These are the sorts of things I’m hearing lately from clients:
Three different organizations. Three different situations. And, at the heart of all of them, is the breakdown in execution that flows from the lack of effective sponsorship.
Here’s the idea of sponsorship: In order for any organizational action to be executed successfully over time, it needs somebody to say “here’s what I want,” and somebody to say “I’ll do that.” This includes everything from the writing of monthly reports to large scale organizational change. The sponsor is the person who says “here’s what I want.” The person (or, usually, people) who carry it out I’ll call doers. Without both sponsors and doers who are aligned around a shared goal, nothing happens.
Of course, it’s not that easy, right? There are all sorts of ways that this simple formula breaks down, especially in larger, more complex organizations. Here are some of them:
The person who is acting as the sponsor, trying to make something happen, doesn’t actually have the organizational power to authorize it. A classic example of this is when a leader asks HR to implement an initiative throughout the organization, but fails to sponsor it with line staff. HR ends up trying to make it happen, but doesn’t have the organizational power to do so. This is a failure of sponsorship, not of HR.
The doer has concerns about what the sponsor wants, or knows she needs additional resources to be successful, but doesn’t say so. How often have you seen this happen in your organization? For doers to be 100% on board with the sponsor’s direction, they need to have and take the opportunity to raise concerns, negotiate for resources, and generally push back until they’re satisfied they’re getting what they need to deliver on their commitment. Otherwise, it’s inevitable that action will be slow or non-existent.
A large initiative is being implemented by a cross-functional team of doers, who report up to and receive mixed messages from multiple sponsors. In this case, where is the one leader who is above everybody involved? For the initiative to be successful, this person needs to step up to the plate and provide clear direction. In a case like this, that person would be the executive sponsor. All those in the middle between the executive sponsor and the doers would be what’s called sustaining sponsors.
So, what does it take to be an effective sponsor and get excellent results from your team of doers? To be an excellent sponsor, you must:
Being a great sponsor is easiest when you’re the one who initiates an action, and all the doers are on your team or report up to you. It becomes more complicated if you and your team are part of a larger piece of work that involves doers and sponsors from other parts of the organization. But, when you understand the characteristics of good sponsorship, and focus on filling your dual roles of doer and sustaining sponsor effectively, you can drive alignment that leads to success.
Your turn: What are your examples of great sponsorship? How have you seen the lack of clear sponsorship cause breakdowns?