The moment you take on the mantle of change sponsor for a priority change initiative, especially one that requires a breakthrough result, your attention must go to how to launch your effort so that it will be understood, create momentum, and have the viability to be successful from start to finish. This requires an effective launch strategy.
Most leaders think that launch entails only a good kick-off communication—the big announcement, or the in-depth PowerPoint presentation that often misses the mark of engaging and compelling your leaders, project team, and stakeholders to want to move it ahead. Launch needs to build the momentum and infrastructure for success. This is the moment where you set the foundation for what the desired breakthrough will require—of the organization, its leaders, and you, the change sponsor.
Sponsor-level Launch Objectives
Getting a project off the ground takes a lot of good planning and attention. Most of this will be done by the project leader you name to run the effort. However, there are key things that you as project sponsor need to help shape, participate in, and ensure they occur. The objectives for your launch include:
- Ensure common understanding among your leaders, managers, and stakeholders of why you are changing and what you hope to accomplish as a result; what your compelling vision is for the future, beyond the numbers. Again, this is where you light the flame of enthusiasm for the breakthrough.
- Build a “fertile emotional environment” for your transformational project. You may need to support your stakeholders to vent past upsets with change, and to turn their concerns into a sense of possibility and hope for a better future. This will create their buy-in. You may encounter cynicism; acknowledge it, and share your own concerns and aspirations for this transformation to be different, with everyone’s help.
- Ensure effective change governance, decision-making, conditions for success, and capacity.
Launch involves determining and aligning on the following decisions, at least in an initial version, as any of them might change when more information comes to light. As executive sponsor, your role is to ensure this work happens in ways that are realistic and workable given all the dynamics at play in the organization. Typically, you and your Change Process Leader or Project Leader will do this together, but you should not abdicate this work.
- Initial rationale and purpose for changing: What are the real reasons for this change, both the need or threat, and the opportunity it presents? Consider what will be most compelling to the people who must support and make the change happen.
- Initial direction and project outcome: Desired business benefits (value proposition) including but beyond the metrics; your vision for a new reality once it is done; your breakthrough—in organization, service, culture, mindset!
- Change Leadership roles (Change Leadership Team and its members, Change Process Leader, Project Manager and team, Initiative Leads/Workstream leads, change consultants, all with assured capacity).
- High-level scope, boundary conditions, and leverage points for making the change. Make sure you are accounting for the solution as well as your culture and stakeholders’ training and emotional needs. Think about every aspect that your breakthrough requires and include it in your scope.
- Key stakeholders whose needs must be considered, including recipients of the change and individuals with political or fiduciary interests.
- Conditions for success and how to establish, support, and monitor them. The more serious you are about naming and establishing realistic conditions for success, the more energy you will create for making the change a success.
- Best means and topics for monitoring progress, stakeholder adoption, and making significant course corrections in the process or the outcome.
- Other events or projects happening in the organization to consider or align with when planning this effort.
- Commitment to adequate capacity and resources (initial budget and capacity requirements).
- Degree of urgency and general “guess-timated” timeline (actual timeline will be determined when the full scope and realistic workload are known).
- Best strategy for Kick-off communications and initial engagement to be both informative and compelling.
- Ways to keep your team and stakeholders informed, engaged, and encouraged as the change is happening. You need to be strategic about how to keep the momentum alive.
Invest the Time to Ensure Success
We outline this work because time has shown us that its absence leads to project failure or rework, which is both costly and frustrating to sponsors. This is up-front work. Invest the time to get it organized early so your project stands on the strongest footing for success and your breakthrough has the greatest chance of happening.