One common reason for change initiatives failing, as perceived by my audiences of change leaders, is the lack of executive level sponsorship and support. We can agree that without senior level management support for a change initiative, especially those that cross organizational boundaries, there is little chance of success. However, a spirited discussion usually ensues during my presentations when I boldly state that it is our responsibility to obtain the executive support. We have to consciously mine and nurture the support our change initiative requires. If we don’t get it, a good part of the blame lies with us, the change leader.
One key question is: Are the executive sponsors on board or not? Most times the executive level resource is on board. Though seldom do they know specifically what to do or not do to support the change effort. It’s our job as change leader to tell them and show them. True, it would be nice if the executive took the time to become intimate with the details of the change initiative and to provide guidance and support with no prompting from the change leader, but waiting for that to magically happen is not something we can afford to do.
The executive resource is simply too busy. Their days are usually scheduled in 15 minute increments from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. They may make a decision at 9:00 and contradict that decision at 2:30 and not even realize it. The intentions are pure but the results may not be what we want or expect. Notice we’ve used the term executive “resource”. Just like any other resource at our disposal as change leaders, the executive resource must be managed, guided, and nurtured.
Frequently in our executive advisory work we script remarks for executive team members. We know that most times they have very little preparation time. There are numerous change initiatives floating in their consciousness at any one time. Yours may not be at the top of the list at any given moment. As change leaders we have to take control and ensure they say and do the right thing. If the executive is on board they will welcome this type of direction. The commonality is the mutual goal of your change initiative being successfully implemented.
But here is the hard part. How do you influence someone who is above you in the organizational pecking order?
The answer lies in what comes before the critical moment when you require the services of your executive resource. How have you positioned the change initiative with the executive? How have you positioned your relationship with the executive? What are your channels of communication? In other words, how many preparatory deposits have you made in the relationship account so that when a withdrawal is necessary you are covered?
In effect, the baseline philosophy here is making it simple for your executive sponsor to do their thing – create value towards successful change implementation.
Get to know your executive’s preferences
Get to know the idiosyncrasies of their schedules. How much lead time do they need? How does the role of your executive’s assistant impact what you are trying to accomplish?
Anticipate the sponsor’s needs
Don’t expect the executive sponsor to ask for the information they need. Remember, they’re busy on other things. It’s the change leader’s job to be focused on the change initiative. Flow the information to them, organized efficiently, so they can make decisions and add crucial input to the process. Consider the political ramifications of alternatives and provide options to the executive. In effect, ensure the executive sponsor is effective in their role.
Make it happen
In effect, tell the executive sponsor what to do. Take care of all of the preparatory work required for them to do their job. Scheduling, agenda creation, scripting messages, and background on key participants and stakeholders should be provided by the change leader so the executive can play the role we need them to play.