What is the role of the Sponsor?
A sponsor is the person, typically a senior leader, who is accountable for a business outcome and the realisation of the benefits associated with it. This role is often associated with a programme or change initiative in which the organisation is making a significant investment to achieve a strategic outcome.
Many sponsors are asked or expected to play this role by virtue of their position of seniority within the organisation. They do not necessarily have previous experience of being sponsors, nor is it necessarily explained to them what is required. However, the sponsor is critical to the achievement of a business outcome, so it’s important to understand what good sponsorship looks like.
Before we look at good sponsorship, let’s consider of some of the anti-patterns that you might have seen in your career:
• The Figurehead – the “sponsor” is a senior name on an org chart, for example the CEO, but is too far removed from direct ownership of the outcome. Of course, some outcomes should be owned by the CEO and arguably she is ultimately accountable, but typically it’s unrealistic to expect her to sponsor every programme within the organisation.
• The Absentee – no one has seen or heard from the sponsor; he only turns up to the monthly steering committee (if at all) and has abdicated his role to a programme manager, who is the only person to whom he will talk.
• The Surrogate – often an IT leader sponsoring a technology programme. While there can be good reasons for the CIO, for example, to sponsor a business outcome, it is sometimes a warning sign that no one in the business is really engaged or owns the outcome.
• The Control Freak – the sponsor is extremely passionate about achieving the outcome, but wants to be involved in every decision and tell the teams exactly what to do.
We know that we don’t want any of the above, but what does good actually look like when it comes to sponsorship? How do you know if you are doing a good job?
Consider the following aspects of sponsorship and ask yourself some questions.
1. Vision – being able to clearly explain the business outcome and why it’s important to the organisation. What the future will look like and what benefits will be realised. How the vision aligns with the organisation’s strategy.
• Have I clearly articulated my vision?
• Am I actively owning and championing the outcome within my organisation?
• Do I regularly communicate to my organisation and remind them of what we’re trying to achieve?
2. Stakeholder Management – identifying and building relationships with internal (e.g. other senior leaders) and external stakeholders (e.g. customers, shareholders, regulators, industry bodies).
• Are my stakeholders aligned with my vision?
• Are they supportive in helping me achieve it?
• Are they actively engaged beyond turning up for steering committee meetings?
3. Engagement and Empowerment – being actively involved and working with the teams that are delivering on your behalf. Creating an environment that facilitates collaborative working, problem solving and a learning culture. Clearing roadblocks and removing constraints.
• Do I know the teams and individuals who are making day-to-day decisions on my behalf?
• Do I empower them to do their jobs and support them when they need it?
• Do I ask the question “How can I help?”
4. Governance – ensuring that the organisation makes decisions on a timely basis and by those people best qualified and informed to make them. Involving the right people in making decisions and making sure that they own them.
• Am I being supported by the right decision-makers within my organisation?
• Do we make decisions quickly and efficiently?
• Do we delegate authority as close as possible to where the decision is needed?
5. Business Case – understanding and owning the investment that the organisation is making and the return on that investment.
• Do I know what level of investment is required in the best, worst and most likely cases?
• Can the benefits be measured in ways that are meaningful to the business?
• Do I understand how risky is the programme? Is it within the organisation’s risk appetite?
• Do I have confidence that the organisation is making a good investment?
So, are you a good sponsor?
If you were able to answer “yes” to most of the questions above, it’s likely that you’re well on your way to being a good sponsor. If your team can answer “yes” to the same questions about your sponsorship, you are probably already a great sponsor!
Being senior and influential within your organisation is almost always a pre-requisite to being a successful sponsor, but it is not enough. The sponsor needs to put in “hard yards” and cannot abdicate, but instead need to empower others and lead by example.
Through good sponsorship, you can harness the power of your organisation to achieve amazing results.
What is the role of the Sponsor?