How to be a successful sponsor of transformative change

Last week I introduced three topics to help leaders better understand how to lead change. This week we’ll focus on one of these topics: the leader’s personal sponsorship role.

There are three things that a leader of change, or a sponsor, can do to improve her effectiveness:
1. Provide active and visible support for the change.
2. Understand the behavior impact caused by the change you are introducing.
3. Repeatedly communicate the need for change.

Provide active and visible support: In my experience, the most effective sponsors are actively engaged with the change. She gains their commitment, engages with them every day and holds them accountable. She attends leadership meetings to provide direction, clarity, and accountability. She is also actively involved in mitigating risks and resolving issues. With the front-line organization, she meets regularly to talk about the change and its impacts. She solicits feedback and visibly incorporates the feedback into the change process.

Understands the behavior impact: All large-scale change – and most small ones – have behavioral change associated with it. Here are examples of behavior change drivers:
a. The organization changes one or more of its business processes, causing the people who use them to interact differently.
b. The organization restructures, causing former business relationships to give way to new relationships. Employees must now build new working relationships.
c. One company acquires another often causing two different cultures to figure out how to work together. Employees must understand the behaviors and norms of their new colleagues and adjust their own to work together effectively.
Effective sponsors understand this early in the program, determine how she needs to behave, models the new behavior to the organization and speaks openly about these changes.

Repeatedly communicate: Communications experts tell me that employees need to hear the message seven to ten times to fully comprehend the meaning of the change. Sponsors and their leadership teams must regularly emphasize the why, what and how of the change:
a.Why. Discuss the business drivers causing the change. Define the value to the business. Describe how this fits into the overall organizational strategy. Communicate the downside effect if the organization doesn’t change.
b. What. Define the impact to the organization. Explain the nature of the organization after the change. Describe how jobs will change. Define how roles will interact differently. Estimate job increases or decreases. Show how things will be different.
c. How. Explain how the change will impact individual roles. Specify support mechanisms available to the employee during and after the change. Identify new metrics and the process for accountability to the measures.

As a sponsor, you might not be responsible for the details of each of the actions outlined above, but you do need to ensure that someone is handling these issues and hold them accountable.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to ensure your leaders are ready to lead change

In change leadership work we usually talk about “organizational readiness” to ensure front-line employees are ready to embrace the change. Rarely though do we speak of “leadership readiness.” Yet Prosci, a leading change research firm, reports year after year that lack of sponsorship is the number one cause of change failing to meet its objectives. It’s time to talk about “leadership readiness.”

There are three primary causes of lack of leadership readiness to drive change:
1. Leaders don’t fully understand their role to successfully transform their business.
2. Cross-functional dysfunction erupts due to lack of alignment on approach, intent or outcomes.
3. Leaders may advocate for the change, but don’t solicit sufficient feedback to engage employees.

Each of these issues result in changes that do not live up to their potential. When leaders recognize these issues, and take corrective action the probability of success increases significantly.

Three things leaders can do to mitigate the associated risk:
1. Take my free transformational leadership assessment to identify change leadership improvement opportunities and take actions to close the gap.
2. Work with the leadership team to identify specific outcomes of the change, and ensure they each know how this translates for their teams.
3. Be sure messaging is clear, there are mechanisms to receive feedback, and then incorporate feedback into the change process.

We’ll explore leadership readiness in more detail in the coming weeks.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to avoid allowing short term perspective to destroy your purpose

If you have been following these posts, you know I have a small farm in southwestern Michigan. Our family uses this to escape the noisy city and enjoy the peaceful countryside. The house also doubles as a vacation rental, which allows me to share with others. When I began this venture about a dozen years ago, one of my purposes was to provide the best possible experience for my guests.

Last summer we endured a horrific storm that caused major damage to the property. Shortly after the clean-up was finished, I drove into the driveway and it struck me that the place just wasn’t as attractive as it once was. In fact, I was appalled at the appearance. I said to myself, “This just does not live up to my standards, and it’s certainly not consistent with the purpose I set forth 12 years ago – to provide the best possible experience for my guests.” I had lost sight of my original purpose over time.

As a leader, you have daily pressures to keep the business going, to meet customer needs and keep shareholders satisfied.
• Are you managing your daily schedule in accordance with your larger purpose?
• Are you scheduling work to keep a laser sharp focus on that purpose?
• Do you have the right people on board who challenge your leadership and help you stay on track?
• Are you open to input from your team about adjusting and staying on track?
• Are you receiving feedback from the larger organization?

I never thought I’d be grateful for a tornado-like storm, but I am. This disruption caused me to reflect on my purpose and make significant changes to the farm. In the process, I hired a property manager to help me keep a laser-sharp focus on maintaining the highest possible standards. Together we are executing major improvements. We are excited about a grand re-opening in May. Stay tuned for more photos and stories.

