Change Management Techniques: What Do Good Project Sponsors Do?

By Emerson Consulting Manager, John Graves

Project Sponsor Tug of War

Are you a project sponsor? Are you a good one? Solid change management means identifying the right people to sponsor a project – the right role…the right qualities. Yet, often, those “right” individuals accept the role of sponsor and then sit back and watch the program. They attend a meeting when asked. They take action on an issue when prompted.

If that sounds like you, you are not a good sponsor. Don’t worry, you can be one. You just have to understand that it’s not a passive role. Actually, it’s a very dynamic role, if you’re doing it right. A good sponsor does these things (and more), throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Want to be a stellar sponsor? Here’s what you should do:

  1. Identify and Resolve Issues
  2. Don’t wait for your team to uncover issues. Take an active role in identifying and resolving problems. And tackle as many as possible before they become problems – risk mitigation is an essential part of your job.

    For example, resources are common roadblocks. Be proactive; leverage your influence to grab the best people in your company for the team. When the team says they are understaffed in an area, listen. Bring in additional resources, as needed. And resources are not just human. Help the team get the facilities, technology, funding and organizational support they need.

    Bare Minimum Tip: Review risks and issues once a month.

  3. Communicate
  4. Sponsors should not only receive communication from the project team, they should be active communicators on behalf of the project. Your job is to be on message, keep the company on message, and create the sense of urgency that maintains project momentum.

    Before you can communicate a message, you have to have a message. Work with company leadership to make sure all understand the essentials: why is the current state broken, what the solution should be, what action the company is taking, and what the result will be.

    Bare Minimum Tip: Contribute at least one key message in monthly project communications sent to all stakeholders.

  5. Acknowledge the Good and the Bad
  6. Good sponsors communicate the positives and negatives of the change. There will be pain points. Good sponsors make tough decisions to move forward…to pause…to change directions…or to stop. As the project team discovers the impacts on stakeholders of those decisions, it’s your job to communicate them.

    These are great moments to keep your company’s culture in mind. Have you done a culture assessment? If not, you should. If you use words and examples that resonate well with employees, bad news won’t stall your project.

    Bare Minimum Tip: Don’t hesitate when you communicate the “not so positive” news. Sharing the truth before alternate stories circulate earns you trust and credibility with stakeholders.

  7. Review Progress and Support the Project Team
  8. Good sponsors stay on top of project milestones at all times. They review status and understand what the project team needs to be successful.

    You are the face of the project to your organization. So if there delays to communicate, new resources needed, or changes to the solution remember that the buck stops with you. Don’t suggest the team has stumbled; keep the company’s eye on the results you all want.

    Tip for Sponsors: Once each month, plan to attend a project team status meeting to hear directly from those who are doing the work.

  9. Endorse the Project
  10. Part of your role is cheerleader. Goals and benefits should be on the tip of your tongue, and there’s no substitute for authentic enthusiasm from you.

    Think about how to frame the benefits of the project for each audience. Why will employees love the new way of doing business? What speaks clearly to executives? Tell them which project results will deliver for them, in their own terms.

    Bare Minimum Tip: Share project progress at regular executive meetings and all-company events.

    These steps are easy to remember if you put their first letters together: I C A R E. If you do, this is how you show it.

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