This Project is Sponsored by ??????

SponsorThe 2014 edition of Best Practices in (Organisational) Change Management from Prosci highlights in its 8th consecutive study, that active and visible sponsorship is once again the greatest contributor to organisational change success.

The greatest obstacle to success was identified as ‘Ineffective change management sponsorship’.

By a two to one margin, the top suggestion from the study participants in regards to what to do differently on the next project was ‘to more effectively engage sponsors by involving them early and ensuring they are active and visible throughout the project’.

Experienced practitioners participating in the study identified four challenges or hurdles to organisational change management, with the top one being ‘ineffective sponsorship’.

Participants identified active and visible participation in the project as the most important activity for sponsors in support of the change, followed by direct communication to employees, and building and maintaining a healthy coalition of support. There was a direct correlation between sponsor effectiveness and meeting project objectives.

So why are we struggling so much with sponsorship?

I believe this is because we don’t really understand what is meant by sponsorship. We have all heard talk about ‘executive sponsorship’ and ‘senior management commitment’ and this is important but sponsorship is much more than a senior executive saying ‘Yes, do it’. Sponsorship comprises both sponsors and stakeholders.

Sponsorship Model

One of the first things we need to do on any project is determine the Sponsorship Model. This involves determining the amount of change the project is going to bring about and the degree of resistance there may be to the change. The more complex the change and more resistant your organization, then greater is the need for strong sponsorship. The Sponsorship Model may range from a model comprising an Executive Steering Committee and an Executive Sponsor to a model that just comprises a mid-level manager Sponsor.

The ‘Primary Sponsor’ is typically the senior manager or executive that initiated the project.


Having determined the sponsorship model, you then need to identify all managers (mid-level and executive managers) that control organisations, processes or systems impacted by the change. These managers are the stakeholders for the change.

You then need to determine which of these stakeholders are required as sponsors in order for your project to succeed.

These stakeholders may not be sponsors at this point in time.

And this is where I believe is our biggest failing.

We don’t take the time to ensure that our stakeholders become equipped and effective sponsors.


Firstly, we need to determine whether our intended sponsors support or oppose the change.

Where the change is not supported or the individual is neutral about the change, action needs to be taken to bring them on-board. There are various methods and approaches that can be used to do this including education about the business drivers for the change and the risks of not changing.

But even if all our sponsors are on-board, do they have the competency to act as a sponsor? We cannot, but often do, make that assumption.

We need to take time to assess the competency of each of our sponsors and where there are gaps, equip them with the capability needed.


What skills and capabilities do our sponsors need 

Communication. Not everyone is an effective communicator. Our sponsors need to be able to communicate how the change is going to affect their peers and staff. They need to be the bi-directional conduit for informal and formal communication and relay that information back to the project team.

Walk the Talk. Sponsors need to be active and visible advocates of the benefits and the drivers for undertaking the change. They need to be able to articulate the business drivers as well as the benefits from an employee perspective including the risks of not undertaking the change.

Coach. Sponsors need to be coaches.  They need to be able to help individuals through their own personal journey in relation to the change. This will involve continual reinforcement of the need for change. They need to empathise whilst continuing to reinforce the need for change. Effective conversations and provision of feedback will be key.

Resistance Manager. Sponsors need to be able to identify and understand the reasons for resistance to the change in order to be able to mitigate it. They need to listen, reflect and question in order to determine the root cause of the resistance and then implement plans to overcome it.

Go Between. Sponsors need to be effective liaisons between the front-line and the project team. They need to take direction from the project team and provide feedback in a timely manner.

What Next

When undertaking your next project and expecting effective change to take place, ensure that you identify AND equip your sponsors. Don’t continue to say ‘We have an executive sponsor’ and expect everything to work out. It won’t. Sponsorship needs to permeate through all the teams and areas impacted by the change.

Yes – this is an investment. Organisational change management takes time but if you want the right results you have to make that investment.

The following graph from the 2014 Prosci research says it all.

Prosci 2014

And by the way, nearly half (49%) of the Prosci study participants stated that less than one in four projects in their organisation applied organisational change management. Therein lies another blog!

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