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CEO; Change Executive Officer?

Part 1: Leadership

The title says it all. Most organizations are increasingly subject to change, so it only seems logical that the increasing significance of change is reflected by the acronym of the primary sponsor (CEO) as well. To express the business need for change and to vocalize who is best positioned to lead change as well, I suggest changing the meaning of CEO into Change Executive Officer.

Supposing that the Change Executive Officer is ready, willing and able to take on this assignment, it only seems fair to brief the CEO about the possible challenges and key contributors to success. In this series of blogs I will present the results of research I did on the key contributors and obstacles to successful change management in the Netherlands and Belgium. In this blog we will focus on Leadership as a contributor or obstacle to change. The data were gathered from 137 Change Management Practitioners who filled  out the Prosci™ Project Change Triangle (PCT). The PCT is a questionnaire that evaluates change initiatives on Leadership, Project Management and Change Management (the three sides of the triangle). Next blogs will present the results on the other items.


The PCT has 10 questions per item that are evaluated with a score of 1 to 3 (1=inadequate, 2= adequate, 3 = excellent). This leads to a minimal score of 10 and maximum score of 30. The item Leadership checks the role of sponsor of the change and the commissioning of the project.

Theaverage score for Leadership is 18.4. This means that Leadership as a contributor to successful change management is in the jeopardy zone. So, let us look what the respondents reported as the key contributors and obstacles.

It is clear that both in terms of success and fail factors the sponsor’s role in championing the change initiative is key to success. Active and visible sponsorship, building a change coalition and communicate the business need are prerequisites of effective sponsorship.  By the way, most of these results corroborate with the research of Prosci™ as published in the Best Practices 2016.

Leadership = Sponsorship

The results demonstrate that sponsorship from senior management is pivotal for achieving the projected results. However, it has been shown that this business critical role is not always performed adequately. The research indicates the following causes:

Project and change managers fail to position (and plan) the sponsor to lead the organization through the change process. However, when the initiative has an effective sponsor, the chances of success increase dramatically.

Sponsorship is sometimes (implicitly) delegated to the project manager. However, project managers tend to focus on the project goals and maybe not as much on adoption and usage. The delivery on time, on budget is key. Although a project manager may act like a sponsor to the project members, the organization demands sponsorship from the Leadership.

Managers do not always agree on whether a change is a priority or needs their support, hence fail to demonstrate a change winning coalition.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. Leadership fails to demand the use of tools to assess the willingness to change. Metrics about how the organization moves through the change process builds awareness and urgency among the sponsors. The absence of metrics leaves sponsors in the dark and will eventually lead to fire fighting.

Implementation plans tend to focus on communication and training activities, leaving other crucial aspects of the change process aside. To prevent a lack of awareness, denial of self-interest (WIIFM) of managers and employees or underestimation of resistance, the change process needs to be designed consistently and managed carefully.

Strategies for Effective Sponsorship

  • Plan the sponsors for success. Define the necessary actions for effective, active and visible sponsorship. Most projects are too business-critical to allow the adoption and usage not being managed carefully and consistently.
  • Build a change coalition by investing in the leadership and middle management. Clarify roles and responsibilities in the change process. Specifiy and define the actions of effective sponsorship.
  • Let the change manager position managers to lead change. A change manager will facilitate and then step back to let managers lead and the organization through the change process.
  • Use a structured approach with evidence-based tools to manage the people side of change, measure and communicate its progress.
  • Accept that change provokes resistance. However, most of the questions and actions that reflect resistance can be managed upfront by the Change Executive Officer; the CEO. Avdi, Vide and …. Communicate.

Finally, as we know, the person best positioned to lead change and Communicate is the CEO; the Change Executive Officer.

Erik F Steketee
Prosci Certified Advanced Instructor