After over two decades of harping on this, adequate sponsorship is on the decline. Yes, you read that correctly: ON THE DECLINE!

I recently read a study that showed that adequate project sponsorship by senior executives is on the decline. This means that projects will fail to meet their objectives more often. Not only does this impact the bottom line, but it impacts the organizational health and morale of the organization. Who wants to be associated with project failure?

My best clients have all learned to be outstanding executive sponsors. Here is a list of things they do to drive successful projects:

  1. Participate in project review meetings: Sponsors participate in the discussion during project review meetings. They ask probing questions about progress, issues, risks, and results. They inquire about team health.
  2. Hold project members accountable for delivery: One challenge for some sponsors is that they have people on their project teams that might not report to them administratively. No matter. If they have the mantle of leadership for the initiative, it’s their right and responsibility to hold team members accountable for delivery. They praise great results, and they take corrective action when performance suffers.
  3. Resolve issues and mitigate risks: A big part of any executive’s day job is to problem solve. It’s no different during a project. My clients tell me that they are actually able to drive greater commitment to a project when they solve problems quickly.
  4. Help manage scope: Everyone has great ideas to make the project’s outcomes better. Usually this means an increase in scope. This in turn means more resources are required: people, time, or money. Since the sponsor holds the purse strings, they must be the one who makes the ultimate decision on scope change.
  5. Supply resources: My clients tell me that this is another way they drive greater commitment. When they rapidly respond with the resources required for a project, the team sees their commitment and will probably respond likewise – with greater commitment.
  6. Align their leadership team, as appropriate, to the change: This means having robust conversations in leadership team meetings about the purpose of the change, its outcomes, and most importantly, how those desired outcomes will impact workflow within and between each of the leadership team members’ organizations.
  7. Communicate with employees impacted by the change: Last and far from least, sponsor communications with the employee base are crucial. My clients tell me that they, too, gain great value from this role. Communications is two way. They don’t just talk about the change; they listen to how the change is landing on employees. They ask questions about the impact, and how it affects them. Sponsors address resistance – rooting out the causes of resistance and folding this back into project team discussions where necessary.

Throughout my career I’ve been involved with dozens and dozens of projects. When sponsors do the things listed above, the project is successful. When they don’t, the project fails. It’s binary.

How does your sponsorship add up?

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