Essentials Of Executive Sponsorship (Part One)

Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part one focuses on questions to help win support.

One of the main reasons that projects fail to launch, or realize long-term success, is the lack of executive sponsorship.

In fact, a 2014 Research Study by Prosci indicated that projects with strong, effective executive sponsorship were 3.5 times more likely to meet or exceed objectives than those with weak sponsorship.

Here are three self-reflection questions to help you frame, communicate, and earn the executive sponsorship you need to gain buy-in for your initiative.

How aligned is my project to the overarching strategies of the organization?

A cardinal rule of gaining effective momentum to implement any project or change management endeavor is organizational alignment. No amount of change management training will substitute for an organization lacking in alignment of strategies and decision making.

Ask yourself the following: What is the overarching goal of your project, and does it support the current strategic priorities of your organization? Or, does it detract from the momentum of those priorities?

A good way to assess this is to ask yourself, “In support of my organization’s current priorities, does my project ____________?”

  • Improve patient care or safety?
  • Increase revenue? Improve efficiency?
  • Improve employee satisfaction, engagement or productivity?
  • Accelerate a task or a desired outcome?

If your project is not in alignment, or its activities detract from the current 2-3 strategic priorities of your organization, it’s time to put it aside and redirect your time, energy, and focus to initiatives that support the overall direction of the organization.

Do I know what makes the Executive Leader tick?

An often overlooked way to gain support for your initiative is to speak the same language as the leader from whom you are seeking sponsorship.

First, you may already have an idea of how she makes decisions if you frequently work with this leader. Reflect on past decisions and points of influence; whether the leader made decisions on data, facts and ROI, or on ideas, innovation and culture.This can help you frame your argument.

Second, if you do not frequently work with this leader, survey other team members who work directly for her, or who have successfully influenced her in the past.

No matter her decision-making style, come to the table prepared with a balanced argument. Build a cross-disciplinary task force that can help you develop strong data, facts, and ROI to influence the decision. In addition, be able to present strong arguments that discuss the culture, patient care, and innovation aspects.

Essential to success is the ability to pull together the right team – one that can clearly articulate the vision of what you want to achieve in terms of ROI, patient outcomes, and employee experience.

Finally, if your organization uses personality assessments such as Emergentics, DiSC, MBTI, etc., use that information to help you frame your presentation. Your chances of being successful as an influencer will skyrocket if you take the approach of bending toward their decision-making and communication style versus your own.

Am I acting patiently persistent?

Demonstrating a high level of accountability is more than just taking ownership of a project or idea. It’s demonstrating a continuous resilience in the face of setbacks. It can also be taking ownership of feedback you receive on your delivery, data points, or project scope as you pursue your effort.

If you determined in question one that your project does indeed support the direction of the organization, realize that it may take more than one presentation to effectively gain the support you need. If you don’t immediately influence your decision makers, revisit question two to ensure you are communicating the vision, data, and value in terms that resonate with your leader. This openness to continuous learning will improve your influencing skills and refine your presentation to ensure it features the most relevant information.

Finally, if your presentation fails to gain traction, realize that sometimes the best feedback may be that which we are not receiving verbally – it could be lack of buy-in. It is your accountability then to ask the Executive Leader, “What’s missing from my approach that is keeping you from moving forward with my proposal?” Be open to the feedback you receive.

You may hear that your project, in their view, just isn’t in alignment with strategic priorities right now. Instead of getting defensive, ask what you can focus on now to help your leader drive current priorities. Or, you may be asked to tweak data or your style. This is an easy fix and an opportunity for you to ask the leader about her preferred communication and decision-making style.

Either way, you win – you are perceived as flexible, action-oriented, and quick to act in support of current initiatives. Or, you gain valuable insight on the best approach to influence this leader on current and future projects.

Please feel free to email me with any questions or insights at In the second part in this series, I’ll share the three keys to maximizing the executive sponsor relationship.

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