Beware the disappearing sponsor

In this guest article from Sam Marshall, he highlights the importance of what your intranet sponsor brings, and can take away.

Sam MarshallIn this guest article from Sam Marshall, he highlights the importance of what your intranet sponsor brings, and can take away.

I’ve had a few projects where there’s been an enthusiastic sponsor and everything has been running well, and then they’ve been re-assigned to another project and the whole thing came to a grinding halt. One sponsor went on maternity leave, expecting the project would all be done by the time she got back. Two babies later and the project was still a work in progress.

For intranets that are doing step by step evolution, senior sponsors don’t always matter: the budget is often allocated to a department and can be managed as business-as-usual.

Sponsors do matter if you want to perform a strategic overhaul. There are times when an intranet vision is complex and the business case can’t be expressed with hard numbers. If so, it takes time before people get it and you can’t bring everyone on that journey at once.

This is when it helps to have someone with enough influence that gets it early on because they help open doors and maintain momentum. They can also be the first to see the need to align related activities; for example, when they hear of Marketing piloting a social collaboration tool that will overlap with what you’re already planning for your modern intranet. Sponsors may also be needed to defend the project in corridor-conversations where doubts may be cast on a project that can seem ‘conceptual’ before delivery starts.

The risk is that if the sponsor disappears, your project becomes vulnerable to ‘show me the proof’ challenges again. This can be hard when benefits are still a work in progress, as when a newly-launched social network may be live but not mature enough to create business impact.

My advice, is to not pin everything on one sponsor but to cultivate the support of several leaders, even if this isn’t formally as a Steering Group. One way to do this is to find leaders of Business Units where you can address a specific need as a pilot. It may be about simplifying an important workflow, or helping them disseminate sales information more consistently and accessibly.

When you think about it, the qualities of influence, drive, and enthusiasm that make a great sponsor, also make for someone likely to move quickly in their career. In effect you need a sponsor succession plan.

Sam Marshall

Sam MarshallWant to know more about how to make your intranet succeed? Join Sam’s Intranet Masterclass in London on November 24th & 25th.

  1. Great advice on managing sponsors! I particularly like the need for a sponsor succession plan. And don’t you find too, that the higher the sponsorship level, the shorter the attention span? I had a CEO who, when I asked for his visible commitment to the development of a new intranet, grinned wearily and said “the trouble is the context of my job changes quite rapidly: I can commit to being a visible sponsor for the next three months, after that the caravan will have moved on!” The value of that response was I was able to negotiate with him who he would pass sponsorship on to.

  2. Hi Dion, thank you for your comment. You make a very good point that sponsors should be accountable for passing sponsorship on, and that’s an important conversation to have up-front.

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