Lessons I learned from when I was a lousy project sponsor.
What’s harder to find than Bigfoot? You guessed it – good change leaders.
Why are good change leaders so rare? They are rare because people never seem to have the opportunity to learn how to lead and help their people through change. I’ve never heard of a class in school – at any level – where one learns to be a good leader of change.
At least that’s my excuse. After years of study in engineering school and later in graduate business school, I found my way into a leadership role in industry. By age forty something, I had responsibility for thousands of people around the globe, and I was charged with driving change throughout the organization. I wish I knew then what I know now about sponsoring change – I would have been a more effective leader.
I was familiar with strategy deployment tools like Balanced Scorecard and Hoshin Kanri and I was a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Even still, I was unfamiliar with how to eliminate resistance to the changes I wanted to make.
Fortunately, a wise Human Resources leader pulled me aside for a talk, and I later met a few trailblazers in change management. In the early 2000’s, I learned about change management and became a certified practitioner. I’ve practiced change management every week (formally and informally, at work and at home) ever since.
I didn’t know it when I was an executive leader, but I later realized that I was reason #1 for our critical change projects failing or being at risk. What I came to realize later was that I, as the executive sponsor of the change, was the weakest link in most of our projects.
I have to admit that I used to be a lousy sponsor of change. I now have a different approach to sponsorship that contributes to successful change projects – instead of inhibiting them.
In retrospect, here are my personal DEF's of Poor Project Sponsorship. This was me many years ago. I hope you can learn from my experience.
The DEF’s of Poor Sponsorship
D: Didn't know how to lead change and I Didn’t want to do it. So I Delegated it.
E: Exited the project after giving a kick-off speech and was never to be seen again.
F: Failed to engage with peers and employees to explain the answers to: “Why change?”
When I think back on that time I wonder: “What would have worked for me?”
I was fortunate to have a peer (a SVP of Human Resources) who took me aside to give me some coaching on change management. Honestly, at that time, I didn’t care about change management and only cared about the results – the ROI (Return on Investment) we could achieve by incorporating change management into our strategic change projects.
As change practitioners, I believe we need to try to take on the perspective of the leader/executive if we want to win them over to become more effective leaders of change.
My view when I was in an executive role (and still my view today) is that change management is very important, but it is merely an enabler of change. An enabler is a thing that makes something else possible, and that something else for change management are the results and outcomes being driven by the projects.
How can we help our leaders understand their role and responsibility in guiding change efforts to achieve business results?
Here’s my recommendations for existing leaders and people still on their way up.
For Existing Leaders and Executives
For the people who are currently in leadership and executive roles, we need to help them have more awareness and an increased desire to become a better change leader.
For most of them, I know, this only happens when they believe change management has much more value than cost (i.e. it has an actual, demonstratable ROI associated with it).
When we can show the leader that a project with change management produces much better outcomes than a project without change management, they will be more likely to jump on board with us.
For People Still On Their Way Up
For people who are still on their way up the organizational ladder, I believe we need to include change leadership as an important tool in their personal development toolkit.
Our friends in Leadership Development can help with this. People equipped with knowledge and ability around project sponsorship will be far better prepared to be an effective executive than I was.
About Randy Kesterson
Randy Kesterson early retired from executive roles in industry and he works as a senior change advisor at The Kesterson Group, founded in 2013. Randy helps organizations improve (and demonstrate) the ROI from their change management initiatives and he coaches leaders and executives on improving their sponsorship of change.
Randy has written and published two books about strategy deployment and change management.
He lives in Davidson, NC with his wife Susan, their twelve-year-old son Chase, and Petey Smalz, their one-year-old French bulldog.
For more information about Randy’s background, see RandyKesterson.com.