Restructuring, strategic redirection, quality programs, work flow redesigns … the efforts at change go on and on in many organizations, but few leaders know how to lead and execute change effectively. (Seventy percent of change attempts fail, according to studies.)
Organizations waste valuable resources by not achieving targeted change goals, including their opportunity to grow and deliver results that may be critical to success. Leaders also lose credibility when their changes go by the “flavor of the month” wayside.
What can be done to improve the odds of developing a change initiative that is ultimately successful? One key is effective sponsorship (particularly for complex, large-scale change programs that affect the entire organization).
Sponsorship is a term applied to the role of the individual who has the power to sanction the change, and it requires the necessary influence and authority to legitimize the change.
I caution sponsors of change to be realistic about the manageability of the projects they take on because success will depend on their time, attention and commitment.
Here are the fundamentals sponsors need to provide:
- Clear, consistent and enthusiastic communication (passion to engage hearts and minds!) articulating the vision, goals and necessity of the change.
- Necessary resources to make the change happen (time, money, equipment, training, people, etc.).
- Persistent attention to the project.
- End users’ input and involvement in creating the plan.
- Reinforcement, rewards or consequences (expectations minus consequences equals wishes) for both success and failure.
Typically, when change initiatives get stuck or aren’t going well, it’s often a result of poor sponsorship. Failed change programs often share common elements:
- Management failed to clarify the importance or priority of the initiative. (Complacency often results when there is no sense of urgency.)
- Management demonstrated a reluctance or unwillingness to deliver consequences around success or failure.
- Management was ineffective in dealing with the resistance to the change and/or was unwilling to sacrifice for the change.
- Management failed to identify for people a) what’s happening and why, b) how it will affect my job, and c) what’s in it for me?
- Management failed to provide direct reports with clear expectations.
- Management failed to plan for the systemic effect of the change.
- Management wasn’t aligned top-down.
Another critical role required for successful change is that of the supporting managers assigned to deliver and execute details of the plan down through the organization.
Too often these managers aren’t consulted or included and, therefore, are not “on board” with the change. Without alignment and reinforcement by middle managers, most large-scale change is doomed to fail.
While the president (or other senior executive) may be the primary “sponsor” of a change initiative, it is the middle managers below them that now take on the role of sponsoring the change to their underlings.
Success or failure often resides with these individuals — in the end it’s the boss who defines for the “doers” of the change whether or not it is important that it gets done.
Sponsorship must be delivered consistently through the organization — top to bottom — for change to happen. Senior leaders should expect change and compliance only to the degree that immediate supervisors require those under them to make the change. Sponsorship works in layers — and by organizational design, sponsors can only “sponsor” or reinforce change with those who they have hire-and-fire authority over.
Often individuals get tasked with implementing change who have no authority over those required to make the changes (as is often the case for those in HR or IT). These “agents” for change will only be effective to the degree they are well-sponsored, which is why many of them find managing change so frustrating!
Finally, sponsors need to involve and seek input (clarifying obstacles to success, and effect on the department or individuals) from the end user — those making the change/doing the work. Wise sponsors are unwilling to ignore bad news and make necessary adjustments from users’ input.
Without effective sponsorship, individuals will not typically embrace the change nor make the effort required for it to succeed. Instead, they react predictably with resistance, denial, interdepartmental bickering and/or avoidance of those trying to implement the program. I can help you become a more effective sponsor of change. I coaching leaders anywhere in the world via Skype. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360 682 5807 for my help.