdicate sponsorship to someone else in the organization - they delegate the responsibilities of sponsor to the project team, an outside consultant or a different manager in the organization.

  • They have too many initiatives underway - sponsoring a change takes time and energy; if there are too many changes going on at one time a sponsor will not have the necessary capacity to fulfill the role on each one.

According to the most recent benchmarking study, lack of sponsorship is not a rare occurrence. In the 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report participants cited ineffective sponsorship as the #1 obstacle to successful change, replacing employee resistance at the top of the list.

Change Management resources


Tactics for neutralizing the missing sponsor


Getting your foot in the door; demonstrating why change leadership matters

The first of the three tactics is around building support and buy-in related to the importance of sponsorship. You must make a compelling case to senior leaders about the need for change management and the need for them to fulfill the role of a good sponsor. You must connect change management and their active and visible involvement to the business results and financial performance of the projects they sponsor. Your sponsors must say: "change management is important and my role as a sponsor is key to success" - before they will begin fulfilling the role.

There are numerous approaches for helping sponsors see the impact of change management and sponsorship. From a qualitative perspective, you can illustrate the consequences of not managing the people side of change. This is a "cost avoidance" tactic - with the costs being delays in project deployment, resistance, productivity declines, impacts on customers and lower morale. Paint a clear picture of what this change will look like if it goes forward without sponsorship. From a quantitative perspective, you can share the growing body of data that links project performance to effective change management. In Prosci's 2007 study, data showed that projects with excellent change management were five times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. You can also create scenarios to show how ineffective management of the people side of change directly impacts the expected ROI or cash flow for the project.

In the end, you need to show leaders the impact of sponsorship on financial performance of their projects.


Developing leadership competencies; building the role of great sponsorship

The second tactic for the missing sponsor is showing them what it really means to be a great sponsor. For many, the term "sponsor" is still a fuzzy and ill-defined concept. Most senior leaders, when presented with the specific activities they need to complete, will fulfill the role admirably. The challenge is showing them what it truly means to be a sponsor of change.

Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management report provides the hard-hitting, concrete actions that help a senior leader see what it means to sponsor a change. The report defines three main roles: 1) participate actively and visibly throughout the project, 2) build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance, and 3) communicate directly with employees. Within these three roles are numerous specific activities that constitute effective sponsorship. 

A final note - for many leaders, being "a great sponsor of change" is a new leadership competency. The role of the leader in times of change has shifted as organizations have empowered their workforces. It is important to treat "sponsoring change" as a new leadership competency that can be taught and developed.


Being your sponsor's coach; techniques for coaching upward

The final tactic for the missing sponsor is coaching upward. In times of change, the change management team or project team must step in and be the sponsor's coach. Most sponsors are very busy and need support if they are going to be the active and visible sponsor you need. Your role is to do the leg work for them: identify who is in the sponsor coalition and schedule one-on-one meetings, create talking points for them and put meetings and appearances on their calendar.

Coaching upward can be a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable task. However, if you are able to make a compelling case for change management and clearly demonstrate what the role of a great sponsor is, you are on the right track. Once they see the big picture, good leaders will ask, "what can I do?" This opens the coaching relationship and is the start of great sponsorship.

Prosci's 3-phase change management methodology has a tool called the sponsor roadmap for coaching upward. The roadmap is created along with other key change management plans - like the communication plan and training plan - and lays out the specific actions required for the project by the sponsor. The sponsor roadmap provides the structure for the coaching relationship and the sponsor activities for the project.


Resources for neutralizing the missing sponsor

If you need to: The right resource is:
Show leaders what it really means
to be a great sponsor of change
Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report - The Sponsor role and Sponsor activities sections of the 2007 report give concrete steps based on data from over 420 participants. Provide sponsors with a copy of the full report (which adds credibility); mark and highlight the specific sections you want them to read.
Help leaders build their
sponsorship competencies
Prosci's 4-6 hour executive program - taught by experienced Fortune 500 executives, this highly interactive program answers three key questions for senior leaders: What is change management? Why is it important? What is my role? Participants complete assessments on project health and their own performance as a sponsor. Call 970-203-9332 to learn more about this program.
Provide leaders with specific activities
for a given project or initiative
Change Management Toolkit or Change Management Pilot 2008 - these two products present Prosci's organizational change management methodology. The Toolkit is a hardcopy 3-ring binder with USB driveand the Pilot 2008 is an online tool with downloads. Each include assessments and templates for building a change management plan, including the sponsor roadmap. These two products are also included as materials at Prosci's change management certification program.



Coming up

In the next tutorial in this series, the second threat is neutralized:

  1. Engaging a missing sponsor
  2. Managing resistance to change
  3. Building middle management support and alignment
  4. Planning for change management
  5. Evaluating overall project health
  6. Avoiding change saturation


Comment on one of the threats: Do you have thoughts on one of the threats or tactics you would like to share? Complete the form below and let us know what you think. Your comments will be included in the upcoming tutorials. 







Offerings for applying Prosci's change management methodologies:


  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former fortune 500 executives at locations across the US - includes over $1000 in products, including the Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, the Change Management Toolkit and the Change Management Pilot 2010
  • Train-the-trainer ($3500) - learn how to teach Prosci change management training programs in your organization
  • Onsite training - bring Prosci to your location for 3-day certification programs, 4-6 hour executive briefings, 1-day manager programs or 1-day employee programs - call +1-970-203-9332 for more information

Methodology tools:

  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology, includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Pilot Pro 2010 ($449) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes 4 copies of the Employee's Survival Guide)
  • PCT Analyzer ($149/$349) - web-based tool for collecting PCT Assessment data, analyzing results, identifying risks and developing action steps

References and books:

  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289 / quantity discounts available) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • ADKAR: a model for change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - the definitive work on Prosci's ADKAR® Model
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change ($14.95 / quantity discounts available) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change, answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change



*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources


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Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




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