3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Ignore Executive Sponsorship

The one thing you can count on in today’s fast-paced, technology driven world is change. Charles Darwin got it right when he stated, “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Unfortunately, a focus on change often takes a back seat to the hustle and bustle of daily operations and the pressure to achieve increasing financial targets, leaving most organizations missing the change curve altogether. A recent study conducted by Project Management Institute (PMI) reveals that only 18% of organizations report being highly effective at organizational change management.

That’s a problem.

Fortunately, the same PMI study found that among effective companies that undergo change initiatives, 81% utilize executive sponsors — those upper level executives who act as an intermediary between those who initiate and conceive the program and those who execute and implement it. Additionally, the study stated that an actively engaged executive sponsor is the top driver of project success.

That’s the solution.

In fact, from my research and personal experiences — two day or two year, single team or cross-enterprise, single location or multi-time zone projects — I have discovered that the key factor in the success or failure of a project is first, having an executive sponsor and second, having the right executive sponsor.

Below are what I believe are the top three reasons having an executive sponsor is so critical to successful projects. We’ll leave identifying the specific traits desired in the right executive sponsor for another day.

1) Executive sponsorship provides DIRECTION

All organizations have a unique ecosystem consisting of such variables as structure, goals, culture, communication styles, processes, procedures, and of course, people. As with any ecosystem, one component cannot thrive without the other.

An organization’s complex ecosystem calls for someone in the organization to be the middleman between those who have dreamt the idea, those who execute it, and everyone impacted. That’s a lot of people with a lot of varying interests, and often they are competing. A key person is required to make sure the many needs are aligned, and aligned to the organization’s goals. That key person is the executive sponsor.

According to PMI, the executive sponsor’s goal is to “deliver maximum possible value” by taking ”diverse and often competing stakeholder interests and negotiate a common ground that all stakeholders can agree on and collaborate to deliver the most value.”


2) Executive sponsorship provides COMMUNCIATION

Creating a specific, steadfast direction is one thing, being able to shape a path forward while building stakeholder buy-in is another. The wise organization is the one which knows how to develop the directed path forward into a communicable story that will ultimately drive change. Given the complex ecosystem we discussed above, this is an extra challenging piece of the executive sponsor’s role, one in which I like to refer to as the chief storyteller.

In his or her role as chief storyteller, the executive sponsor is charged with the task of relating the project’s vision, goals, and expectations to the stakeholders throughout the lifetime of the project. And that doesn’t just mean giving a few pep talks, facilitating a couple of meetings, or sending a series of emails.

Drawing on their organizational knowledge, expertise, and experience, effective executive sponsors use words, images, and narratives to emotionally connect to the audience in order to inspire, educate, and motivate them to support and even perform the project’s desired objectives. The success of the project lies in his ability to tell the story clearly, completely, and engagingly.


3) Executive sponsorship provides ENERGY

But a solid plan and flawless communication doesn’t guarantee project success. As the Heath brothers ask in their bestselling book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” how does the rider direct an unwilling elephant? This is perhaps the most intangible part of the executive sponsor’s role.

How you communicate is often a matter of facts delivered effectively. Getting people to collaborate and work together is a matter of managing styles and objectives. But persuading people to keep motivated over a project’s lifetime is a matter of the project’s overall enthusiasm and intensity.

Being able to truly motivate project stakeholders to do their part, to the best of their ability, on an ongoing basis requires someone who can touch the personal side of things and convince others of the need and desirability of the program. That’s why an effective executive sponsor is part cheerleader, part coach, part psychologist, and part preacher.

Executive sponsorship is admittedly a difficult role, requiring the wearing of multiple hats and interacting with a wide range of stakeholders, but it’s a position that can ultimately ensure the success of change initiatives and maybe even your organization.

Change is inevitable, so why not ensure success and utilize executive sponsors?


Enabling Organizational Change Through Strategic Initiatives

“Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard”

Posted in: Optimization, Start-up