Implementing Disruptive Change: Leveraging Sponsors

Kurt Dorschel

Higher education provides unique challenges to implementing disruptive change. Leaders often face highly distributed authority, leadership misalignment around a business case for action and the definition of success, and sponsors and work teams that lack authority to make decisions and implement organization-wide changes. As leaders look to move their institutions beyond the status quo, they need to focus on leading through change by aligning goals, behaviors and processes among leaders. Finding ways to align active sponsorship from leaders is perhaps the most important factor to increase the likelihood of successful implementation of disruptive change.

Read more from our Implementing Disruptive Change series:

  1. Implementing Disruptive Change: Within Higher Education
  2. Administrative Support in Higher Education is a "Job to be Done" With the Customer at the Center
  3. Implementing Disruptive Change: How to Align Educational Leaders
  4. Implementing Disruptive Change: Mobilizing Leaders
  5. Implementing Disruptive Change: Leading Through Change

How Leaders Can Mobilize and Align Sponsors

In implementing disruptive change, organizations must focus on key sponsors by assessing their level and type of commitment. You need substantial levels of commitment from the senior manager who has the organizational power to authorize and legitimize the change.

Every manager in the organizational hierarchy — down to the individuals who need to change themselves — must demonstrate a similar level of commitment. This synergy translates and reinforces the importance of the change at each organizational level.

It’s important to demonstrate strong commitment to the change through effective communications and actions that model and reinforce those communications. The most effective leaders have discovered that real change is accelerated when what they express, model and reinforce are aligned.

An organization should assess a sponsor’s alignment and use the results to pinpoint messages and behaviors the sponsor can use to demonstrate commitment. The assessment profile can identify specific actions that have a high return on investment, so that a manager's most scarce resource (time) can be used effectively.

Below is the framework for a sponsor assessment in each phase of an initiative:

Requirements Programming Implementation Monitoring
Express: formal and informal oral and written communications
  • Define and communicate the goals of implementation
  • Articulate the business case for why change is needed
  • Relate the change to the organization's overall vision
  • Communicate strong ownership and personal commitment
  • Support change for every affected group
  • Be specific and clear about which behaviors must change
  • Keep open lines of continuous two-way communication
  • Encourage involvement
  • Report and distribute the result of the change
  
Model: behaviors and decisions that prioritize and allocate resources
  • Realign priorities so appropriate changes are at the top of the list
  • Demonstrate strong personal support privately to direct reports
  • Remove barriers and solicit input to manage resistance
  • Commit required resources and funding
  • Demonstrate personal behavior changes
  • Make decisions that demonstrate ongoing support
  • Listen and act on feedback
  • Allocate necessary resources
  • Follow up on action plans weekly
  • Check in at least monthly with change agents and targets impacted by change
  • Remain visible- visit with your constituents
Reinforce: formal and informal rewards that reinforce the desired change
  • Create capacity and convey responsibilities, priorities and time commitment
  • Develop reinforcements that tie directly to specific behaviors (e.g., format performance appraisal, informal:quality checks)
  • Set positive reinforcement with direct reports
  • Acknowledge high performers privately and publicly
  • Make old, undesirable behaviors inaccessible or difficult
  • Make new behaviors easy
  • Use formal performance appraisals for ongoing recognition and constructive feedback
  • Actively monitor progress (e.g., metrics) and incorporate this standard into formal supervisor role

Leverage Sponsors to Effect Disruptive Change

Higher education provides unique challenges to implementing disruptive change, as leaders often face highly distributed authority, leadership misalignment around a business case for action and the definition of success, and sponsors and work teams that lack authority to make decisions and implement organization-wide changes. As leaders look to move their institutions beyond the status quo, they need to focus on leading through change by aligning goals, then aligning behaviors and, finally, aligning processes. Under this framework, higher education institutions should focus on assessing their leadership’s level and type of commitment by how they express, model and reinforce the change. Look for active sponsorship.

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Implementing Disruptive Change: Leveraging Sponsors

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