How to keep your transformation in line with your overall purpose


Several years ago, I was a church leader in a congregation of between 125-175 people. During this time, we had an opportunity to build a new church building. We had talked about this for years, but were never able to justify it.

Our regional leaders said we must significantly increase our Sunday participation to qualify for the building. Our local leadership team set about developing plans to do just that, and we engaged the congregation accordingly.

digSomewhere along the line we received feedback from the congregation. Their perception was we wanted to grow membership to win a larger building. They thought we lost sight of the bigger mission of the church to improve people’s lives. This caused us to reflect on our messaging, and adjust it to be sure people understood that our main purpose was to improve lives, a by-product of which would be a larger building.

In your enthusiasm to drive an exciting new change forgb2 your organization:

• Are you forgetting the main purpose of your organization?
• Have you tied the purpose of your change program to the overall purpose of the organization?
• Do your stakeholders understand why the change is necessary and how it supports your overall purpose?

In three years, we broke ground on the new facility. Fourteen months later we moved into building that doubled our previous foot print. We also increased membership by 35%, and most importantly, we helped current and new members make great improvements in their lives.

Helping you achieve greater value from your transformation.

How to Increase Project Success with Improved Sponsorship


On one project, I was called in to help implement a large transformational change. Soon after my arrival, I discovered that there was no clear sponsor for the change effort, the senior leadership team was not at all aligned with the outcomes of the change, and lower level managers had no idea what was happening, or why.

I have learned that when leaders say they are ready to implement change, they often are not. They may have a good strategy and vision of where they want to take the organization, but typically, they are not prepared enough to lead the organization through a successful transformation.

Here is a list of common pitfalls:

  • Insufficient sponsorship including a lack of involvement and executive communication.
  • Cross-functional dysfunction (CFD) caused by a misunderstood or lack of clear purpose. CFD is also caused by ineffective team dynamics that can make healthy conflict and commitment impossible.
  • Lack of sufficient engagement of the “immovable middle,” so-named because they have so much on their plates they don’t have time to think about the impact of the transformation.
  • Lack of effective engagement of front line employees until very late in the program. You don’t announce the change when you are ready to begin training.

On Friday, March 10, I am offering a free webinar to share common pitfalls, and what you can do to overcome them. If you are sponsoring a large transformational change, and you want to achieve greater results, this webinar is for you. Effective sponsorship of change is crucial to remain competitive, and you need to know your next program will exceed your goals. This webinar will help you learn how to accelerate change to fuel the growth of your firm and to propel your personal leadership success. Click here to sign up for this free webinar.

How do determine your transformation readiness

In one of my consulting engagements, I helped an organization go through a significant organizational transformation. This was no small transformation. It was going to impact almost everyone within their organization, and all their customers. Only a handful of office administrators were unaffected by this massive overhaul of their business processes and supporting systems.

This was a large project, and I was required to be on-site for more than a year. The project was in the San Fracisco Bay area, so in addition to working lots of hours to drive this project to success, I was also able to enjoy all the Bay Area had to offer, particularly the food. If you know me, you know I like good food, and there was no short supply of delectable vittles.

We had our share of challenges with this project given the magnitude of change the organization was going through. In the end, with few exceptions, the project was successful.

After completing the project, one of the organization’s leaders said to me, “You not only helped prepare our organization for the tremendous change we were about to go through, you also helped us – the leadership team – understand how we were not yet ready to lead this change, and what we needed to do to prepare. This led to one of the most successful projects in our history and improved our leadership in the process.”

As a leader, you want your organization to be ready for change. And, what about you? Are you ready to lead a large transformational change? I just launched two free assessments on my web site. One assessment helps you determine the size and scale of the transformation you are considering, the other helps you determine how ready you are to lead a significant transformation. You can find them here.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to Demonstrate a Clear Purpose

steve_farm_1In the mid-1960s, my dad had an interest in growing grapes that created good wine. He believed that Michigan had the potential to grow good wine. He had no big plans to grow thousands of vines or build a winery, rather he simply wanted a place to spend weekends away from Chicago and start his hobby.

In 1966 we purchased a run-down farm near the little village of Baroda, about 90 miles from Chicago. We continued to live in Chicago and spent every weekend on the farm. We spent most of our time improving the property. This meant tearing down dilapidated outbuildings, restoring the old peg-and-beamsteve_farm2 barn, and making the house more habitable. It did have a few acres of asparagus and black raspberries, but eventually, this gave way to vineyards. My dad was one of the first to plant French Hybrid grapes in the area.

In a few years, our vineyard acreage grew to 15. Most of these were French Hybrids, but he also began experimenting with vinifera vines (vines native to warmer European climates). Much of our crop was sold to home winemakers and dad used the balance to make his own wine.

Dad had a vision. He was clear on his purpose and invested his time and resources accordingly. He communicated this purpose to his family and friends. While later in life he slowed considerably, he never wavered fr
om that original vision to have a few acres of grapes, and enjoy this as a hobby.

