Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Call to Leaders re strategies too important to fail – the biggest risk (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second post exploring the role of leaders in transformational strategy execution.  It is not the only risk, but it is the biggest risk.  Being a great leader is NOT a ‘gimme’ for being a great sponsor.  What do great sponsors do differently?

Reason for hope – great leaders are great learners

We have phenomenal leaders on this continent, and leaders-in-waiting ready to step up.  The first step towards a successful execution is to find the leader who is first prepared to learn how to be a great sponsor in this new world order.

“Let him that would move the world, first move himself” (Socrates)

Do you doubt that your role is so pivotal or that it is so different than yesterday?  The findings of almost every survey (from McKinsey to the Project Management Institute to Prosci’s ‘best practices’), states leadership is the number 1 success factor in the implementation of transformational change.  

And yet few leaders ramp up for this very different kind of change.  Transformational change is rare.  Few leaders spend their careers implementing such complex change.

In fact most leaders come to transformational change as operational experts and change novices.  Why? Two reasons:

  1. Such change might, in fact be a once in a career or once in a decade challenge
  2. Being a great Sponsor is NOT the same as being a great leader  

The single biggest risk to project success is the leader who underestimates his / her role and what must be done differently.

Most organizations have support groups, internal consulting divisions and Program Management Offices, very familiar with transactional change and who are eager to support.  That is a great base.   

Together we ask leaders:  are you ready to explore what it means to be a great sponsor of transformational change?  This will change the way we operate together and it will change the results we can achieve together.

What does it take to be a great Sponsor – a Change Leader?

Over 37 years Conner Partners has studied organizational change and has identified the characteristics of “winners” and “losers”.  This research is updated constantly (the latest version of the Change Execution Methodology was released last month).  BTW, the biggest change is still an opportunity for many organizations – integrating strategic alignment, people change management and project management.  And, this is not answered by installing a PMO.

What does the research say are the most important characteristics of great sponsors?  Here are a  couple of examples quoted directly from “How to be an Effective Sponsor of Major Organizational Change”:

  • Human impact of the change: The small movements of big wheels at the top of the company often translate into frantic movements for smaller wheels down in the organization. Sponsors who succeed understand how many people and groups will be affected by a change throughout their organization—they can appreciate the impact of their decisions on those employees.
  • Nature of resistance: Resistance can be a key barrier to the realization of a major change initiative. Successful sponsors deal effectively with the nature and intensity of resistance as the project is implemented.
  • Scope of the change: A major change can have a far-reaching impact on an organization that is both obvious and subtle. And some of these effects can lead to resistance, which could seriously impede implementation if they go undetected and/or are misunderstood. Productive sponsors identify the full range of implications for all their change decisions.
  • Change inhibitors: Sponsors who triumph during change proactively identify potential change inhibitors. To the greatest extent possible, they recognize and eliminate possible barriers before they become a threat to the project’s realization. Barriers that can’t be avoided are contained and managed.
  • Managing capacity: Change implementation sometimes creates unanticipated drains on the change capacity of those most affected by an initiative. Successful sponsors maintain a vigilance on any remaining capacity throughout the implementation process and take corrective action as required.
  • Commitment to sacrifice: Major change often requires a personal and/or political price for those who play the sponsor’s role. The productive sponsor understands that the costs for success are real and leads the way in paying them. He or she thereby establishes an understanding throughout the organization that sacrifice will be required when the price of failure is prohibitive.

The full list can be referenced on the website (behind the registration page here) and there’s also some great information on role definitions and cascading sponsorship structures.

None of these are as simple as they seem – it is the experienced judgement on the fly that makes the difference from good to great.  And that’s why Fortune 100 organizations retain external support on mission critical business imperatives.

Ready to contract for a great “Sponsor-Agent Relationship”? Check out Daryl’s series here on his ChangeThinking blog (tip: there’s a great free download of a tool we use in the first post). 

What’s next?

Sponsorship is not the only risk to strategy execution.  Over the next couple of months, I will come back to review other challenges, such as:

  • How to engage the passion of your people in authentic and meaningful ways
  • Organizing chaos and the anomalies of the phrasing ‘change management’
  • The horrors of overcoming a silo-driven culture that operates in the best interests of the whole organization

Curious? Interested? Subscribe above left. 

If you would like to discuss strategy execution approaches we have implemented successfully for other Fortune 100 companies it would be a pleasure to connect – you can reach me at

Related posts:

Call to Leaders re strategies too important to fail – the biggest risk (Part 1 of 2)

1 Comment so far
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Interesting that you wrote that being a great leader is not a “gimme”. Makes me think about expanding the analogy to golf. The putting game is as important as the use of the other clubs. One cannot win at golf by driving alone; one needs a good game of “touch!” Similarly, one cannot succeed in leading change with the driver alone, or by swinging the big club. One must understand some of the “touchy” points and get a feel for the inhibitors to success.

Nicely putt!

Comment by bobdodgeecm

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