Why is executive sponsorship so important and how can you persuade executives to sponsor change projects?
Executive sponsorship plays a crucial role in the success of any major business endeavor, organizational change programs included.
In a change management survey from Cloudbakers, for instance, 84% considered executive sponsors to be one of the top three influencers of success. Their research also found that sponsorship had the largest impact on employee engagement compared to other activities such as communications and flexible time frames.
Research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) echoes these findings. One study from the institute showed that having actively engaged sponsors is the top driver of success in business projects.
In short, executive sponsorship can make or break a change initiative, but how do you earn their support – and, just as importantly, their proactive engagement?
Executive engagement, after all, plays as an important role in change projects as employee engagement.
Below, we’ll look at a few of the best ways to persuade executives to sponsor and engage with change projects voluntarily, if not enthusiastically.
How to Persuade Executives to Sponsor Change
In organizational change programs, change managers must motivate employees and earn their voluntary support. In the same way, it is important to communicate effectively in order to obtain that same type of engagement from executive sponsors.
Here are few ways to do just that:
Learn to speak their language
Executives have their own concerns, goals, objectives, models, and, as Prosci points out, executives ultimately have their own “language” that they use to communicate and discuss these issues.
To communicate more effectively, therefore, it is important to understand their mindsets and needs.
With that understanding in mind, it will be easier to the change program’s objectives with their own.
For instance, executives who are concerned about risk will be better able to relate to an approach that incorporates risk assessment and mitigation. When making proposals to executives in such situations, it is useful to analyze potential risk factors beforehand, then present risk mitigation strategies alongside that assessment.
Other executives, however, may have different concerns. If an executive is focused more on employee productivity and growth, for instance, it is useful to incorporate those concepts into the proposal.
Another area to focus on is the return on investment (ROI).
Since every business initiative is an investment, executives who put their name on a project will want assurances that their investment is being handled wisely.
One of the best ways to do this is by demonstrating the positive financial impact of the project.
In Altimeter’s 2019 report on digital transformation, for instance, a lack of data to prove ROI was one of the biggest obstacles to obtaining buy-in on digital transformation programs.
The more that one can demonstrate ROI, then, the easier it will be to earn buy-in.
Tie the change program to business objectives
In Altimeter’s 2020 report on digital transformation, they covered some of the biggest drivers of digital transformation – one of the most common types of organizational change today.
Those drivers included operations support, agility, and revenue. These drivers, unsurprisingly, were often directly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The point here is not to focus on operations, agility, or revenue, necessarily.
The point is that executives will be very focused on business strategy and business objectives. This is even more true in today’s volatile and uncertain market, when budgets are tight and every market move matters.
Showing how a change program can positively impact the business strategy can make a big difference in executives’ attitude towards a project.
Show commitment to success
Unfortunately, failure is all too common when it comes to organizational change.
Many executives may not be aware how many change programs actually do fail, but it is important to allay this fear as much as possible.
Demonstrating ROI and the business impact, as noted above, is crucial to earning support.
Business leaders, however, will also need assurance that the change project will succeed.
It is impossible to guarantee success, of course, but there are ways to improve the odds.
Showing a knowledge and commitment to change management best practices, for instance, is one way to do just that.
Personalize and be specific
Prosci also recommends specificity in a change proposal.
Executives need to know what is expected of them, how the project will proceed, what its outcomes will be, and so forth.
The more details they have, the deeper their understanding of the project will be. And, if the project is sound, they will be more likely to support it and actively engage with it – active change leadership, after all, is even more crucial than earning nominal sponsorship.
For example, when demonstrating commitment to structured change management, take it one step further and show specifically how change management will be applied in a project: create roadmaps, project schedules, potential budgets, and so forth.