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  • Identify business issues/values


  • Remove political roadblocks
  • Demonstrate behaviors

Some change projects may not have an executive sponsor.  While this is a serious warning sign, it does happen.  When it does, the most senior person supporting the project fills the role of the executive sponsor.  Conversely, some projects may feel as if they have multiple executive sponsors.  However, there is almost always one who is the true sponsor, and the rest of the executive team is just joining them.  If you’re ever wondering who the real sponsor is, ask whose budget is funding the project.

Engaging with your executive sponsor is, obviously, critical.  However, engaging the executive sponsor is very different than engaging with rest of the members of the team.  Typically, executive sponsors are only concerned with the bottom-line benefits of the change process and when they can expect to see those benefits.  It’s a cost-benefit ratio, and time is ticking.

While executive sponsors are frequently passionate about the change management program they’re sponsoring, they’re typically emotionally invested in what they see as the path to propel the organization forward.  It’s difficult for change managers to access this passion directly.  Instead, when communicating with executive sponsors, the goal should be to connect the thing that you need with the outcomes they’ll get if they provide it.

Executive sponsors are, by their position in the organization, busy.  However, they can still be expected to contribute to the change.  It’s expected that the executive sponsor will remove – or work to remove – political roadblocks.  These may be the roadblocks that everyone expected at the beginning of the project or other people or departments who have decided to dig their heels in and resist or refuse the change.  While they likely can’t remove every obstacle, they should be able to remove enough obstacles that the project has a path forward.

The most important expectation of executive sponsors is that they model the behavior changes they want to see.  Not every change will require a behavior change on the part of executives, but many do – and they should expect to participate.

One organization decided to move to SharePoint for their file storage and management.  They wanted to prevent emailing files back and forth.  The appropriate technical measures were taken to restrict mailbox size, attachment size, etc.  However, nothing worked until the executive (in this case, the CEO) started responding to any email with a direct attachment with “In SharePoint” and nothing else.  Everyone from the executive level down got the message that he was no longer accepting attachments.  If the document wasn’t in SharePoint, he wasn’t looking at it.  It didn’t take long for everyone to catch on that, if they wanted his attention on something, it had better be in SharePoint.