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Good change sponsorship


A major flaw frequently identified as significant in the failure of change is inadequate change sponsorship.  Research has shown that good sponsorship represents a key differentiator between winners and losers in the tactical management of change.  But what makes a good change sponsor?

Our work over the last 55 years provides plenty of research insight, experience and some simple but highly effective insights into preparing sponsors of change.  First let's clarify our terms:

Sponsorship is a form of leadership.  to describe them as synonymous represents a mis-understanding of the potential scope of the leadership domain.  In our lexicon, the person (or group) who legitimises or sanctions change is the 'sponsor'.  There are different types of sponsor: initiating sponsor (who starts things rolling) and sustaining sponsors (who keep them going).  Sponsors are able to make changes without asking for permission.

1.  Interest - Good sponsors actually 'own' the problem.  This is not buy in - that suggests acceptance of a solution that belongs to another.  They need to feel the weight and wrestle with the problem until they arrive at a determined personal commitment to change.  They show dissatisfaction with the status quo, develop and share clear goals for the change, believe in the need for change, publically and privately convey commitment to change (frequently by making sacrifices to ensure success) and pay the price for it in terms of time, energy, money and popularity.  They are willing to make changes themselves and pay the price of changes in their own thinking, behaviour and actions.  They provide sufficient resources and cascade power, sponsorship and clientship.  It cannot be that the 'C' suite holds and drives all change because we 'need the top-level leaders to buy in'.

2. Imagination - Sponsors need to develop and communicate (verbally and non-verbally) an imaginative, appealing and visionary end goal for the change.  They know the amount of ambiguity and risk-appetite they are willing to hold and enable others to work within those boundaries clearly and effectively engaging in the dialogue of change. They create a shared vision of the future and model creative leadership.

3.  Influence - Sponsors legitimise the change.  They set the context and climate for it, understanding what a good climate for change requires and driving workplace climate change.  They take responsibility in creating the climate for others to use their imaginations and to solve problems in new and better ways.  This includes deliberately stocktaking and improving the climate for innovation and change.  They build up resilience and defend the change, dealing with learned helplessness and self-efficacy.  They strengthen people's ability to cope with the change providing the means motive and opportunity for individual, group and organisational learning.  Sponsors instil ownership.  They identify and manage social roles in leading, supporting and achieving the goals of change.

Good sponsors will always be in very visible positions.  They need to understand and manage the entire system of change and to think strategically and holistically to fully secure the benefits from any change.  Of course its always possible to skip some or all of this in the interests of expediency but it always comes at a cost. Frequently this cannot be predicted or fully-costed at the time but the cost emerges in time and will be reaped.

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