When Sponsorship is Lost

A crucial element to ensuring a successful change is strong sponsorship. This is why wHolistic ChangeSM considers Gaining Sponsorship as its own category in implementing corporate change (and lack of an executive sponsor as one of the 7 unsuccessful ways to approach change).

But what happens if you cannot secure (or along the way, you lose) your sponsor?

  1. Identify an alternate executive to take up your cause.
    • Find someone else who is respected within the organization and who is willing to support the need for change. Ensure this executive understands and is willing to combat the resistance that the change will encounter.
    • Make sure to explain the role of the sponsor and amount of time you will need from this person on your project to make it a reality.
  2. Determine if you feel the change is important enough to forgo a sponsor and to champion as a grass roots initiative.
    • Be prepared for the fact that the change will take longer to implement without a sponsor, because you will need to convince every impacted stakeholder area, person by person.
    • Ensure the change agents are prepared to put in more hours on the change, because the communication plan, status reporting, overcoming resistance to change, etc. will require additional evidence from the change team. Smaller, incremental successes will be required to establish credibility and get more people to be willing to test the approach.
    • Read support materials such as “You Don’t Need a Title To Be a Leader” from Mark Sanborn to inspire the change agents to make the change a reality.
    • Create the change roadmap that wHolistic ChangeSM recommends so that you have a clear understanding of timing for specific achievements (and are tracking your project status accordingly). This may help mitigate the change team becoming disheartened or burned out by showing them that progress is being made, just very slowly and over a prolonged period of time.
  3. Determine your exit strategy.
    • If you cannot achieve 1 or 2, review the case for change that prompted the creation of the project, and determine whether the answers that drove the original need to change still apply:
      1. Who wants to change?
      2. What do they value?
      3. Why do they want the change?
      4. Why would change be a good thing?
      5. How will the change benefit the person who wants it?
    • If the answers to A – E above are still valid, use them in a candid discussion with your former sponsor (or potential new executive sponsor) about why you need her/him to publicly support the change.
    • If the answers to A – E are no longer valid, if the answers have materially changed due to internal or external / market conditions, or if you still cannot get a sponsor, determine if the best course of action is to cancel the initiative and redeploy the team.
      • Cancellation of the change should not be viewed as a failure, but as a business decision in the context of what is going on at your corporation, and how much change (and what types of change) the organization can absorb at this time.
      • Involve the champions and change team in the decision process, to make the call together about canceling the project. Talk through the resource commitment necessary to achieve the change as compared with whether the project can truly achieve the way you defined success (value dials).
      • Perform a formal project closure
        1. Communicate the decision to everyone involved in the change. Ensure all stakeholders understand the rationale for stopping the project at this time.
        2. Conduct a lessons learned to see if there are improvements that could be leveraged (even if the complete end to end change is not implemented).
        3. Update all documentation associated with the change and archive it. If a sponsor and business case for doing a similar change arise in the future, the materials can be used as a launching off points for the new change team.


About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.

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