Project-related change management activities often bring to mind logistical communications and training events. Something employees often want to know during this time: “what does this project mean to me and my job?” A user’s direct management should field that type of inquiry. Employees perceive direct managers to “understand me and my job.”
That’s just a small slice of the pie, however. Company leaders often forget the strategic messages around how a project fits in with the company’s overall direction. Moreover, how can the project advance it? Executive sponsors should deliver those messages. From the eyes of the end user, company leaders are well-positioned to draw those conclusions. They are making the key business decisions.
Four reasons you should prioritize executive buy-in for change management:
1. You could jeopardize the success of the project.
The No. 1 factor for a successful project is active and visible executive sponsorship (Prosci, Best Practices in Change Management, 2016 Edition, Greatest Contributors to Success).
2. You need a top-down show of support.
To be active, the executive sponsor has to be engaged in the project. This means that the sponsor has to actually invest time meeting with project leaders, key team members, and key stakeholders across the organization. Their involvement cannot be simply reading a weekly status report prepared by the project manager. To be visible, the executive needs to be the face (or certainly one of the faces) of the project. The project team, stakeholders, and end users have to see and hear them espousing the project. Doing so sends the message of support from the top ranks.
3. You risk sending the wrong message to your team.
I have been involved in projects where the executive sponsor shows up at the kickoff meeting, makes a few brief comments about how important the project is to the success of the organization, and then excuses himself or herself to attend to other matters. That leaves the project’s execution in the hands of the delivery team. There are a number of issues with this. It’s a good thing that the executive sponsor actually did show up for the kickoff. However, the fact that he or she didn’t stay sends a clear message to the team. Although this project may be somewhat important, it’s not important enough to justify a couple hours of this executive’s time.
4. Your have to motivate your stakeholders.
Over the years, I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to get an executive sponsor, or even higher, an executive in the corporation (e.g., CIO, COO, even CEO) to participate in helping to deliver the strategic visioning messages. It can be as simple as an email or a plug at the next “all-hands” meeting, or more complex like a video that may be posted on the corporate intranet. On a recent project, we even got the client’s public relations guy, Terry Bradshaw, to speak to the employees. Can you imagine Terry Bradshaw plugging Office 365 to the end users? It happened. However, it’s done, do it. It will make more difference that you can imagine in the overall success of your project.
Download our guide, How to Overcome 5 Change Management Mistakes, for more insights.