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What Every CEO Should Know when Sponsoring Transformational Change

Your organization has embarked on a new venture which is going to require a lot of change. Of course everyone is hoping for the best – but please allow me to be frank with you now, to save you a lot of heartache, time, and money in your near future.   As CEO, your style and actions have direct impact on your organization’s results from change. Whether this is surprising to you or a no-brainer, it is the most important thing to be aware of for successful change as you lead your organization through this venture. Even with the best team hired to execute this change, how you sponsor and lead during this time can make or break your return on investment. 

Your style, decisions, and actions (or lack of them) all have an effect. The problem is that most leaders don’t know if they are having a positive or negative impact. It is not always easy to gauge how you are personally impacting the outcome of a change initiative. When we have good intentions we naturally believe we are contributing and having a positive impact even when we may not be. Our mistakes aren’t deliberate; and you may not get feedback from your teams as they may be afraid to express how they really feel.   


Pause for a moment and consider the following:  

  • Do you know what constitutes great change leadership?  
  • Are you aware of which aspects of your leadership add value, and which are limited by your personality, style, or lack of having the whole picture?  
  • Do you know what your organization needs to maximize its success at change? Are you doing these things?   

We have identified the top ten ways we have found in our 40 years of consulting to Fortune 1000 executives to be the most dramatic ways you can increase the success in your organization’s transformational change efforts.  

1. Create alignment, commitment, and support in your top executive team. Executives tend to have individual contributor mentality. You must overcome this to get all your leaders on board with the effort.  

 2. Model the change you are asking of others. Employees believe what they see and are generally skeptical of words, especially if your words do not match your deeds. You must walk your talk if you want to minimize employee resistance and maximize their buy-in and commitment. Do you know how to model what you are asking of the organization? 

3. Stay involved through to sustained business results. After you kick off your change, you need to stay involved and contribute the right amount of senior level strategic influence over the change – not just through completion, but until you see sustained business results. This is a role you cannot delegate to anyone else.   

4. Develop your understanding of human and cultural dynamics during change. Sponsoring transformational change requires you to understand what makes people tick, both what ignites their passion and commitment and what causes them to resist. If you learn about human emotions and the belief systems that trigger them, you will be better able to design and implement your change efforts so they cause people to commit and participate in positive ways and minimize the negative impact on them. 

5. Build a change integration plan. Identify your major initiatives and integrate those that are independent from the beginning. Stop unleashing numerous change efforts without attending to integrating, reducing redundancy, and coordinating issues between them or with the existing business. And think seriously about using a common change process methodology. 

6. Set realistic timelines. Stop using arbitrary timelines that do not match the real work required of your change efforts or the capacity of your organization to make the changes. You can blow holes in the potential success of your change efforts by setting unrealistic timelines. Just because you want the change to go fast doesn’t mean that it can go fast.  

7. Build a critical mass of support for your change. Build a critical mass of support for your change with significant engagement and input from the functions and people directly impacted by the change, or who are required to make it happen successfully. When an organization feels “done to” by change rather than inspired, involved, and led, resistance abounds. It is easier to engage both your supporters and “fence-sitters” to help turn around all your resistors.   

8. Establish a mechanism and process for course correction. Plan your change and future state as best you can and then establish a mechanism and process to course correct as you discover the need to do so. If your changes are transformational, they will likely be unruly, unpredictable, and messy. Project management tools and structures are too rigid as the backbone for guiding your transformational process. They do not accommodate the human roller coaster and they typically generate the misconception that the plan is the reality. You can create huge momentum for change by being the first to model course correction! 

9. Put the right people in charge of the change. Put the right leaders in charge of your change and provide them with the authority and support to succeed. Your top change leaders must have organizational savvy, political clout, respect, and wisdom about the required future state needed. They must also have emotional intelligence and people and cultural know-how to be successful on any major change. This means that an underling, a human resource staffer, or an external change consultant cannot run your change, especially if it is transformational and long-term in nature. 

10. Use external contractors effectively. If you use external consultants, contract with them to support your change without over-controlling the design of your future, or the way in which you lead the change or involve your in-house resources. When you need certain kinds of external help, hire for that. Stay in control and always negotiate check-points that enable you to review and alter your consulting relationships when you recognize the need to do so.  

Your sponsorship is the foundation upon which your change efforts succeed or fail. Take the time to learn how to sponsor change successfully. Doing so will increase your credibility as a leader, and ideally, you will improve your results, build your organization's change leadership capability, and transform your organization's culture simultaneously. It will be well worth your effort, and your organization will reap substantial returns on your investment. 


Related Webinar:

Sponsor-Project Lead Partnership Best Practices Proven to Maximize Transformation Results

Instructor: Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

This webinar explores a four-step process for creating an effective sponsor-project lead partnership and the proven principles that drive it. You’ll get our best practices and tips for building a sponsor-project lead partnership derived from our 40+ years as experts in leading transformation.


Featured eBook:

The Ten Key Strategies for Leading Transformation

10 key strategies for leading transformation-1

Through 40 years of observing and supporting large-scale change and transformation in Fortune 500, government, global NGOs and public service organizations, we’ve identified these ten Best Practice strategies for leading transformation successfully.

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