3 Reasons Executives Fail at Sponsorship
Written by Tim Creasey
Updated: November 15, 2023
Published: July 22, 2015
This blog provides the research foundation for the importance of sponsors and looks at three common failure points when creating great executive sponsorship. Lack of sponsorship is one of the top reasons why changes fail, here are hands-on steps you can take to enable excellent sponsorship by your business leaders.
When asked to identify the greatest contributor to success when managing change, project teams state executive sponsorship. Yet, project managers consistently report a lack of visible and active sponsorship on the part of their executive business leaders. In fact, nearly 50% of teams rate the effectiveness of their sponsor as poor to fair.
What is the breakdown? What is the root cause of this problem that plagues many change initiatives?
Prosci’s research points to three common causes of this failure to create great executive sponsorship.
Failure Mode 1 – Change saturation
In Failure Mode 1, executive sponsors are change saturated in much the same way an organization can become change saturated.
Their ability to effectively sponsor multiple changes diminishes as the total number of changes increases. As the number of changes increase, their schedule availability decreases, their visible and active participation declines, and the ability of the primary sponsor to build sponsor coalitions goes down.
Failure Mode 2 – A disconnect in roles
In Failure Mode 2, executive managers are simply not aware of their role in sponsoring change. Many equate support with sponsorship, and look to the project team to implement the change. The Best Practices in Change Management Report identified the following top-three roles and expectations of executive sponsors:
- Participate actively and visibly throughout the project.
- Build a coalition of sponsorship with peers and managers.
- Communicate effectively with employees and managers.
Many project teams struggle to create awareness of these roles with their sponsor and often cannot communicate clearly the specific actions their executive sponsor should take to be a great sponsor of change.
Failure Mode 3 – Lack of knowledge and ability
The final failure mode is simply a lack of knowledge and ability on the part of the executive manager to carry out their sponsorship role. Many project teams assume that senior business leaders naturally have this sponsor knowledge and skill. In fact, many senior business leaders need the on-going support of the project team. They need coaching that can range from assistance with key talking points for an upcoming presentation to preparing drafts of key email announcements. What surprises project teams the most is to know that most executives welcome this support.
The most common pitfalls related to executive sponsorship include change saturation, the disconnect in roles between the business leaders and their project teams, and a lack of knowledge or ability on the part of the senior manager to carry out the sponsorship role. Project teams have a direct impact on two of these challenges facing business leaders.