Top 5 Reasons You Need an Effective Executive Sponsor

By Susan Stone, Dandelion Experience, LLC
2015-2017 SAPinsight Leader Board Member:

Congratulations, you made it through the business justification gate and your organization has decided to have an official super user program… SUPER! Now, let’s talk executive sponsor, who’s the person who will go to bat for you and all of your super users’ when it comes down to brass tacks… you know… program funding, leadership buy-in and involvement, dedicated resources, performance incentives, communications and marketing successes, and oh so much more! The executive sponsor is THE most valuable tool or resource you will have for the success of your super user program. If you are looking for a reason why you need one, here are the top five reasons you can’t live without one.

1) You Need One!
An executive sponsor establishes super user program durability and demonstrates commitment for and from your organization. Your executive sponsor is your key to your super user program’s integrity as they are your biggest stakeholder. You need an executive sponsor for integrity and to do the “things” you can’t do, not because you aren’t able but because you need to leverage / borrow their influence and sway to impact your super user program’s success. As a super user leader you may be well respected, effective, high performer, able to communicate, articulate and strategize… which is why you are the leader… BUT… you also need a sponsor who is in a position to authorize at the top levels additional or ongoing resources, make decisions that impact all levels and visibility promote and support the sustainability effort across all departments / functions in your organization.
Bottom Line: A well-respected executive sponsor, who has influence from your CEO all the way through your organization, is critical to the success of your super user program.

2) Mobilize! Build a Coalition of Sponsors
Let’s mobilize now that you know you have the right executive sponsor, one who has the respect and influence to build coalitions of sponsorship and develop strategic alliances at all levels! The first and most important step to mobilizing your executive sponsor is to have a sit-down visioning and alignment session. This is your chance to meet with he or she to discuss the organizations goals for the super user program, your goals for the super user program, his or her goals for the super user program and then agree to how these goals will be met this fiscal year and for the next three years. This is an important tool in your toolbox as it sets a solid foundation, clear expectations, performance goals, priorities, and most importantly it enables your executive sponsor to have intelligent discussions with your other key business stakeholders, which will bring them to the table. The more partners and stakeholders you have aligned to help be a part of the vision and strategy for sustainability the more successful your super user program will be.
Bottom Line: An executive sponsor mobilizes and aligns other key leaders and stakeholders, so that those leaders can also successfully propagate sustainability of your super user program through the organization.

3) They Enable Cross-Functional Communication…
Collaboration, knowledge share, peer-to-peer discussions both informal and formal… this is definitely where your executive sponsor will excel In some regards, you can view your executive sponsor as the “ideal” strategic account manager. Once they know their role, the program’s vision and strategy as aligned to your organization’s business goals and priorities your executive sponsor can now focus on taking the aligned team with them on finding where the opportunities are to leverage the super user program now and in the future, remove obstacles, ensure the super user program is supporting strategic activities, communicate successes and so much more – and here’s the important part … they will do this across all the functions in your organization. They will be at meetings with other executive sponsors for other programs and projects in your organization communication cross-functionally to ensure your organization is leveraging the right programs, tools and resources at the right time.
Bottom Line: An executive sponsor represents you AND your organization; ensure they are informed with key information, i.e., successes, so they can best pitch how your program helps the organization.

4) Time, Money, and Resources?
This one is pretty straight forward if you are doing points, one two, and three. Nonetheless, it is important to mention the fact that we are always at bat for more time, money, and resources. Not a problem, if you are keeping your executive sponsor informed, showing successes and able to point to business cases that prove cost avoidance. This then justifies existing resources or obtaining additional resources for future needs should not be an issue. While your executive sponsor may not have direct approval on your annual budget for your super user program, they do have direct impact on defending your annual budget. Make sure you meet with your executive sponsor at a minimum of annually to review your KPIs, quantitative and qualitative (I’d encourage quarterly meetings). Armed with the right persuasive business case(s) your executive sponsor can clear roadblocks, which you may or may not know are there, and enable your program to grow or sustain the current resources.
Bottom Line: An executive sponsor’s influence gets the necessary resources (people, time, money, etc.) in place to initiate, grow or sustain your organization’s super user program.

5) Capture the Benefits… all of them!
Critically important to a super user program’s success is measuring and reporting on your KPIs. Someone needs to be personally responsible for making sure the program’s marketed and projected benefits are in fact happening and that those benefits are captured and recommunicated to the key stakeholders at all levels. These types of benefits are the hard to put a data point around type as; they may never show up on your organization’s bottom line. The most effective approach for holding the executive sponsor accountable for seeing that the proposed benefits are realized is to tie their internal reputation and success to delivering the benefits.
Bottom Line: An executive sponsor needs to be aware and communicating of the data points that reflect captured benefit AND they also need to be aware of the qualitative components and successes of your super user program
All these activities are crucial to your organization’s super user program’s success. An executive sponsor who concentrates on only two or three (as many do) leaves the program vulnerable to attack and failure. An effective executive sponsor provides the leverage needed to promote, defend and enhance the success of the business initiative.

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