The 12 “Ps” of successful strategic execution sponsorship

So, you have been “invited” to sponsor a major business initiative to help transform your organisation. Congratulations!

However as reality sinks in, are you thinking this is a blessing or a curse?

If all goes well, there will be celebrations all round, improved business outcomes and (possibly) increased role responsibility or even a long-deserved promotion! More importantly, you might be thinking, how do I make the initiative, and my team, and myself (hopefully in that order!) successful? Over the past two decades or so, I have worked with a wide variety of sponsors in different businesses and continents to deliver complex change including restructuring, transformation, creating a new business or integrating an acquisition. Across all these varied strategic execution initiatives, there have been some great sponsors (but not many), some “OK” sponsors, and a large number that was ineffective. Often, this lack of a critical element (effective sponsorship) has meant the initiative has been delayed, failed to deliver as expected, ended up with many tens of millions of dollars of lost cost or even led the enterprise to the brink of disaster.

Often there have been serious consequences for the sponsor in terms of career progression within their organisation. In fact, in many organisations, I work with, “sponsorship” has become a dirty word and something to avoid at all costs rather than the career-enhancing and the business-critical role it should be.

So why are there so few great sponsors?

The fundamental issue is that there is often no clear definition of what a sponsor actually “does”. What skills, knowledge and experience should he/she have?

Is he/she simply a figurehead to be rolled out for key events on a thirty-minute monthly basis? or a proactive and integral member of a strategic execution team? My point of view is very much the latter. Over the years, one great question I have heard (and used often myself with prospective sponsors) is:

“If you had to take a sabbatical for 6 months – what kind of person would you want to take over for you in your role?”

Interestingly, less effective sponsors tend to answer this with qualifications and technical skills initially (financial acumen, good presentation skills, structured) and only after prompting proffer the real requirements – personal attributes – honesty, transparency, sense of humour, able to keep calm in a storm.

Not surprisingly, the individuals who respond with the personal attributes first are typically the great sponsors as they truly understand what the role entails.

Here is a summary of the 12 “Ps” describing the personal attributes of the successful sponsors I have developed over the years:

  1. Power: Sufficient power to drive change within the business (could be any type of power – legitimate through to charisma)
  2. Pain: Enough dissatisfaction with the current state of the business to have a burning, personal desire to change it for the better
  3. Purpose: An unambiguous, easily communicable “Vision” of the desired end state that appeals to hearts as well as minds
  4. Plan: A deep understanding of the interconnected logical elements of the journey that need to be undertaken to deliver the target business outcomes
  5. Personal Commitment: Understanding of the personal attributes needed for successful sponsorship along with the ability and willingness to commit personally to deliver what is necessary for the project to succeed
  6. People Empathy: An ability to appreciate the effect the change will have on the organization as a whole, its customers, employees, owners, investors and other stakeholders at a PERSONAL level
  7. Pragmatism: Being able to determine the best (or “least wrong”) course of action at key points in the strategic execution journey
  8. Public and Private Support: The ability and willingness to convey strong and unwavering public and privately support of, and commitment to, the initiative – despite its potential lack of popularity
  9. Performance Management: Able to reward those who assist with the transformation and express displeasure with those who inhibit the change
  10. Perseverance: The determination to ensure that monitoring procedures are established to track progress, highlight problems that may occur during the transformation process and resolve them swiftly in the face of poor transparency caused by fear and doubt
  11. Persistence: The capacity to demonstrate consistent sustained support for the change and reject any course of action with short-term benefits if it is inconsistent with the strategic goals
  12. Personal Sacrifice: The commitment to pursue the task knowing that a personal, political, or organizational price may be paid for implementing the change – ultimately this may mean exiting the role with no other position to move to and potentially exiting the organisation

If you are looking through this list and questioning whether you will struggle to provide this level of sponsorship – good! The starting point is to assess your capabilities against this simplified view. Step two is to understand how you can enhance your skills or support them with other people in the team and share the logical role of “sponsor” across more than one physical person.

Recognise that sponsorship is a complex and critical component of successful strategic execution and that you will undoubtedly need to build a team around yourself that covers ALL the bases above (the 12 Ps), at the same time as enhancing your skills. This is what a great sponsor does!

About the author

Jon has more than 30 years experience leading multi-disciplinary strategy execution programs focused on delivering tangible business results across a range of industries. These include a number of post-merger integration, separation and complex transformational programs that all involved disruptive change across people, process and technology domains.

He held positions including VP Consulting of a Fortune 250, Partner, Program Management Practice Head and Business Transformation Practice Head in different global management consulting firms before setting up Strategic Execution Consultants LLC. Over the past two decades, Jon developed and refined the design and delivery approaches for a number of global consulting organizations. His Crucible™ large scale program mobilization approach has been used to successfully initiate multiple mission critical programs in the USA and Europe.

Jon is personally responsible for delivering over $2B of tangible performance improvement for some of the largest firms in the world including two of the largest mergers in corporate history.

He holds a Combined Honours Degree in Computing and Physics from Aston University (UK) and an MBA specialising in Strategy from Aston Business School (UK). He is starting his DBA focused on Strategic Execution in 2017 and is actively looking for interviewees who have led disruptive change programs who wish to be part of the research.