What is a project sponsor? This is typically someone from your executive team who leads change efforts by building a coalition of sponsorship with peers and managers. Throughout the ERP project, they remain active and visible, championing the effort throughout your organization. 

Designating this executive sponsor role is an essential component of a change management strategy because many high-profile ERP failures can be traced back to a lack of sponsorship. 

Today, we’re sharing what sponsorship entails and how to leverage this role in your own organization. 

The Three-legged Stool of Organizational Change

Before discussing sponsorship, let’s discuss how it fits into the three-legged stool of organizational change management:

1. Sponsorship

This is the process of leading the overall change and communicating with employees. It’s about ensuring the project never loses steam and remains a top-of-mind priority from the C-suite down.

2. Change Management

What is change management? This refers to the actions required to manage the “people side” of change. It’s about helping your workforce embrace the new technology and business processes. Effective organizational change management requires a comprehensive plan that includes organizational assessments, end-user training, employee communication and more.

3. Project Management

Conversely, ERP project management is the “business side” of change. This includes all of the steps needed to prepare your organization for a successful go-live. From setting timelines to migrating data and managing scope creep, there are many different tasks managed by ERP project managers.

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What is a Project Sponsor and Why do You Need One?

As mentioned earlier, a project sponsor is an executive within your company that champions the ERP implementation, business transformation or whatever type of project you’re pursuing.

This person lends vision and clarity to the project and helps team members become equally enthusiastic about its potential. This typically involves explaining the need for the change and emphasizing the risks the business could incur if such changes aren’t accomplished. 

Without such a role in place, it’s easy for even the best-intended effort to fall short of its goals. In our experience, the lack of a clear vision and active project sponsorship is often a root cause of change resistance

4 Responsibilities of an ERP Project Sponsor

We’ve made it clear that a project sponsor is a non-negotiable for your ERP project. Now, let’s more closely explore how this role works and the responsibilities it will entail.

1. Building a Sponsorship Coalition

The sponsor is primarily responsible for building a strong coalition of sponsorship among peers and managers. Not only will the sponsor communicate directly with these teams, but they’ll actually listen to them and make sure their inputs are heard. 

Who should be included in this coalition? Ideally, it will consist of identified leaders who can help drive the change. It should also include visible supporters or champions of the change.

As a key executive, the sponsor will become one of the main “faces” of the project. They’ll help others see the reasons behind the change and rally support behind it. 

2. Staying Engaged

A project sponsor isn’t just someone who looks over your ERP business case and nods their head. This person shows up for project meetings and doesn’t hide behind the scenes.

As other employees witness the sponsor’s unwavering commitment to the changes, they become more willing to follow suit. This golden example will be of paramount importance during the most difficult phases of the change.

3. Demonstrate Ongoing Support

Even with the most thoughtfully planned ERP project, there are bound to be a few roadblocks and challenges. For example, an ERP project team member could leave midway through the implementation.

Despite any setbacks, your project sponsor should demonstrate continued support. This should be evident to all employees through both their words and actions. 

4. Communicate the Need for Change

At the outset, many employees resist change because they feel personally threatened. Their tried-and-true way of doing things is about to get overhauled, and this shake-up can result in knee-jerk reactions. 

This underscores the need for the project sponsor to communicate project goals with employees as early as possible – ideally before ERP selection. The sponsor should focus on the “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me?) and highlight all the expected ERP business benefits.

How to Designate and Manage Project Sponsors

1. Create a Sponsor Roadmap

On some occasions, companies might have a clear-cut choice for who should be the project sponsor. Other times, the decision might not be as obvious.

If you’re unsure where to begin, it can help to develop a sponsor roadmap. This is a visual depiction of sponsors and key managers, including details regarding where they stand in relation to the change.

It’s best to create this roadmap in tandem with your change management strategy. We recommend beginning by conducting a sponsorship assessment, which will turn into a roadmap that will help you prepare sponsors to lead the change.

Some of these sponsors might be enthusiastic right out of the gate, while others might require more information before moving forward. That’s why it’s important to develop a detailed roadmap.

2. Regularly Coach Sponsors

Like any other stakeholder, project sponsors will likely need a refresher during the course of the implementation. This is especially the case with complex, lengthy transformations with a longer timeline. 

To keep your sponsors informed and up-to-date, it helps to hold regular meetings with them. Use this time to coach and prepare them to build enthusiasm throughout the company. This involves preparing messages they should communicate to employees.

Ultimately, the key to coaching sponsors is holding them accountable to the duties required by their role. 

Project Sponsorship Enables Organizational Change

Any time you introduce a major change into your organization, there’s bound to be potential for some sort of pushback. This is especially the case when you implement a new ERP system

Over time, your employees have grown accustomed to their comfortable workflows. Even if there are specific pain points they’d like to address, it can be overwhelming to step outside their comfort zone and embrace an unfamiliar platform. 

However, you can mitigate change resistance by designating a project sponsor who’s passionate and convincing.

What is a project sponsor? This is a person of influence within your organization who can be coached to demonstrate project support and enthusiasm. By choosing the right person to fill this role, you can ensure employee awareness, desire, knowledge and acceptance.

Want to learn about change management best practices? We’re here to help. Contact our change management consultants below for a free consultation. 

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