I have long been intrigued by the concept that…‘the most important factor in success of a project is the right executive sponsor’. It’s the specific emphasis that hooks me – not the right sponsor…nor even the right executive…but the right executive sponsor.
This always left me wondering why Executive Sponsorship is so important. It’s not like any project or team sets out looking to fail, or to make bad decisions or to waste time or money. So why is there an assumption that an ‘executive sponsorship’ is necessary? Surely we should be able to seize opportunities without an Executive telling us it’s a good idea…..
This past week, I found myself being asked if I would sponsor two or three important projects… I said yes…and immediately found myself intrigued and wondering again…
The role of a successful Executive Sponsor is to advocate and champion a project…help overcome resistance and help clear a path forward. My own experience on teams also suggests an Executive Sponsor should be involved and committed. Involved but not committed, we don’t get enough support and often fail. Committed but not sufficiently involved, our projects struggle to make progress.
So what then…and why?
My starting point was to consider the sort of projects that require Executive Sponsorship. These tend to be significant efforts…projects to change or transform a business. Rightly or wrongly, successful transformation within – or of – a business is just tough to do. There are far more examples of such projects that don’t succeed than there are of those that do.
Whenever change is on the agenda for an organisation then, we all tend to look to our senior leaders to understand why we are looking to change, what we are trying to do, and above all whether our organisation is really committed to making this change happen. We look for guidance and clarity…we look for leadership.
The appointment and announcement of an Executive Sponsor is a way of showing that the company and that leader are willing to invest the time and effort necessary for the project to succeed. And presumably that we have an Executive Sponsor willing and able to explain why, what, who, how and when…and who can help clarify the benefits that will come from us embracing any changes involved.
Probably one of the biggest mistakes we make – whether as individuals, leaders or Executive Sponsors – is to underestimate how hard it can be for any of us to change what we do and how we act…and to believe that we will change simply because we are asked to.
It seems that to be successful, an Executive Sponsor has to understand their pivotal role in supporting change initiatives in their organization. They have to be visibly and actively engaged…they need to work with the team to develop the compelling vision for change…but they also have to be involved in the detail…the detailed actions and activities necessary to get anywhere close to that future state.
The good news is that it sounds that at least some of the activities necessary for successful Executive Sponsorship are fairly straightforward – communication to launch the project and introduce who will be involved; active engagement to help create momentum, maintain a sense of urgency and demonstrate commitment.
And when any proposed change spreads across multiple parts of a company, we should be able to look to our Executive Sponsor to pull together a coalition of other senior leaders necessary for the success of our project…and who we will need to support us and the changes or transformation we propose.
I am still intrigued and still wonder…but I said yes…and I believe…so here goes…