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Sponsoring a Change Management Initiative

written by: PlatypusPaws • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/6/2011

This article discusses the importance of sponsoring change and how the sponsor has a key role in helping the project achieve success.

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    Role of Sponsor

    A sponsor is often viewed as the figurehead of a change management initiative. But, is figurehead the correct term? Particularly when a sponsor needs to play a very active role on the project? Project sponsorship means much more than the occasional speech or signature. For a project to truly achieve it's anticipated benefits, real change needs to be embedded within an organisation, and this can only be achieved with a pro-active sponsor.

    Unfortunately, some sponsors make the mistake of not getting involved and remaining distant from the project team and the people affected by the change.

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    Driving Change Forward

    Change will not achieve enough momentum to be successful if it isn't driven from above by senior management. People need to understand that change is required and be given reasons why they need to change. They need to have knowledge and to accept that processes need to now work differently. They need to agree that there will be real benefit by doing so. Unless these important messages are delivered by sponsors, people may resist or only partially adapt to change.

    Change also needs support from across the organization and this means from other senior stakeholders. Only senior executives can build a strong leadership team to support a change. All organizations have a large portfolio of projects with only limited resources. Choices have to be made, and only those changes with strong senior management backing will proceed.

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    Decide the Reason For Change

    1 It is the sponsor who decides the reasons for change. They set the objectives and determine why it is necessary to make the investment. Many large scale changes are embarked upon without thorough investigation of what the project is truly trying to achieve.

    It is up to the sponsor to decide the purpose of the change:

    • What is the change trying to achieve?
    • What are they expecting the future to look like?
    • What should be changing and what won't be changing?
    • What are the factors that are driving this change? What happens if we don't change? The project team can try to guess the answers to these questions but for real success they must be answered, and given full consideration, by the sponsor and stakeholders of the project.

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    Leading Change

    It is the sponsor's role to lead the change within the organization. Being a leader means being the first person to make changes and to show everyone else what the change truly means. For a sponsor to be successful in their role, they need to understand what the change means at all levels of the business. It's very likely that the high level objectives of the change initiative mean very little to the people at the grass roots of the operation. Therefore, the sponsor needs to understand the difficulties and obstacles to change. By working with other stakeholders and managers, people can be supported to overcome any obstacles.

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    A Role Model For Changing

    The best way to get people to change is to set examples from the highest levels within the organization. If senior executives say one thing and then do another, people begin to doubt whether the organization is truly committed to the change initiative.

    The sponsor sets an example for everyone else. Whether it's in public or private meetings, it is important that the sponsor fully supports and always endeavors to gather support for the initiative. If the sponsor has defined the reasons for change and has agree a consistent message about the need for change, they can then communicate one strong message throughout the organization.

    The sponsor can also reward those that are supporting and making the early steps to change their behavior. This sends out a strong message within the organization that old ways of working are no longer appropriate.

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    Sponsoring Change

    It is essential that the right people are selected to sponsor change. The right person should have seniority, respect and credibility within the organization. And importantly, they should also have the time and drive to commit to the project.

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