The sponsor of the change project is the single person who has, or is given, the power to remove all the obstacles in the way. This is the person that needs to push the project through, to understand what the project is all about and who has the interest to devote enough time to the project. For example, the people that were interviewed about Leeds ' CRM implementation said " strong leadership is crucial to overcoming difficulties and motivating employees' to engage into the process". For Leeds this was because "the biggest barrier was the employees' adoption of the new product" (i.e. the CRM software and business processes). Without the backing of a strong sponsor staff would not have successfully started to use the new CRM software and business processes.
The sponsor should preferably be one single person. This is in order to reduce complexity (although the whole area of leadership of change projects will remain complex). Sometimes, the question of who is the leader and who are the followers will have answers that depend upon what is expected of them. For example, if an implementation barrier needs to be removed, a person is needed who has the power and the interest to remove the barrier (1).
There are some simple rules that will be helpful:
- The more of the council to be affected by the change, then the higher the level of the sponsor.
- The sponsor should be in charge of all the resources needed for the change and be the final decision maker in all the decisions affecting the change project (this applies especially to the Business Case).
- The sponsor must benefit by the planned results of the project, i.e. his or her interests must be aligned with those of the project. This means that, for example, a Chief Executive or a councillor may view that their promises to citizens will be honoured only by a successful implementation of the change project. This kind of interest (and project alignment) will guarantee that the sponsor backs the project even when it comes up against barriers.
- The interest of the sponsor must be ongoing. Maintaining the sponsor's interest in the change project should be a primary concern of the project manager. This can be done with regular communications (since the sponsor is also a stakeholder) that repeat future benefits to the sponsor and record achieved benefits.
The consequences of not having a sponsor will include:
- inability to 'sell' the change project to the leaders of the council or other stakeholders
- barriers that are insurmountable to the project manager
- ineffective broadcasting of project results at senior council levels
(1) For an interesting and very relevant discussion, see Leadership and Followership in a Changing Public Service by Glyn Evans, then of Camden Council, now at Birmingham City Council, 2003