Don’t Be a “Pretend” Executive Sponsor

Hi, Executive Sponsor.  It seems we have received a letter from your team …

The term Executive Sponsor is used everywhere in organizations today. Every new initiative or change needs the all-important Executive Sponsor to make it happen.  We have noticed that some are taking this responsibility a little more seriously than others. Here’s what your team had to say:

Dear Executive Sponsor,

You are here because we need you. The word ‘sponsor’ means you help us do great things we can’t do on our own. It’s harder than it looks. We ask that avoid the common traps of so many Executive Sponsors who have come before you.

1. Don’t Say Yes When You Mean No
If you don’t want to be our Executive Sponsor, please just say so. When your boss calls to ask for your help on this critical initiative, please come up with a palatable excuse if you aren’t really on board. If your plan is to say yes and then not really do anything – it will catch up with you – and us.

2.  Don’t Just Pretend You Know What We Are Doing
At a minimum, you’ll have to review our analysis, understand our recommendations and give your direction. We’ll try to make it easy for you, but it will take some of your time. We can completely tell if you only read page one of our materials or you are multi-tasking on our calls. An Executive Sponsor should have ideas and direction for the team – that is why you are here. It’s impossible to do this unless you are engaged.

3. Don’t Tell Us to Influence People that We Can’t
If you know there is a barracuda in your leadership team who loves to eat managers for lunch, please don’t tell us to go meet with him and convince him to get on board. If you think there is even a chance we are being served up on a platter, please offer to join us. Maybe even give him a preview in advance or remind him he owes you one – whatever you have to do to pave the way. We need your help here. As a reminder, throwing someone to the wolves is not in the Executive Sponsor job description.

4. Don’t Act Like You Didn’t See Our Recommendations First
If the COO completely disagrees with one of the recommendations, don’t be the Sponsor that turns on the team and acts like you didn’t know that was included. Offer up some perspective on the rationale behind this option so we keep our credibility. If you do the right thing, we’ll keep it to ourselves that this “ridiculous idea” came from you at our last meeting.

5. Don’t Take All the Credit
We are working very hard to make this change or initiative really work. We know that you are a very senior person with influence and if we can work together – we can do great things.  And, when we are successful, please don’t act like you did this by yourself. Remember us and we’ll remember you the next time you have a big change and need help.  And, who knows, you may need us to be the Executive Sponsor for one of your ideas sometime in the not too distant future.

Best Regards,
Your Devoted Team