Over the last 10 years, virtually all chemical companies have gone through dramatic changes as a result of a shifting competitive environment, altered regulatory laws, pressures to increase shareholder value and the increasing "e-ification" necessary to remain viable.
Many of these changes involve information technology (IT), in areas that include collaborative product commerce and customer relationship management. Such IT investments have been expected to rapidly deliver significant return on investment to help chemical firms deal with increased margin pressures and cost focus. Some have delivered and some have not.
Why do some not meet their goals? A recent survey of chief information officers indicated these managers viewed the lack of adequate sponsorship as the number one reason for system implementations that did not meet their goals.* Many other studies have reached the same conclusion.
IT implementations often are led by people who have content expertise. They might know the system inside out and be completely dedicated to its success. But does that mean they can sponsor the initiative effectively?
What is a sponsor? What must the sponsor do?
The sponsor's role
The sponsor for an initiative is the individual who has the authority to mandate the initiative's implementation. In other words, the sponsor can make the decision to implement a new system for the entire unit, without asking for anyone's approval.
This is not to say that the sponsor does not require the cooperation, support and commitment of many others. A variety of people will serve on planning, design, communication and training teams, as well as play other key roles. In addition, managers will talk about the value of the new system and model its use. But, because the sponsor is in charge, he or she can set objectives for the next layer of management and hold them accountable for meeting those objectives. If the sponsor cannot do that, he or she does not have the authority to be the sponsor.
Can the director of "Cool New Systems" do that? He or she can set the objectives for people reporting to him or her. But he or she must influence others to use the new system. That is a pretty tall order ," particularly in a company that has even a little NIH ," "not invented here" ," attitude. If he or she has the responsibility without the necessary authority, it is quite likely that the project will fall far short of reaching its goals.
The sponsor's duties
Sponsorship is a very active and highly visible role. It extends far beyond "blessing" the project and sending someone such as the director of Cool New Systems forth to implement it. Yet, frequently that is just what happens.
What must sponsors do? The short answer is: almost any activity or action that will increase the probability that the project will succeed.
In general, sponsors are responsible for:
Communicating the vision for the project to all employees. Sponsors describe the compelling reasons why the project's success is critical to the organization and to each employee.
Providing the resources necessary for success, including adequate time from skilled individuals (technical, project management, leadership, etc.) and budget. To accomplish this, sponsors might have to kill other initiatives.
Setting the appropriate objectives with each direct report, and getting these reports to set similar objectives with their direct reports, and so on, through the entire management structure.
Holding accountable direct reports to successfully meet their objectives. Sponsors should provide feedback and coaching.
Participating in as many planning, design, training and communications sessions as possible. Sponsors should be a strongly committed, active and visible presence with employees and with the project team. They should delegate other things, particularly those that are routine.
Talking with groups of employees about the project, its importance and progress. Sponsors should do this frequently in both formal and informal settings, and enlist others to do so.
Ensuring a measurement system for the initiative is established and used, and the results are communicated broadly.
Identifying, communicating and celebrating large and small successes, particularly in the beginning of the project.
A final word
If you are a potential sponsor for a large project, you might be saying to yourself: "Holy Cow! Are you telling me that I have to do all of these things for every project that I sponsor?"
The answer is no ," not for all of them. Only for those that have to be successful. CP
Leon is a director with Deloitte Consult-ing's change leadership practice in Chicago. He can be reached at (312) 374-3957, or via e-mail at email@example.com.