By Sarah Gasparick

Chances are that you’ve heard it before: you need to get Executive Sponsorship secured with a project early on to help it succeed.

It’s good advice and in theory, it’s so simple. In practice, it is often an uphill battle. Getting the Executive Sponsor (or sponsors) to actually be active and visible can end up being more like sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. There may be rumors and a few witness sightings of the elusive sponsor, but the bulk of users are left alone in the foggy wilderness with no clear footsteps to follow.

It is not uncommon to launch a project and experience a “honeymoon” phase with Executive Sponsorship. You think you have the commitment and buy-in you need from leadership. Everyone shakes hands and smiles. Initial phases of the project get rolling and everything is just rosy.

Then the honeymoon is over and there’s a battle on the home front over who needs to do the dishes – er, I mean – there is a battle over who needs to deal with a difficult project decision. As you look over to the head of the table all you see is an empty chair. Your email requests go unanswered. Even your strongest supporters within the project team start to waver. The fog begins to set in…

Leaving footprints and maps

Where did things go wrong? While there may not be just one right answer here, we invite you to ponder the idea that if you didn’t take time to invest in “marriage counseling” before the wedding – that might be the issue.

In the pre-launch of a project, it is a smart idea to set clear expectations with the Executive Sponsor so that you can clarify that you’re not just looking for a figurehead to invest 15 minutes signing a letter or making quick remarks of support in one meeting. If you are looking for well-rounded sponsorship, you need to spell it out and gain agreement up front.

Not sure just what to ask for from your sponsor? Map it out!

Think about the activities that they could participate in that would yield the greatest exposure and inspiration to end users and compel them to adopt the new tools. Consider the timing and time investment required on their end, and do what you can to make your request easy for them to digest and achieve.

Depending on your organization footprint, you may need to get creative and have the sponsor create a short video to incorporate into marketing versus asking them to attend 10 onsite manager meetings. Asking them to sign off on all of the communications for the project would be unreasonable, but perhaps they can send the company-wide announcement at the launch of the project.

The key is to make sure that there is ample presence from the sponsor so that end users will know with confidence that they are walking on the right path as they invest their time and energy in acclimating to their new resources.

Avoid a “Nessie” project! Get your Executive Sponsor the exposure that the team deserves and you’ll be one step closer to happily ever after.