Mobilizing sponsors – a “necessity” for any transformation project

There is no doubt that sponsors play a key role in any transformation project. In fact they are often the people who truly embody the project. Nevertheless, integrating sponsors into a project poses a number of questions:

  • What is the ideal sponsor profile? How can we encourage top management to embody the strategic project in the eyes of employees? How can we get a sponsor involved for the long term when they themselves have only short-term objectives?
  • How can we keep them focused beyond the project launch? How can we ensure a seamless transition when there is a change of sponsor?
  • How can we best manage the conflicting objectives or differing points of view of sponsors from a company’s different branches, different brands, or of external clients, for example?
  • What is the best way to manage the conflicting objectives or differing points of view of sponsors from a company’s different branches, different brands, or of external clients, for example?
  • Conversely, is it possible to launch a transformation program without sponsors, or when the sponsors are insufficiently motivated? What are we missing if there aren’t enough good sponsors?

Whatever the case may be, the issue of finding sponsors for transformation projects goes hand in hand with that of the company in general – it’s all about winning the battle in terms of building a homogeneous community based on a shared vision.

State of play and challenges regarding the adoption of transformation projects

More often than not, it is felt that sponsors should come from the executive level. But the best sponsors are not necessarily members of the Executive Committee, and it is better to find a good mix between people who hold the purse strings and people whose teams will be directly impacted by the transformation and/or whose resources will be used by it.

Profile of a transformation sponsor

A “good” sponsor is one who:

  • Can provide continuity and coherence in terms of the project vision, strategy and management. In this respect, the executive and financial director or company secretary might be the transformation’s obvious sponsors.
  • Can keep teams involved at all times, so that they understand the changes taking place. The idea of proximity therefore comes into play. Thus, if the CEO is a sponsor, it is often a good idea for other operational managers to act as sponsors too.

The role(s) of the sponsor

  •   conveys the vision and gives meaning;
  •   acts as facilitator;
  •   champions the project;
  •   embodies the transformation;
  •   ensures provision of human, financial and/or material resources;
  •   motivates, mobilizes and unites;
  •   demonstrates the benefits obtained;
  •   gives credit and recognition.

It is rare for all these roles to be filled by a single sponsor. Conveying the vision is more a matter for the CEO, whereas resources and operational issues fall more within the scope of support or local sponsors.

Problems to be overcome

Keeping sponsors involved in the long term is never plain sailing. It means:

  • finding the right level of information;
  • setting an example;
  • identifying what isn’t being said and any passive resistance;
  • not overestimating the impact of going digital;
  • aligning the sponsors;
  • reconciling what is actually happening with the strategic objectives;
  • demonstrating how the project has impacted business (increase in turnover, additional gross profit generated, etc.);
  • providing decision levers.

Best practice for using sponsors to accelerate project adoption

“Getting everyone on board from top to bottom and keeping them all on the same page is a constant battle: centrifugal forces are always stronger than centripetal forces.”

A worthwhile preliminary measure might be to rally everyone behind building a company growth plan broken down into easy-to-manage operational versions. The aim would also be to build solidarity within the executive committee.

Use your allies

When launching a change management project, one of the key strategies is to establish your allies – including sponsors, identifying the broad types of persona that can be used as support:

  • the “fully engaged” – avoid getting on their bad side;
  • the “yes, buts” – often the most credible in the company’s eyes, because they are not afraid to speak up;
  • the “no, buts” – not to be neglected;
  • the influencers or ambassadors – these represent the majority of employees and speak their language;
  • the followers – these must be rallied together and taken on board.

As a rule, for a transformation project, if 5 – 10% of the staff are ambassadors, there’ll be enough to get 80% of the followers on board. As far as possible, the sponsor community should be monitored as closely as can be. Automation can be a great help, with artificial intelligence sending personalized action recommendations to the right employee at the right time by means of artificial intelligence.

It is important that the influencer community should consist of volunteers. In fact there are often a surprising number of applicants. Where appropriate, specific training and acculturation sessions can help this community to become the project’s spokesperson and thus accelerate the overall process of taking ownership and engagement.

Celebrating sponsors

Whether it’s suggesting special actions for opinion leaders or showing how the company’s success rests on their shoulders – celebrating sponsors acts as a powerful lever for strengthening their commitment and, in turn, the engagement of the whole company. This is particularly important if the sponsors in question do not have much time to devote to the project – all the more so as it is not always possible to replace them.

In addition to the active sponsors, it is also a good idea to identify any natural ambassadors, employees who can bring a positive experience to bear on the proceedings. By drowning out any negative rumors, they can strengthen uptake. Making the transformation’s advantages for users both visible and tangible often has a snowball effect – an idea for good practice that comes from a colleague always has far greater impact than one that comes from “upstairs”. With this in mind, the way a project is marketed is of the utmost importance. The viral effect of a feeling of belonging and taking part in a company-wide challenge should never be overlooked.

Using the OKR (objectives and keys results) approach to measure engagement and results

Defining operational indicators to demonstrate the project’s benefits is key to fostering alignment. Setting common, comprehensible goals, such as halving customer response times, makes it easier to see the progress being made in terms of customer loyalty. Objectives-based management and alignment by results means that a tangible view of progress made is always available. It is vital for these indicators to be approved by sponsors and operations managers before they are made known, to ensure that they are properly related to business and thus avoid having to tweak them all the time.

This approach also applies to measuring the impact of your sponsor strategy!

Indicators that can measure the impact of sponsors include:

  •   how much effort they put into working with their teams;
  •   their ability to release funds;
  •   how much they trust their program management teams;
  •   targeted communications for different communities;
  •   creativity in their motivational efforts.

When sponsor involvement drives successful transformation, it acts as a springboard for sponsors, program manager and users alike. The impact is highly visible both to the organization as a whole and to individual teams.

“At the end of the day, it is well nigh impossible to achieve successful transformation without sponsors! Digitization and AI are extremely effective tools when it comes to keeping the flame burning in terms of the adoption of any transformation project. With the health crisis making remote working a necessity, the French made SaaS platform InsideBoard provides the link that drives successful business transformation by engaging employees.” 

Michaël Bentolila, CEO and co-founder of InsideBoard