Jun 20, 2012

Organizational Change Management: Sponsorship is Job One

Posted by Allen Young in Culture & Change Management, Strategy Execution | 0 Comments

As my primer blog on Organizational Change Management (OCM) last week stated, sponsorship is priority #1 — without it, your change initiative will assuredly stall and will fail sooner or later. What exactly do I mean by sponsorship?

Authorizing Sponsor
This is the person (or group, in some cases) who is championing the change, has the funds to pay for it or can obtain them from those who have them, has a sufficient level of line authority within the organization to lead the change, and/or has sufficient referent power to influence others outside of his her direct line of authority to adopt the change. At the enterprise level, this should ideally be a C-level executive; CEO,  CFO, COO, etc. A PMO Manager at a department level is not an authorizing sponsor if the change will impact the enterprise; he/she would be a reinforcing sponsor, and likely would also be a change agent. Validation of sufficient authorizing sponsorship should be one of your first tasks during the Initiation phase of the project. If you don’t have a true authorizing sponsor, stop the change initiative now if you can, because it will never fully get off the ground. Sponsorship of enterprise changes at the grassroots level almost never works.

Cascading Sponsorship
All of the line managers in the organization who are impacted by the change are potentially reinforcing sponsors. I say potentially because not every affected manager will necessarily be on board with the proposed change. It is incumbent upon the authorizing sponsor to ensure that all affected managers have bought into the change. This should be confirmed before the Initiation phase is completed. If an affected manager is not on board, there are various techniques that can be applied to correct the weakness, depending on the situation. Sometimes a stronger business case is needed to convince the affected manager that the change is in his/her best interest. Sometimes the affected manager needs to be included in the decision-making process concerning the change itself (how much, how soon, to whom, etc.). Sometimes the affected manager needs to be told by his/her superior that it is a requirement, and what the repercussions will be if he/she does not get on board. In some cases, the affected manager and his/her unit might be able to defer when they must comply with the change, or perhaps they can be “grandfathered” indefinitely. The output of a cascading sponsorship assessment is an OCM Chart. This chart essentially looks just like a typical organization chart in terms of hierarchy and reporting relationships, but with markers denoting who the authorizing and reinforcing sponsors are. Management boxes that have no marker are what are commonly referred to as “black holes”— areas of the organization that either have not bought into the change or have been granted an exemption from the change by the authorizing sponsor.

Once all affected managers have become reinforcing sponsors, it becomes their responsibility to help communicate, promote and enforce the change across his/her part of the organization. Their job becomes one of rewarding desired behaviors (adopting the new), and discouraging undesirable behaviors (continuing to adhere the old).

In some cases, a reinforcing sponsor may also be a change agent, or champion, of the change; meaning that he/she not only has the responsibilities of a reinforcing sponsor, but is also very much an active proponent and endorser of the change. Change agents will be covered in more detail in my upcoming blog on cultural resistance.

Sustaining Sponsorship
Authorizing and reinforcing sponsors must embrace the concept that active and fully engaged sponsorship needs to exist not only throughout the change initiative, but also continue after the initiative has completed. Once the change is live, the project team that implemented the change will disband, and the resulting new processes and tools will be in place from that point forward. If a PMO is being implemented at the departmental or enterprise level, the expectation is that it will continue to function long after the project to implement it is complete. The implementation project manager doesn’t necessarily have to conduct formal sponsorship assessments during each project phase, but should be aware of when any resistance to change or lack of sustaining sponsorship surfaces, bring it to the attention of the authorizing sponsor, and take corrective actions as necessary.

All sponsors are responsible for ensuring adoption by a specified cut-off date, and ongoing utilization thereafter. This should include shut-down/removal of the ability to conduct business the old way, and possibly even changes to formal job descriptions whereby people are evaluated in part on their utilization of the new way of doing things. I’ve learned from firsthand experience that if those steps aren’t taken, old habits will die hard, and the change will never be fully adopted.

Watch for my next post on cultural resistance to organizational change management, the third in our series on OCM.

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