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 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.
The ADKAR Model serves as a framework for how we think about helping our senior leaders to become better sponsors. These are not nameless, faceless leaders. We want to help Warren and Dhara and Devon 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 on a project like rolling out Office 365, an organizational merger, or another specific change initiative. So, let's use the ADKAR Model for the specific change of "becoming a good sponsor." In other words, 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 of a sponsor
Reinforcement to sustain good sponsorship
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. To address this, we need to tell Warren and Dhara and Devon what our expectations are and where we need their support.
Ability tends to already exist in leaders, but they often don't know what good sponsors are supposed to do. Sometimes we so see sponsorship capacity barriers, which may inhibit Ability.
Reinforcement is needed to sustain sponsorship. But barriers to Knowledge and Ability can keep sponsors from being effective. It's important for us to remember that even our most senior leaders are human beings, and they need Reinforcement like everyone else.
When a sponsor shows up and kicks off the town hall meeting they were reluctant to do, and the audience seems responsive, you need to remember to swing by and say, ''Hey, Dhara, 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 enhance 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.