Strong sponsorship is key to a successful change programme. But what makes a good sponsor? What are some of the challenges they face? And how can external expertise help? In the first of our new Insights series, we speak to experienced Interim Programme Manager Rob Wilkinson to get his views.
Having delivered business, technology and performance transformation programmes for some of the biggest names in UK business, Rob Wilkinson has a unique insight into what makes a successful programme.
The most important role in any change initiative is the programme sponsor. Usually a board member and typically a Chief Financial Officer, the sponsor must have a clear vision; a vision shared by his peers and those at the very top of the organisation.
“The stronger the sponsor, the faster good decisions can be made and the ‘cleaner’, less risky the programme,” explains Rob. “If the programme’s objectives are more ambiguous and there are divergent views over the path ahead, the more challenging the work will be. If these issues aren’t addressed early on then companies can find themselves running out of time, losing momentum and not achieving the right results.”
An interim programme manager, free of boardroom politics and offering an unbiased, fresh perspective, can facilitate the discussions that lead to consensus. Not only that, but they can also provide the experience, skill set and focus needed to deliver a complex project.
“Most companies aren’t going through these change programmes all the time,” he adds. “As a result, even the largest companies often don’t have the in-house skills needed to run and deliver a programme. I once worked with a very good sponsor at a FTSE 250, who reflected that even though he knew what was needed, he still benefited from the support of an interim programme manager to make it happen.
As well an understanding of the objectives, Rob says that sponsors must also have a robust timescale to drive change: “What you often find is that with any transformation, there’s a lot of enthusiasm at the start, but as the months go on and day-to-day operations take precedent, it becomes difficult to maintain focus – particularly if you’re doing all the legwork yourself and have other tasks on your plate. You can’t really afford to get this wrong, so having a dedicated programme manager can keep a company heading in the right direction.”
The third big challenge for a sponsor is communication. Change is often daunting and can affect employee morale and performance. Listening to people’s concerns, gaining buy-in and keeping them up to speed with ongoing developments are critical.
Rob says that “for many people in a company, it’s not the fact that things are changing that unsettles them, it’s the uncertainty. Therefore, you need two-way communication. A programme manager, who is seen as impartial, can build trust and relationships, collecting views and airing issues at a high level in a timely way.”
It’s these soft skills – excellent communication, negotiating at different levels and building teams to deliver – blended with core technical abilities such as planning, risk management, financial control, understanding procurement and legal aspects, which make interim programme managers a powerful ally for programme sponsors.
Indeed, look behind the scenes of most successful transformation projects and you’ll find a powerful partnership of strong sponsor and experienced interim programme manager.
A strong sponsor needs:
- A clear vision, supported by colleagues at the highest levels
- A robust schedule to drive change
- Two-way communication between people at all levels
Rob Wilkinson has more than 25 years’ experience of delivering successful change management programmes. He is a registered project professional with the Association of Project Managers, a chartered engineer and is PRINCE2 qualified.
Williams Bain is a specialist interim management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.