Research results clearly point to active and visible executive sponsorship as the number one success factor for major change initiatives. Unfortunately, many executives are not aware of this benchmarking finding, and even those that are aware of the importance of their role often do not understand what effective sponsorship looks like. In this benchmarking study, we asked participants to define the roles of executive sponsors, and to list the mistakes to be avoided.

The following tutorial is based on findings from the 3rd Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study. 288 organizations from 51 countries participated in this study. Information about the report is available online. An updated article will be published with the findings from the most recent study later this year.

Most important executive sponsor activities when managing change

Participants in this benchmarking study recommended five primary roles for top-management sponsors.

1.   Take the lead in establishing a budget and assigning the right resources for the project including:

  • set priorities between project work and day-to-day work
  • be an advocate for assigning the best resources to the team
  • provide the necessary funding and budget for the project
  • appoint an experienced change agent to support the project (experienced in change management)

2.   Be active with the project team throughout the project:

  • help define the program and the scope
  • attend key meetings
  • set deadlines and expectations
  • ask to see deliverables
  • make yourself available to the team members
  • expect results and hold the team accountable

3.   Engage and create support with other senior managers:

  • represent the project to your peers
  • educate key stakeholders
  • communicate the need for change and sell the process to other business leaders
  • hold mid-level managers accountable
  • form and lead a steering committee of key stakeholders
  • combat resistance from other senior managers

4.   Be an active and visible spokesperson for the change:

  • communicate the need for the change to employees
  • share the financial implications and risk of not changing
  • articulate the vision and goals
  • be a champion of the change throughout implementation (stay visible)
  • connect the change to the business strategy

5.   Help manage key resistance points:

  • help the team understand the political landscape and hot spots
  • use authority when necessary
  • clearly set expectations for employees and mid-level managers

Most common mistakes made by executive sponsors

Participants cited the following areas as the most common mistakes made by executive sponsors that they would advise other senior managers to avoid:

  • Not visibly supporting the change throughout the entire process (becoming disconnected from the change after some time has passed).
  • Abdicating responsibility or delegating down - “setting it up and leaving it to the project manager.”
  • Not communicating the reason and need for change and the future state (the vision) to employees and managers multiple times through multiple media.
  • Failing to build a coalition of business leaders and stakeholders to support the project.
  • Moving on to the next change before the current change is in place or changing priorities too soon after the project has started.
  • Underestimating resistance to change and the need to manage the people-side of the change process (unwilling to deal with resistant managers or stay the course when resistance increases).
  • Failing to set expectations with mid-level mangers and front-line supervisors related to the change and change process.
  • Spending too little time on the project to keep it on track and with the project team to help them overcome obstacles.


Core Roles in Change Management download article

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.