The role of a Change Sponsor

What is the level of understanding of Change Sponsorship in your organisation? Chances are, if your organisation is not really familiar with Change, then Change Sponsors may not be really understanding their role and why it exists.

Usually Change Sponsorship aligns with the leadership hierarchy in an organisation. This is because there isn't normally an incentive as as an employee to listen to anyone other than their direct line manager. The only time this doesn't ring true is if the culture of an organisation is so collaborative that all leaders are seen as equal in voice.  In organisations of such high emotional intelligence, the leadership team will work together to create an aligned co-hort of enthusiasm or energy regarding the change. However, these are generally exceptions, not the rule.

Change Sponsorship - not an easy gig.

The role of a Change Sponsor for a project and Change leaders is to create enthusiasm regarding the change. Generating the awareness and the continually communicating the 'why' for the change. It is also to be empathetic for others and communicate the end state vision in an inspiring fashion. 

Depending on the size of the change you are introducing will effect the role of the Sponsor and how big a role they actually play.

Transformational change: For a transformational change a strong vision is needed and the power of story telling is powerful. A visible role is a MUST for the leader of a transformational Change. This may not even be an organisation wide change. If an area is going from manual processing to automation, the leader of that area needs to be visible, engaged and understand the impact of the change on their team enough to be able to answer those 'always asked' questions. If you want to have  team become disengaged or jaded about a change, don't answer their questions. Confidence will plummet.

Want to lead your team to the new way of working with enthusiasm? Create a vision, the Change Sponsor needs to be able to talk about it confidently and then connect the dots to their world - 'what this means for you Tom...'. The Sponsor will then will have them right there beside them.

Operational: For an operational change, then the role of the direct leader becomes critical. The theory is still the same. Engagement and inspiration for the change to come. However when you are looking at more operational changes, the Manager may not always be a natural leader. While this may seem stereotypical, many operational leaders are appointed due to their expertise in the area and understanding of the 'guts' of the operation. They are there to keep the cogs of the engine turning. So they may have more of a directive rather than visionary style.

So the Change Sponsorship role and approach to the role has to match the strengths of the individual. If the Manager is a details person, then details it is. IF they are more introverted, then look to written communication with team meetings led by the Manager but supported by the strong influencer in the group. The mix changes depends on the individuals. Both achieve the same outcome - leadership of the group to the 'new world'.

Regardless of the size of the change, the one area of Sponsorship where everyone feels challenged is reinforcing the change. When those who dislike change vocalise their objections, or when they ridicule others who are on board, this is when a Change Sponsor really earns their stripes. This is also where the Change Sponsor may falter and rely on others to reinforce the change. This is where engaging the influencers in the organisation and creating a co-hort of leaders who are on the same page about the change can help by stepping in. 

At the end of the day, all Change sponsors will have their strengths and weaknesses and it is important to recognise and accept that as a reality. It is how you strategise to create a holistic sponsorship plan which will determine the success and speed of adoption of the change you are working on.

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