Lessons from the field: Poor change leadership will delay your business transformation

Posted by David Miller

Lessons from the field Poor change leadership will delay your business transformation.jpg

Effective sponsorship is so critical during organizational change, especially when undertaking a major business transformation.  This week we look at a recent client case where the sponsorship network wasn’t seeing the change they expected, but didn’t realize that their actions and behavior were contributing to the poor progress and low commitment levels.

Facing slow progress on a major business transformation

We were in meeting with team of executives recently. A great group of people who were extra-ordinarily committed to the organization and its ambitions.

The executives were trying to drive a major transformational program across their organization. The problem was that the change was moving very slowly and appeared to lack traction. Their internal change agent had carried out a regular quarterly assessment, using our Initiative Risk Assessment, to gauge people’s commitment and readiness to change.


Poor sponsorship translates into poor commitment

The risk assessment showed that over 50% of people were not committed to making the program happen. When they looked at the risk dimensions it showed that the biggest reported risk was senior sponsorship. A couple of focus groups had also substantiated this concern.

The executives couldn’t understand why this result had happened. Indeed, there was a fair amount of denial around the team. After all, they had funded the change, built the strategy and had personally led roadshows to tell people about the program.


Understanding the root cause of poor change sponsorship

After a lot of debate, they called us to facilitate a workshop to get to the bottom of the problem. We decided to collect some data, using our Sponsor Assessment tool. If we could narrow down on the causes of the issue, then we could then identify what the cure might be.

The assessment, and subsequent discussion in the workshop, pointed to three major problems:

  1. They were very reluctant to express any type of dissatisfaction of the current state. Every communication, about the change, was expressed through “an exciting story about the future”.
    This meant that employees didn’t understand the urgency of the situation and the consequences that would occur if the change failed.


  1. No employee ever saw them role model the change. Rather they were perceived as acting as they always had. The message to employees was that “we are not really serious about this change program”.
    People pay a lot of attention to leader actions rather than leader words so if you don’t get words and actions aligned you are in big trouble.


  1. Lastly, their public communications were viewed as being very ‘top-down’ and dominated by PowerPoint. Employees said they wanted a conversation and they wanted that to be like social media with constant short conversations rather than a static, heavily planned presentation.
    This put huge pressure on executives to re-think the way they interact with employees during major change.


3 principles to create effective sponsorship

To address the shortfall in change leadership during this business transformation we looked at 3 core principles that always have an impact on increasing sponsor effectiveness:

  1. Sponsors are human beings as well. They feel the same emotions as everyone else and they often go through a period of resistance to the program they initiated.
    Change Agents need to read this situation and help sponsors navigate the change curve as well.


  1. Don’t shield sponsors from problems. The change agent saw it as their job to “give sponsors solutions not problems”. They wanted to shield them from any bad news. The challenge when you do this is that sponsors never get sufficient information to judge their own performance and make appropriate adjustments.
    You must expose sponsors to the problems in the change program. Especially if they are the problem!


  1. Sponsors need to be educated. Often leaders have low experience of leading major change programs. Like everyone else they need training and tools to be successful.


Creating effective change leadership in your organization

Great change leadership doesn’t automatically just happen.  The change agent has a role to play in ensuring the sponsors have the tools and training they need to be effective in their sponsor role during a business transformation.

Are you facing a similar situation? Take a look at our other resources on the topic.  We discussed useful techniques you can use to build an effective sponsor network in our blog last week.  Plus our white paper, Leaders of the Revolution is a useful read for executives, and others, who are planning a major business transformation.

Remember that poor change leadership is the biggest risk for a major organizational change.  When you are planning a business transformation make sure you establish the right framework to create and support effective change leadership.

Download Leaders of the Revolution to find out more

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Tags: change management, risk assessment, change leadership, organizational change, business transformation, change leaders

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