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Effective Project Sponsorship: The Key to Boosting CRM End-User Adoption

Today's blog post was written by Scott Hinton, Principal Consultant at Sonoma Partners.

I'll never forget the project sponsor I worked with on an implementation a few years ago. I had read the research, but experiencing a great sponsor firsthand made all the difference. The importance of effective project sponsorship is no mystery to change management practitioners. The difference between an engaged sponsor and one who is going through the motions is night and day and can directly impact the level of CRM adoption speed and ultimate utilization. This article highlights my experience working with an exceptional sponsor from "ACME" and includes seven practical tips outlined by phase to increase sponsor effectiveness and overall CRM adoption levels.

Seven Sponsorship Tips

During the change management Prepare Phase, there are several key sponsor-related activities. These include assessing project sponsorship, sponsor education, building a sponsor roadmap, and creating a change coalition.

1. Assess project sponsorship

The change practitioner assesses the readiness of the sponsor and project governance first. This uncovers sponsor capabilities, expectations, and the organization's legacy of project sponsorship effectiveness. Assessing governance is important to understand where the project sponsor role fits in the organization and the project governance maturity. This information allows the change practitioner to match the sponsorship approach to the organization and CRM project.

ACME's Sponsor Mary collaborated on developing and socializing a project governance organization chart. This gave committee members greater clarity on the various players and committee functions and demonstrated sponsor commitment.

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2. Educate the sponsor

Many sponsors don’t fully understand their role or appreciate the impact they have on project success. The project manager, change lead, and other key project team members are certainly change success enablers, but effective sponsorship is paramount to meeting project objectives. Sponsor education early in the project is vital. This allows the change lead to play a trusted advisor role and build rapport with the sponsor. Trust is key to discussing those shadow issues below the surface that could inhibit project success.

Mary was receptive to learning sponsor effectiveness fundamentals and encouraged performance feedback and ongoing coaching. 

3. Set clear expectations

The change practitioner and sponsor need to be aligned on role expectations and priorities. The sponsor roles and responsibilities also need to be formalized in the organization. In many cases, this is accomplished through an executive sponsor email introduction of the sponsor to demonstrate senior leadership commitment and give the project and sponsor greater credibility. Creating a sponsor roadmap is also important at this stage. It outlines expectations for the sponsor, change management checkpoints and meetings with the steering committee and key stakeholders. Meetings with business leaders improves awareness, alignment, and project engagement.

Mary was always available for weekly checkpoints and followed up with task owners. She also dedicated resources to the project in the form of a core and extended project team.

4. Facilitate change coalition building

Successful change management does not happen in a vacuum. The change practitioner can architect the change but ownership must be spread across the organization through a coalition comprised of "change agents" from all levels within the organization. The coalition, commonly called a "Change Network," raises the visibility of anticipated changes, builds support ahead of the actual change, and provides end user feedback to the sponsors and project team. According to Kotter, the coalition must have the right composition, level of trust, and a shared objective. They state: "In our studies, when we have found people making large scale changes very successfully, we’ve always found what I call a 'guiding coalition' driving the process." The sponsor is responsible for ensuring the coalition is effectively supporting the change.

Mary headed the governance committees but she shared change leadership responsibility throughout the coalition by keeping members abreast and engaged and seeking feedback. 

During the Manage Phase, sponsor coaching and active and visible sponsorship are crucial. 

5. Ensure active and visible project sponsorship

Sponsor engagement directly impacts project success and the most effective sponsors are the face of the change throughout all project phases. According to Prosci, "A positive leader who actively guides the organization through change and participates visibly throughout the transition is the greatest predictor of success." Active participation includes communicating directly and candidly to all impacted users and avoiding delegation of sponsor duties.

6. Coach on proactive resistance management

A degree of project change resistance is inevitable. The level is reduced when the sponsor understands and proactively manages resistance. This includes addressing resistance head-on and establishing feedback loops to uncover root causes. Resistance occurs at all levels of the organization and managing leader resistance effectively is critical as they set the tone for adoption and lead by example through their communications and behaviors.

As the project enters the final or Reinforce Phase of change management, the focus is on recognizing success, transitioning the responsibility of change management and ensuring performance can be sustained.

7. Recognize Behavior Changes

Once the project launches, effective sponsors model desired behaviors and ensure the organization is recognizing and rewarding user behavior changes to sustain and build performance improvements. It's also important for the change lead to fully transfer change management responsibilities to the sponsor or another designated individual. Mary was in attendance at project launch events and sustained positive momentum by sending companywide and project team emails highlighting success stories. In addition, she maintained the governance committee post-launch to review results and identify ongoing improvement opportunities.

It was gratifying to learn that ACME had a very successful launch. There is little doubt that Mary's effective project sponsorship was a major contributor.

Topics: CRM Best Practices