Active and visible sponsorship is the single greatest contributor to the success of a change initiative and we have 20 years of research to back it up. Since our first Best Practices in Change Management study launched in 1998, participants in our surveys have consistently identified "active and visible" sponsorship as the number one contributor to successful change initiatives. In the most recent study, 72% of respondents who identified their sponsors as "extremely effective" met or exceeded objectives compared to the 29% who had extremely ineffective sponsors.
This tells us that even if you have an impressive change management plan, you're still going to struggle if you don't have a sponsor who is effectively fulfilling the responsibilities of the role.
You can help your sponsors become better at their roles. Sometimes becoming the sponsor on a project requires an individual to change how they do their job. That requires us as change practitioners to make sure they have awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement to make the change. Sound familiar?
Using the ADKAR Model to Build Better Sponsors
The ADKAR Model serves as a framework for how we think about helping our senior leaders to become better sponsors. These are not our 'senior leaders,' with no names or faces. We want to help 'Warren' and 'Dhara' and 'Devon' and 'Nikita' and 'Ada' become better sponsors. This is a personal transition, so we'll tee up the ADKAR Model as the frame:
We often use the ADKAR Model around a particular change like rolling out Office 365 or a merger or a move to a new office building. We tend to use it around a particular change initiative. Let's use the ADKAR Model for the particular change called "Becoming a Good Sponsor." We are looking at how we can help Warren and Dhara and Devon become good sponsors through the lens of the ADKAR Model:
Awareness of the need to be a good sponsor
Desire to participate and support the change as a good sponsor
Knowledge on how to be a good sponsor
Ability to implement the skills and behaviors
Reinforce them to sustain good sponsorship
We are simply pivoting the ADKAR Model and using it for one particular change, which is to become a better sponsor. A few strategies for doing this include:
Awareness of the need to be a good sponsor can be accomplished using appropriate context and language.
Desire is an interesting one. If we've done a good job of building awareness of the need for change, desire tends to follow on very quickly.
Knowledge is where we see the big gap. We need to tell Warren and Dhara and Devon what our expectations are and where we need their support.
With ability, we tend to not see a big gap. Most of our senior leaders have the ability to be good sponsors, yet they just don't know what they're supposed to be doing. Sometimes we see sponsorship capacity barriers, and that might be an ability inhibitor.
But for the most part, they have the ability, yet they don't have the knowledge and reinforcement to sustain sponsorship. It's important for us to remember that even our most senior leaders are human beings and they need reinforcement.
When sponsors show up and kick off the town hall that they were reluctant to do and the audience seems responsive, you need to remember to swing by and say, ''Hey Warren, thanks for showing up at that town hall. It really had a meaningful impact.'' This kind of reinforcement is crucial to sponsor effectiveness.
Use ADKAR to Build Sponsor Effectiveness
Remember that your sponsor is a person who is being impacted by the changes going on around them. Even if they are willing to support you, they may encounter barriers that prevent them from effectively fulfilling their role. If you find that you're struggling with an ineffective sponsor, use the ADKAR Model to assess potential barrier points. Make sure you don't miss the critical steps of explaining what you need them to do and reinforcing their actions with something as simple as a "thank you."
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.