What is a change sponsor? This is an executive leader with the connections and clout required to build a coalition of sponsorship around your project. 

ERP implementations are one type of project that requires sponsorship. These projects need the ongoing support of your executive team, which includes an active and engaged change sponsor.

This person will ensure you have access to the resources, people, and funds you need. They’ll also champion your efforts in a visible way, setting an example for the rest of your organization to follow.

While C-suite leaders generally understand that their support is necessary, many are unaware of exactly what the role of a change sponsor entails, so today, we’re sharing a complete guide to change sponsorship. 

Navigating Change with Rick & Christi

Watch these short and sweet videos to learn about change management from the experts! The series features Rick Platz and Christi Trinder from Panorama’s change management team.

The Three Roles Required for Organizational Change

Any time you introduce new enterprise software into your organization, you’re essentially shaking the foundation of your company.

Often, this is a good thing. It allows you to rethink the status quo to help your employees work better and faster than before. 

However, this usually doesn’t happen without a few hiccups. Change can be overwhelming and even scary for many employees, so it’s critical to approach these types of projects intentionally.

Before you dive right into ERP selection, we recommend taking the time to establish the pillars of change. These include:

  • Sponsorship is the act of securing the support of your executive team. With executives’ backing, you can make sure the project maintains steam, despite any setbacks that may occur.
  • Organizational change management (OCM) is the process of managing the “people side” of a change. One of the most important aspects of OCM is communication. This entails crafting the right messages and delivering them at the right time, in the right way to quell anxieties and garner enthusiasm around the new ERP software. Read our blog, “What is Change Management,” to learn more.
  • Project management centers on the “business side” of a change. It involves making sure all the right controls are in place for a successful project. It also involves setting timelines, managing budgets, and mitigating risk. 

What is a Change Sponsor?

While you need executive sponsorship to get an ERP project off the ground, not every business leader in your C-suite will be suited to take an active and visible role in supporting the endeavor. 

This is where a change sponsor comes in. Ideally, this is a member of your executive team who can take the reins and champion the ERP implementation. While there are many different activities that your change sponsor will lead, there are five main activities we’d like to highlight: 

1. Securing Project Budget and Resources

There are many different tactical parts to an ERP project. You need the right people working on assignments that fit their talents. You also need a realistic budget in place to make sure you can afford every necessary step. 

A change sponsor can ensure all these resources are in place. Not only will they advocate for the best people to be assigned to your team, but they’ll also set clear boundaries that delineate day-to-day work from project-specific work.

2. Active Project Team Support

A change sponsor doesn’t just show up at the beginning and end of an ERP implementation. They’re participating every step of the way. 

Initially, this will mean helping your project team define the project scope. Then, as the effort ramps up, they’ll attend key meetings, ask important questions, and make themselves available to your team members. They’ll also assist in important decision-making moments and help you set clear timelines and expectations.

With such a deep investment in the implementation, they’ll expect measurable results and will hold team members accountable for specific outcomes. 

3. Engage Senior Management

An executive change sponsor doesn’t work in a silo. To be successful in the role, this leader will require the steady support of other members of your senior management team. 

To obtain this support, the change sponsor often must educate this team on the benefits that the new ERP system will bring. While some leaders may embrace the effort, others might require more convincing. 

Once change sponsors have sold the project to their peers, they can create a steering committee of senior leaders who can hold middle managers accountable, communicate the need for change, and combat resistance from others in their department. 

4. Actively and Visibly Support the Change

Change resistance is inevitable. One of the most powerful ways to combat it is by designating a change sponsor.

Often, negative reactions to change are rooted in fear and uncertainty. For instance, employees may worry that the new ERP solution will replace their job or that the technology will be too complicated to learn. 

A change sponsor can put those concerns to rest. They’ll be the loudest and most persuasive voice regarding your project, and they’ll use their influence to spread facts instead of rumors. 

This will include articulating the vision and goals for the implementation, making sure employees understand:

  • Why the change is necessary
  • The financial and operational risks of not implementing the change
  • How the change connects to your long-term business strategy

The change sponsor will remain visible throughout the life of the ERP project, using their platform to encourage employees across every department to view the change as a valuable step forward. 

5. Anticipate and Manage Pain Points

If a change sponsor works proactively, they can anticipate critical points of project resistance before they even occur.

For example, they may already be aware of hot spots within your company’s political landscape and can gauge how certain team members will respond to a certain idea. 

Using their authority as required, they can step in and mediate these issues before they snowball into bigger problems that could derail your project. 

Key Traits of an Effective Change Sponsor

As you might expect, there are certain traits that will make one change sponsor more effective than another.

Above all else, the person you choose for this role must hold the organizational power required to legitimize the change from the top level.

Moreover, they should also work with a sense of urgency, convincing others to support the mission. Other key traits include:

  • The ability to articulate a vision
  • The capacity to forge high-profile teams
  • The confidence to speak publicly about the change

While project managers work around the clock to manage short-term project expectations and timelines, change managers are working with a wider horizon. They’re more interested in crafting a long-term vision for your company’s future, and motivating others to help make it happen. 

The Roadmap to Change Sponsorship

In some companies, it’s obvious from the beginning who should assume the role of change sponsor. There might be one executive who’s especially supportive of the project and possesses all the requisite skills and influence to champion it. 

However, this isn’t always the case. If you have several contenders (or none who stand out), then start by conducting a sponsorship assessment. This exercise analyzes each of your ERP project sponsors and notes where each stakeholder currently stands in relation to the change. 

From there, you can create a change sponsor roadmap that visually represents those findings. Once you’ve established the key individuals who would fit best this role, you can ask them to serve in the position and provide them with a thorough job description. 

Keep in mind that you may need to provide routine refresher training to make sure your change sponsors are up-to-speed on the daily project updates. This is especially the case if the project has an extensive timeline that incorporates a major transformation. 

The more well-informed your change sponsor is, the more information they’ll have to share with others. A lack of insight into the project can drive resentment and frustration, so it’s important to provide this visibility where possible. 

The Valuable Role of a Change Sponsor

When you’re at the helm of a digital transformation, you might not have the time, energy, or bandwidth to ramp up enthusiasm within your organization. This is where the right type of change sponsorship can make a world of difference.

What is a change sponsor and why do you need one? In short, it’s the role that ensures your most valuable asset (your workforce) is knowledgeable about the project and is willing to support it. 

Contact our change management consultants below to request a free consultation.

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