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As a senior executive, sponsor of change, and Executive Instructor for Prosci Canada teaching change management practitioners, one of the most frequently asked questions I have received is, "How can I get my executives on board with change management and fulfilling their roles as sponsors?"

I'd like to say I have an easy answer to that one, but the truth is this may take time. Remember, change is a process. One of the great tools to help is, of course, the Prosci ADKAR Model—you've got to build their awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. The ADKAR Model says that in order to successfully make a change, an individual must have strong:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate in and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

Now, using the same model to "apply change management," we get:

  • Awareness of the need for change management
  • Desire to participate in and support change management
  • Knowledge on how to apply change management
  • Ability to implement change management
  • Reinforcement to sustain change management

Ask yourself: How can I build awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement for change managementespecially with senior leaders?

Here are a few tips. You can remember these as the "The 5 B's of Executive Buy-In"

  • Best Practices
  • Business Case
  • Be Specific
  • Be Assertive
  • Bring in an Expert

Best Practices

Read and re-read the Prosci Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report. Being familiar with best practices will enable you to answer questions about change management with confidence and credibility. Executives thrive on effective performance, and how better than by following the learnings of more than 4,000 organizations?

Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management includes some important findings you can use to position change management in your organization, including the costs and consequences of applying change management late on a project and the correlation between effective change management and meeting objectives, staying on schedule, and staying on budget. Best practices teach us effective methods, efficient ways and powerful tools for managing and leading change. Become the subject matter expert in change management.

Business Case

Based on the business case for the project, develop a solid business case for change management. Remember that change management is all about benefit realization. Our goal is to have the people ready, willing and able the day we go live with the project, so we can maximize project benefits as soon as possible. Weave as many of the four benefits of change management—benefit realization, risk mitigation, return on investment, and certainty of return—into your change management business case as possible.

The stronger you can make the connection between effective change management and realizing project benefits, the stronger your business case will be. Then be ready to defend your business case and educate others about the true bottom-line benefit of change management.

Be Specific

In planning Sponsor Roadmap activities, be specific with your requests and fully support your executives. Sponsors are often time-starved and removed from the potential day-to-day impacts of a change. They need a trusted advisor or coach to help keep them be active and visible. Remember, the success of the project is their success, so if you can help them to achieve better results, you'll win their respect, admiration and support. But be specific with those requests. Executives have limited time and multiple demands. They will value you if you can design and support them in ways that minimize the time requirement and maximize the impact of their actions.

Be Assertive

If you approach your executives with timidity, they may think you lack confidence and you'll fail to make your point. Nobody likes to hear about more problems, especially executives who already feel under the gun. Instead, give them solutions. Remember that you are backed by best practice research and methodologies that can help your organization achieve higher levels of success. They need to hear and know this. You may be a pioneer in your organization with knowledge others don't have. Your task is to boldly move forward with ideas, answers and solutions to the problems that may be plaguing your past and current projects. Don't wait for someone to ask you for help. Assert yourself!

Bring in an Expert

Sometimes you need the support of an outside expert to break through a wall. An outsider has the independence to challenge traditional thinking, break down paradigms, and "teach the old dogs new tricks." Use those experts to send a clear message and help bring executives to their own aha moments regarding change management. Then, make sure you are poised to be assertive, are armed with best practices, have a solid business case, and are specific with your requests.

Good luck and remember to share your experiences.

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Founded in 1994, Prosci is a global leader in change management. We enable organizations around the world to achieve change outcomes and grow change capability through change management solutions based on holistic, research-based, easy-to-use tools, methodologies and services.