Sponsors need change management practitioners, and practitioners need sponsors. Each provides the missing pieces the other needs to be successful in their role and to increase the likelihood that initiatives deliver intended results.

The Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix explains this relationship in a 2x2 that sets the context for more effective sponsorship, change management, and benefit realization.

Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix-Symbiotic Relationship to Drive Outcomes

Evolution of the Model

I have been building the matrix in real time on flip charts and whiteboards during many of my training programs for several years. My hope is to shed some light on the sometimes complex and nebulous relationship between change management practitioners and sponsors.

I must admit, the first build of the matrix was in response to a somewhat inflammatory article in early 2016 claiming, “The ‘change agent’ construct is a crock because if the CEO cares so deeply about this project, why can’t he or she manage the leadership team to make it happen?” Basically, if senior leaders would just do their jobs, there is no need for change management practitioners.

Having led research at Prosci for 15 years, this ran counter to everything I had seen in my work. Numerous studies and experiences showed that the sponsor and the change agent (practitioner) need to work together to drive adoption and usage so the people-dependent project outcomes are achieved. At best the claim oversimplifies the relationship; at worst it could be dangerous and hurt practitioners, sponsors, initiatives, organizations, and ultimately employees.

That spring at our first-ever offering of our Advanced Immersion Workshop in San Mateo, California, I started to sketch out my view of the relationship. I began with a simple 2x2 matrix. The vertical axis is “Sponsors” and “Practitioners” and the horizontal axis is “Have” and “Don’t Have.”

Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix

Filling out the matrix

Then we started filling in each of the cells. In the first several iterations with classes and advanced practitioners, a common set of factors quickly emerged.

We start by listing what sponsors and practitioners have. Not all sponsors and practitioners have these things, and this isn’t the exhaustive list of things they bring to the table in times of change. But it is certainly directionally correct. The most common responses included:
Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix-Have

Then we listed what each does not have. Disclaimer: this thinking takes a bit of humility and self-reflection to identify what we are missing – whether we are sponsors or practitioners. “I do too have influence!” and “How do I tell my sponsor they don’t have the knowledge they need?” are common responses I’ve heard. But, in the spirit of getting better, I hope we can all explore this model honestly with an eye toward growing. That being said, the most common responses for what they did not have were:
Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix-Dont-Haves

Very quickly you’ll pick up on the pattern that my classes kept noticing. What sponsors need but don’t have, we practitioners can provide: expertise, time and focus on adoption, methodologies, etc. What we practitioners need but don’t have, the sponsor has: influence, authority, credibility, etc. It’s right there – the crisscross that forms the foundation of the symbiotic relationship between sponsors and practitioners. Driving people-dependent ROI depends on us working together.
Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix-Crossover

It’s a win-win-win when our people are prepared, equipped and supported on their change journeys (i.e., change management). In this way, they can sufficiently adopt and proficiently use change solutions, so project outcomes and value are realized.

A few more examples

I used Polleverywhere.com in two presentations in late 2018 to ideate with large groups and build out the matrix in real time. This exercise both validated the initial conclusion and added additional richness to the model. The results of these sessions – an ACMP NorCal Symposium in October 2018 and two Prosci webinars in December 2018 – are shown below.

Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix-Examples

The larger word clouds certainly add richness and depth, but in the end we draw the same conclusion: If we want to deliver the expected benefits on our change initiatives, we need to create these symbiotic relationships between practitioners and sponsors.

Sponsors and practitioners as enabling partners

Practitioners and sponsors each play an important yet unique role in organizational change management. The Prosci Sponsor-Practitioner Matrix reveals factors that are typical to each role, and importantly shows how the roles are complementary to one another. For successful change outcomes and success in their individual roles, practitioners and sponsors should work together as enabling partners in change management. The strength of this symbiotic relationship will benefit each person on their change journey and help drive desired results for your change initiatives.

Executive Sponsr and Role 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.