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Sponsorship Coalitions in Organizational Change

Sponsorship Coalitions in Organizational Change

To be able to successfully operate, organizations must adapt to an ever-changing environment. Change can take a variety of forms with transformational change efforts being the most complex. Transformational changes are complex, large-scale changes that often involve drastic shifts in business processes, organizational performance, behavior, culture and strategy, demanding strong leadership and decision-making.

Transformational change tends to have larger team sizes and longer program lengths and, thus, needs more durable and scalable governance that simply cannot be met with the traditional steering committee — it requires a sponsorship coalition.

A sponsorship coalition offers distinct advantages in terms of driving transformational change. A sponsorship coalition consists of the primary program sponsor along with a small group of leaders who cut across the organization and are willing – and empowered – to make final decisions, ultimately bearing responsibility for engaging in key program and change activities.

The Benefits of a Sponsorship Coalition

Transformational change can be a daunting task, but with a strong sponsorship coalition in place, organizations can navigate complexities and ensure successful outcomes. Effective sponsorship coalitions offer several key advantages:

Proactive Leadership & Advocacy 

A sponsorship coalition embraces a proactive approach to change leadership. Unlike a steering committee, which typically focuses on oversight and decision-making, sponsorship coalitions are made up of influential leaders who actively advocate for the change initiative. Sponsors within the coalition become change agents, demonstrating ongoing commitment and mobilizing support throughout various levels of the organization. By taking an active role, sponsors build trust and credibility, opening the organization up to greater employee engagement and buy-in.

Active Involvement & Guidance

A sponsorship coalition directly engages with employees throughout the transformational journey. Sponsors actively participate in change activities, providing guidance and support to both individuals and teams. This direct participation allows sponsors to understand the challenges that employees face and allows them to address concerns in real-time, providing the necessary resources and support to facilitate successful change adoption. Sponsors role model a sense of ownership, accountability and alignment with the change vision for employees throughout the organization.

Influential Change Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of any transformational change initiative, and sponsorship coalitions hold a distinct advantage when it comes to communication. Sponsors, due to the active role they play in the change, have the power to deliver compelling messages that resonate with employees. They can help inspire a shared vision by articulating the purpose, benefits and impact of the change initiative while also addressing individual concerns. This influential communication fosters a sense of urgency, excitement and commitment, driving employees to embrace the change with enthusiasm.

Removal of Barriers & Resistance

Resistance and barriers are threats to the success of any transformational change. A sponsorship coalition can address and overcome obstacles by leveraging the coalition’s influence to remove organizational barriers, allocate resources and prioritize change-related activities. They act as change champions that can mitigate resistance by addressing concerns, providing clarity and actively involving employees in the change process. Sponsorship coalitions can foster a supportive and inclusive environment that helps break down resistance, leading the way for smooth and successful change adoption. 

Agility & Adaptability

A sponsorship coalition brings agility to transformational change by making quick and informed decisions. Sponsors are well-positioned to monitor the progress of the initiative and empowered to make any necessary adjustments in real-time. They can modify change strategies, refine implementation plans and promptly address emerging challenges. This ability to adapt and pivot ensures that the change initiative remains aligned with ongoing organizational goals, increasing the chances of achieving desired outcomes.

Building a Strong Sponsorship Coalition

Recent research conducted by Prosci indicates that employees are only willing to commit to a change to the extent that the sponsor is committed, meaning that extremely effective sponsors are more likely to drive change initiatives. 

However, building a strong sponsorship coalition is not that simple. In fact, in the same Prosci study, 36% of participants felt that their sponsors underestimated or misunderstood the impacts of a project on talent. Here are a few key steps to building a strong sponsorship coalition that drives effective transformational change:

  • Define the Change Vision & Goals: It is vital to have a clear understanding of the change vision and goals in order to define the desired outcomes and articulate the purpose of the transformation. Achieving clarity will help attract sponsors who align with the change vision, possess the necessary skills and influence to drive it forward and ensure that the change vision resonates with the organization's values and strategic objectives.
  • Identify & Engage Key Stakeholders: It is best to look for leaders across different levels and departments who can inspire, influence and mobilize others. These stakeholders should be engaged early in the process and the importance of their involvement in the sponsorship coalition should be communicated by highlighting the impact they can have on shaping the future of the organization.
  • Foster Alignment & Commitment: Building a strong sponsorship coalition requires fostering alignment and commitment among the sponsors. Conduct regular meetings or workshops to discuss the change vision, goals and strategies, as well as encourage sponsors to share their perspectives, concerns and ideas. Open and honest discussions ensure that all sponsors are committed to the success of the transformation and establish clear expectations and responsibilities for each sponsor.
  • Provide Sponsorship Development: Sponsorship development is crucial to equip sponsors with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively lead change. Training programs, workshops or coaching sessions that focus on change leadership, communication and stakeholder management should be offered to help sponsors understand their roles and responsibilities in supporting employees throughout the transformational journey. 
  • Empower Sponsors as Change Champions: Empower and encourage sponsors to act as change champions and communicate the change vision, benefits and progress to employees at all levels. Provide them with the resources necessary to effectively communicate the change message. Help sponsors identify and address resistance and overcome barriers by equipping them with strategies to engage and motivate employees during the change journey.

Leading the Charge in Transformational Change

With proactive leadership, active involvement and guidance, influential change communication, the ability to remove barriers and resistance and agility in adapting to change dynamics, a sponsorship coalition drives successful transformational change. However, building a strong sponsorship coalition also requires defining the change vision, engaging key stakeholders, fostering alignment and commitment, providing sponsorship development and empowering sponsors as change champions. By following these steps, organizations can assemble a robust sponsorship coalition that navigates challenges and inspires employees to embrace change, ultimately leading to more successful transformational outcomes.


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