This is dedicated to everyone who has experienced challenges as they work with a leader of change. In change management lingo this is a sponsor, but for our purposes we’ll call him or her a Change Leader.
What happens when your Change Leader (Sponsor) stops leading the change? They may be moving to a new role, taking a new job or simply been reassigned to something different. The bottom line is that you are responsible for accomplishing something and the leader supporting hat change is not there. The impact of Sponsor Shift can be devastating to important, meaningful change.
There are two approaches to dealing with Sponsor Shift one is preventative (anticipating that it may happen in the future) and the other is corrective (when Sponsor Shift occurs.)
- Be Prepared – set expectations at the beginning of every project by making sure the Change Leader understands and commits to be the owner of the change until they transition it to a new supporting leader. Add this to the standard list of change risks and address it with the Change Leader before it becomes an issue. Create a plan that addresses how to make a transition without impacting the outcomes.
- Build Connections – Change Leaders don’t work in a vacuum. One of the critical responsibilities for all change leaders is to get their peers on board with the change they are leading. This is not a presentation in a meeting, this happens through 1:1 conversations about why the change matters and what’s in it for them (WIIFM.) Gaining other leaders buy-in helps create critical mass and a “tipping point” of support which can transcend Sponsor Shift.
- Back to Basics – it’s easy to assume that when a new Change Leader assumes responsibility that they fully understand the change, its importance and their role. This is a deadly assumption. When a new Change Leader is appointed, evaluate them as a new stakeholder and assess their level of commitment and competence. Then use your change management expertise to determine the best course of action to ensure that they fully understand the change, its importance and their role.
New leaders often kill projects (changes) for emotional reasons and then provide business logic to support their decision. No amount of business case analytics will overcome the gut reaction to support or oppose a change they are tasked with leading.
Therefore, spend time on building in the peer support and creating a risk management plan. If Sponsor Shift occurs, make sure you are intentional about applying excellent change management and recognize the new Change Leader is working through their personal change process.