Summary : you need high level sponsor to start what is a processus that will deeply transform your organization. Hierarchical position and budget are not enough : the sponsor should be able to carry and embody the project, show by the example and, most of all, have courage.
No one questions anymore the fact that any enterprise 2.0 or social anything project needs a strong internal sponsorship. It’s essential when a project that was born under the radar wants to become mainstream as well as when a top-down enterprise wide project needs to meet end-users. So it’s important that a top executive takes the lead to be sure that things will work. In fact, that’s not enough : we often can see projects with high-levels sponsors failing.
So, what should a good sponsor look like ?
1°) He’s a high-level person
Despite of his good-will, a local manager will only be able to achieve local projects. He will even suffer from it his superiors don’t agree and he won’t be able to use all the levers he would need. At a given moment his project will stay local or he’ll have to find a real sponsor to help, provided that, meanwhile, his initiative did not cause him too many enmities. In most of the cases, the right, good sponsor is a C level person or a director of something. But, as we’ll see, that’s not enough.
In fact, to know to what extent the project can spread, you just have to rely on the “highest common hierarchical superior” rule.
2°) He’s not necessarily the person who had the idea
Such people may have many other things to deal with and, most of the times, they don’t know what is now possible and may have a poor understanding of some issues or opportunities (generation matter). On the other hand they have a macro vision of the situation and of the corporate strategy. If they understand that such a project may be a catalyst to execute the strategy, they quickly support it.
3°) He embodies the project
Being a top executive and understanding the benefits of enterprise 2.0 is not enough. The person in question has to embody the change. Once he understands that such a project may help him, saying “I’m ok, do it and come back when it’s done” is not enough. He has to understand the levers, the message, understand it, make it his and carry it. If it’s not natural for him, workshop sessions will be needed to help him. Maybe he’ll need an “expert” close to him.
4°) He shows by the example
Advocating new behaviors, new ways of doing things is nice but doing things in this new way is better ! Saying “yes, it’s essential but I won’t myself play the game, that’s not my thing, not my generation things” means you have nearly 100% to fail. The sponsor discusses corporate issues on his blog, listen to what employees say and answers them. He walks the talk.
5°) He gets the project out if its ghetto
Not only he pushes and embodies the project, but he also gets it out oh his own sphere. Whatever his responsability field his, he tries to convince his colleagues, brings them with him and make the project become and enterprise-wide one.
6°) he as balls
Sometimes people will try to block the project, project managers will need support, arbitrations will be needed, people will have to be refocused whatever their hierarchical level is (that’s why the highest the sponsor is the better). In this case, the sponsor does not hide under the meeting table : he explains, refocuses, pushed, thumps the table. In short, he’s able to put himself in danger and knows how to use both diplomacy and authority to make things happen.
In short, if your sponsor is a CxO or Director of anything who gives you a budget, does not take any initiative to help you in your discussions with the IT, legal or HR, fear arbitrating if someone is playing against you and, anyway, does not care of anything and looks from a distance to know if he’ll grab the honors of success or leave you alone with failure…you don’t have a sponsor but are in serious troubles.
Ben Verwaayen at Alcatel-Lucent, Bernard Charlès at Dassault Systèmes, John Chambers at Cisco… the list is long. Nearly all the projects that are successful on a large scale share one thing. Not only a clear-sighted person (who, like Chambers, may go against his own nature because he thinks that’s the path to success) but someone who has courage. Often a CEO but I only know at least one CIO who has the same logic…and some HR officers that at starting to feel more and more comfortable.
I remember that, five years ago, an executive told be :” your idea is awesome, that’s the future. But it lacks something that no consultant or vendor can sell to me : courage”. At least he was lucid. No one can have courage for someone else but, on the other hand, courage is something one can acquire by working on mastering the subject, being more self-assured, comfortable, provided he wants to take the time and wants to really get involved.
In short you don’t need a sponsor : a leader is better.