Reflecting on Change Management + 2016 best practice

Think back to when you were a teenager. Would you have been excited about the future if your parents told you they were moving the family to a different city and you were leaving all your friends, switching schools and starting over…but they didn’t seem thrilled at the idea, couldn’t tell you why you were moving, or what the long-term prospects were? Would you have been able to see why the move was important to the whole family? Parents are the leaders of families, and we instinctively look to them for guidance. In this case, they set you up to be worried, upset and anxious from the start by not being effective sponsors of change.

A similar dynamic exists in organizations if leaders are ineffective change sponsors.

We’ve written a lot of blogs about Change Management over the past years (see below for links to previous blogs), and it is a field that is constantly evolving – noticeably, in how organizations are using it. We have seen it advance from something that needed “selling” or convincing of its importance, to something that is being understood as necessary with varying degrees of investment.

Organizations are becoming more interested in investing efforts in change management, but its true effectiveness lies in how well it’s executed.  It can’t just be a ‘checkmark’ on a list, as something you start, stop and move on. It is something that should span the lifecycle of a project and beyond (to ensure changes are sustained), and on a larger scale, something that should have a home in an organization that every project and larger transformation has access to in order to realize success in the long term.

2016 best practice – effective sponsorship

Expanding on the fact that change management is finally being recognized as a necessity, the latest 2016 best practices, according to Prosci, tell us that organizations are also realizing that in order for it to be truly successful, effective change requires an active sponsor.

blog chart_cm_effective sponsorshipAccording to Prosci Change Management Best Practices 2016 Edition, based on nine benchmarking studies, active and visible sponsorship is the number 1 contributor to project success.  In fact, 9 out of 9 times, effective sponsorship was identified by the change leaders in the benchmarking studies as the top contributor to success. Sponsorship beat the second top contributor by a 3:1 margin.

What does sponsorship involve?

Sponsorship means having executives and senior leaders present, engaged and involved in order to demonstrate the organization’s commitment as well as their own commitment to the change. This is critical for highlighting the importance and visibility of the change as the executives and senior leaders set the tone and provide the authority and credibility within the organization.

We can relate the “move” situation from the opening paragraph to organizations. Senior leaders need to be visible and supportive throughout the change, and they all need to be aligned in their messaging. Even if it is a difficult change, if people understand the future, the importance, feel as though they can have questions answered and opinions heard at top levels, they will at least see a path they could consider stepping onto.

If your parents had told you the news about the move, but then given you a meaningful reason and presented you with pictures and a map of the new city with all sorts of new and fun things to do, as well as communicated that it’s not a far drive from where you live now to see your friends – wouldn’t that have alleviated at least some of your anxiety? It would have at least given you pause to think and start to understand why it is an important change and one that may not be so bad in the long run.

How can you ensure your organization has effective sponsorship?

It is critical to get sponsors involved at the very beginning of a change so they understand all of the details and impacts from the onset. Some other ways to set up sponsors for success (based on Prosci research) are:

  • Identify and define role, requirements and actions of a sponsor at the beginning of a change
  • Build a team of sponsors so there is representation and support throughout the organization
  • Ensure sponsors are:
    • aware of the importance of their role
    • active and visible throughout the change
    • directly communicating with employees (in addition to lots of communication from their direct manager as well)
    • identifying and managing resistance
    • celebrating successes
    • role modeling behaviours required of the change

Many aspects of change management are intuitive. It just makes sense that for a change to be successful, the people leading the organization need to be positive about it and supporting it throughout its duration.

Do you think that you have effective change sponsors in your organization? I’d love to hear your experiences.

If you would like to read more about change management, check out some of our most popular blogs:


Jessica is a business consultant with over ten years of experience working in both public and private sectors. Her ability to understand the clients perspective and aptitude for problem solving has led her to deliver transformational communications, change management, process improvement and performance measurement projects. Jessica is part of Systemscope’s Enterprise Renewal team.


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