One of the principle roles of a leader is to set and articulate a clear vision or purpose for the organization. This must be well communicated to garner success. What is your vision or purpose? Is it clear? Are you passionate about it? Are the priorities clear? Do others around you understand it and know how to act on it?

Today, there are nine full steve_farm_3production wineries within a few miles of Baroda. I cannot claim that my dad started all of this, but no doubt he had an influence on some of his neighbors. If you ever travel through southwest Michigan, stop at one of our wineries, and try some of our great wines.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Be Sure you are a Strong Sponsor

A few months ago, my colleague Jeff Skipper and I recorded a video about sponsorship. Take a few minutes to tune in.

According to a recent Prosci study, active and visible sponsorship is the most important contributor to change management success. In fact, their bi-annual study consistently reports that lack of adequate sponsorship is the number one issue facing projects.

Are you providing the sponsorship your change project requires? Here are a few questions to help you determine if you are doing what is necessary to drive a successful project:
1. Is it clear to the organization that you are the senior sponsor identified to drive the change?
2. Are you communicating regularly with those impacted by the change?
3. When you communicate, are you talking about outcomes, and are you receiving feedback?
4. Do you hold the project team accountable by attending project meetings and asking probing questions about the status of the project?
5. Do you actively manage and mitigate risk?
Are you helping the project team implement activities to sustain the change?

If you answered yes to more than four of these questions above, then your project will likely succeed.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to Improve your Leadership through Inquiry

I recently read Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (C. Argyris and D. Schon, 1978). The authors introduce the concept of advocacy versus inquiry. Advocacy is a communication type that most of us are familiar with. It’s all about stating your case or making your point. Inquiry is less common and more important than advocacy. It happens when people ask questions to seek clarity about another person’s position on a topic.

Reading this reminded me of a client I had early in my consulting career. It’s a story worth telling to show the difference between advocacy and inquiry and demonstrates the value of the latter.

I was asked to help a large community college through a large-scale transformation. It would impact 30,000 students, 2000 faculty, and nearly all the college’s administrative staff.

There had been long standing challenges between the college and the union. The faculty was unionized and resisted this transformation. College leaders and I discussed how to win them over. We decided to attend one of their meetings, present the benefits of the transformation, and begin to engage them in the transformation. We failed miserably and left with our tails between our legs.

We strategized and brought the chancellor into the discussion. We determined that I would go back, but this time I would not present. Instead, I would listen. For the first few minutes, it was rough. I was concerned I might lose an arm or a leg – seriously! These people had little trust in college administration, no faith in the transformation, and little tolerance for any change offered by either. But I persevered and conveyed the point that I was there to listen to their concerns. They had many.

The result, simply, was that they wanted to be heard. They wanted a meeting with the chancellor to discuss issues, and gain commitment these issues would be addressed. We scheduled and held the meeting.

The transformation soon followed, and we included the faculty union in the process. They played important roles to help drive success. Interestingly, the faculty implementation was one of the most successful elements of the transformation.

The turning point in winning over the faculty was the 2nd meeting I had with them. Instead of advocating for the transformation, I inquired about their concerns, I took notes, and I followed up.

Call to action:
– Watch yourself in meetings. Do you advocate or inquire?
– Ask for feedback. How do your peers react to your communication style?
– Try inquiring more and advocating less and pay attention to the impact. Are you more effective?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to Gain Greater Value from your Transformation

I recently had a conversation with a colleague working on a major transformation for a well-known Fortune 50. She told me that she was expressly told to only plan for work up through the launch of the change. This is a big mistake; let me explain.
After I built and moved into my new home years ago, the builder presented me with a certificate explaining that the construction carried with it a five-year guarantee. They would take care of anything that went wrong with the house. Period. For the first few weeks I found a few minor issues. One door wasn’t closing correctly, and the builder promptly came out to repair it. Another time while I was away for the weekend, my son decided to enjoy an afternoon on the back porch and grilled up a juicy T-bone steak. He forgot to move the grill away from the house and voila, we had about 20 square feet of melted siding. My builder replaced the siding at no charge.

When you make an investment in a transformation, it’s likely that you will spend much more than I did building this house. Yet many project managers consider their work done when the transformation is launched. Who is going to be around to make sure the change is institutionalized? How do you ensure that people permanently adopt the change and alter the way they need to work? How will you know that you are receiving the greatest value for your investment? Depending on the nature of the transformation, there are numerous ways you can ensure the systematic adoption of the change.

1. Change people’s measures to include metrics about the use of new behaviors, processes, or systems.
2. Put change agents in place at various levels in the organization to answer questions and help resolve issues.
3. Ensure your leaders are asking questions about issues and results long after launch. Be sure they are equipped with resources to address these challenges.
Putting these features in place will help you achieve the value you had planned, and in many cases, will drive even greater value. This greater value results from you paying more attention to the change far beyond that initial launch, and your employees finding ways to implement improvements beyond those originally planned.