What to do when change sponsors lack time and resources.

4 consequences and 4 tactics to offset them

author picture Article written by Vincent Piedboeuf

Sponsors can make or break your change. As a Change Manager, you know all that too well. As a Project Manager, you may wonder why a given initiative is going - or has gone - haywire. Research shows that sponsorship is the number one indicator of a project long-term success. It is thus absolutely vital to understand sponsorship challenges, starting the most commonly cited: the lack of time and dedicated resources. Drawing on insights from our partner PROSCI, this post tells you all you need to know to mitigate the impact and keep your project on track.  

4 things that happen when sponsors lack time and/or resources

Expect the project to stagger or be brought to a standstill. Overall, the project “slows and stalls”. After all, people mirror the behaviour of their leaders. Good sponsors lead by example, are active and visible throughout the project and communicate directly with employees. Do they skip meetings and show signs of disengagement? So will their teams.

Expect CM activities to be jeopardised by an inadequate and protracted decision-making process. When sponsors lack time and/or resources, critical decisions are simply not made. Key issues requiring of the sponsor to be addressed are left in the air. Not only that. Sloppy communications between unavailable sponsors and the Change Management (CM) team lead to time-critical activities not being notified or overlooked. And sponsors might as well take a defensive stance by trivialising the problem to justify their lack of responsiveness.

Expect a massive resistance upsurge across the organisation as the importance of the project is downplayed. As a direct consequence of the lack of solid sponsorship, CM activities are crippled by long-delays. Everything starts to feel fuzzy and unsupervised. CM is quickly be perceived as a burden, and its intrinsic value questioned. Influential but absent sponsors also magnify the problem, suggesting highest-ranked people disapprove of the initiative.

Expect project communications to take a major hit. For communication to be effective, the message must not be only compelling and carefully tailored to the audience; it must be circulated through the right channel by the right sender, at the right time. Sponsors lacking time tend to delegate their tasks to others - from drafting to taking the floor -, leaving people with messages that feel generic and unimpactful. But by increasing the volume of communication to offset these effects, CM teams also run the risk of creating saturation …  and fatigue down the line.

4 tactics to offset the consequences, based on best practices

“Prep it” for your sponsors. From creating a sponsorship roadmap and detailed project documentation to drafting communications, anything that can help to “make things happen” will do. Pretty much everyone involved in the project should be more proactive. Be ready to anticipate your sponsors’ needs to alleviate the pressure.

Draw from project resources. CM and PM (Project Management) teams must prepare to take on more work. Allocating extra time for CM activities is sometimes necessary to carry them out in a sound and efficient manner – even if it causes delays in the development of the project itself. Overall, be more selective with the activities you want your sponsors to be deeply involved in.

Get them started early! A careful coordination in advance is all you need to make the most of sponsors’ limited time. If this requires more work upfront, it can also prevent last-minute withdrawal of a sponsor on the grounds that it caught her/him off guard. Securing commitment from sponsors early on gives you the best chances to get them on board whenever they are needed.

Laser focus on activities with the highest impact. You may not be able to follow the CM playbook to a T. Get sponsors in the game for time-critical and high-impact activities only. Though it might limit their impact and shift part of the burden to the CM team, this is the best way to keep the project on track and moving. Be flexible and prioritise to avoid getting bogged in roadblocks!

For more insights into change sponsorship and related issues, be sure to check our extensive library of resources. We have a lot of research-backed knowledge to share!

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