NASCAR is a fascinating sport. The thunder of roaring engines, speed of racing cars, and energy of cheering crowds. To me, I notice that every car, driver, and pit crew are covered with stickers and patches of logos from sponsors. These sponsors provide the teams with financial and promotional support to connect with their fans and be successful on race day. As a leader in your organization, what sponsorship logos do members of your team wear on their jackets and suits each day? Who provides the financial and leadership support to ensure that your organizational change initiatives are aligned for success with each lap from the starting line to the checkered flag at the finish line?
Every NASCAR team has a primary sponsor who displays a large logo on the hood of the car. Associate sponsors display smaller logos on fenders and near windows. Every strategic change initiative needs an executive sponsor – someone with authority and credibility to give legitimacy to the change and establish justification for time, resources, and money to be expended towards reaching the goals of the change. In addition, the executive sponsor needs to be visible and vocal to powerfully communicate the vision and case for change.
However, an executive sponsor cannot reach and engage hearts and minds of all employees alone. Successful change requires the help of associate sponsors – an internal network of sponsors in middle and front-line levels of the organization who are involved in the planning and delivery of the change. These associate sponsors are equally vested, visible, and vocal advocates of the change to the teams they support. They help to bring the high-level change message down to a group and team level, help people understand how the change will impact them personally and professionally, and raise questions and concerns back up the hierarchy.
This concept is not new and other experts have described the important role of sponsors at both strategic and tactical levels to lead organizational change. Bain and Company describe the need for a Sponsorship Spine where sponsors at mid and front-line levels of the organization work together to enroll and cascade change down the organization. Daryl Conner writes about the Geometry of Sponsorship and how sponsor/employee relationships generally take a Linear, Triangle, or Square configuration. Each relationship structure has different dynamics and sponsors need to understand how to work within each geometric shape to effectively achieve lasting change.
From my experience, I see many similarities between the NASCAR team who relies on their primary and associate sponsors for support and success and IT and business leaders who rely on executive sponsors and sponsors at mid and front-line levels of the organization to provide leadership and orchestrate successful change.
What wisdom have you gained from partnering with sponsors to lead change in your organization?