One company I worked with a few years ago initiated a large-scale, transformative change, that would impact how they went to market with some of their products and services. They had a great project structure, with project managers, administrators, and well-qualified technical support. They had a change and communications team that was well positioned to help them communicate about the change and prepare the organization. Ultimately, though, the project struggled for two-three years before senior executives decided to cancel the project. It failed to achieve many of the benefits they sought after.

What went wrong? There was insufficient leadership involvement. Yes, there were lower- level leaders who had an interest in the success of the project, but there was no single sponsor or sponsor coalition to hold the team accountable for results, and mitigate project risks. One of the greatest risks which ultimately led to the end of the project was conflicting requirements of lower- level leaders. I call this cross functional dysfunction – which I have addressed separately and in detail in another newsletter.

Projects that have solid project management and change management teams cannot be successful without adequate sponsorship. They will suffer from these conditions:
1. Scope creep. Without a leader to regulate scope, project managers are often powerless when it comes to adding or changing scope. Politics and personal favors become the way to incorporate changes.
2. False starts and missed deadlines. Without proper sponsorship, projects often don’t have the authority to drive deliverables to accomplish the change.
3. Mixed messages. You can have the best change and communication team ever, but if there is inconsistent leadership, employee messaging will also be inconsistent. In the story related above, the communications team struggled to identify and track on key messages to help the organization succeed.
4. Frustrated team. All the conditions outlined above lead to a team that is disenfranchised and frustrated. Most people I meet want to perform well in their jobs, and be recognized for doing so. Without adequate sponsorship, these folks will be disappointed.

Every project, regardless of size, requires a sponsor who is clear on their role as ultimate spokespersons for the change, and holds the project team accountable for delivery. The activities of a great sponsor include:
1. Engaged with the project team and hold it accountable for delivering the change. They will also help identify, mitigate and resolve risks and issues.
2. Clearly communicate with her leadership team the purpose of the change, and her expectations for how her team will lead the organization through the change.
3. Act as a key spokesperson for the project with the employees impacted by the change, communicating progress, benefits, the expected outcomes, impacts (good and bad) to employees, and receiving and integrating feedback into the project management process.
4. Be at the right level to fulfill these activities with credibility.

The organizational level of the sponsor depends on the breadth of the change. The rule of thumb is that ultimately, everyone significantly impacted by the change should have a direct reporting relationship to the sponsor. For example, if the change impacts everyone in the manufacturing operation, then the VP of Manufacturing would be the likely sponsor. If the change impacts everyone in accounting, then the Accounting Executive is the sponsor. You get the idea.

When your project structure includes solid sponsorship, at the right level, you will have a much better chance of achieving the intended results, thus driving the value you planned.

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