Blog 6.4.2023

Change management in practice: Sponsor only on paper or also in front of people?


Every change program needs a sponsor: a person from organization’s leadership who is positive about the change, promotes it, shows direction, and takes responsibility for the success of the change. Nearly all change programs acknowledge the necessity of a sponsor, and usually the program’s organization chart has a name in the sponsor box. But is this person sponsor only on paper or also in front of the people and in the program’s day-to-day work? 

In surprisingly many change programs, the sponsor is barely visible in everyday life. There can be various reasons for this: no time, no need, or others working on the tasks. Usually this indicates that sponsor’s role has not been properly understood, neither by the program nor the sponsor. 

Sponsor’s role requires time and commitment 

Sponsor needs to dedicate time for the change, and a sponsor is needed in every change program. Sponsor’s tasks cannot be delegated.  

Sponsor’s responsibilities can be summarized as follows: 

  • Sponsor shows direction for the change. They paint the picture of the future towards which the program is taking the organization. They believe in it and show it to others. 
  • Sponsor removes change obstacles, solves problems, and mediates conflicts. They nurture organization’s trust in the chosen direction regardless of faced difficulties. 
  • Sponsor helps other change leaders, such as managers, take the change forward. 
  • Sponsor is available for people and listen to them – genuinely hearing them. 

In practice, this all means discussing with people, participating in various events, and being available and present in organization’s channels. This means open discussions with people and responding to their questions – if there is no answer yet, letting them know that the topic is still open and will be addressed later.  

This also might mean difficult situations and tough decisions “behind the scenes”, while building faith and trust in public. 

Sponsor is a gold nugget 

Committed and responsible sponsor is a gold nugget to the change program, but also requires effort from the program. Program needs to find and nominate as a sponsor (or sponsors) only someone willing to take the role, with appropriate position in the organization. Typically, sponsor is responsible for the organization, people, and business that are facing the change. Sponsor needs to have interest in the success of the change. Based on multiple studies, people preferably listen to messages about vision and the big picture when they come from organization’s leaders. 

Program needs to familiarize the sponsor with the role: what the program expects from the sponsor. Program also should support the sponsor in their tasks: organize opportunities to talk and discuss with people, prepare materials for sponsor, “ghost write” blogs and other texts to be published in sponsor’s name, and be available in any way the sponsor needs. It takes two to tango! 

To sum up, every change program needs a sponsor if the goal is to achieve the targets gracefully while supporting people during the change journey. Every sponsor needs to be carefully picked and introduced to their role. Sponsor is one of the keys to successful change. 


change management

Minna Kivimäki

During the time this post was published, Minna worked as a Change Management Consultant at Gofore. Minna is a seasoned change expert. Work career in large international companies adds up to 20 years, mainly in internal communication and change communication positions. Minna has supported the implementation of dozens of changes: corporate reorganizations, strategy changes, organizational and operating method changes, digitization projects, etc. Her favorite topics are especially the development of communication, the promotion of internal transparency and dialogue in the organization, and human-centeredness in the implementation of changes.

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