Plant Manager: “OK, for a change this large we must appoint good Sponsors!”
Consultant: "No, Joe, you don’t appoint Sponsors; they already exist. You identify them and create a plan to get them in alignment.”
Plant Manager: "Wow, I have been missing that point. No wonder some of those major changes have failed! I have been asking my project managers to over-function, and worse yet, getting upset at the resisters."
The above conversation also applies to most organizations when they put together project charters. Why? Because they appoint executive sponsors. This creates the same problem. Executive sponsors can champion the work and give high level visibility, but to align around the initiative or project, the sustaining sponsors above those who will change need to be significantly involved.
Many of you have spent time learning Sponsor/Agent/Target/Advocate (SATA) and seem to get it and understand its importance. SATA as shown here, with emphasis on clarity of authority, is the best systems theory I know to apply to the workplace and to build alignment around measurable results. The theory of SATA was first popularized in 1991 by Daryl Conner and has gained further clarity in the ensuing years. I see it more as a reality than a theory.
I summarize the reality of SATA with these four keys:
- Know your SATA role in all situations.
- Assume resistance is a systemic conflict rather than a personality conflict.
- Solve issues at the lowest level.
- Use SATA as an analysis tool to find the current situation and strategize for success.
What I have begun to realize is that there is a fifth key. In fact, this key is so important that if you do not understand it, the other keys do not matter.
Here it is:
5. Sponsors are not appointed—they exist. Find them!
Looking at the above chart, if Maintenance Mechanic 1 is on the floor working with Shift Worker 1 who is the sponsor of the work?
Here is the answer:
The critical factor that many miss is that you can only sponsor your direct reports.
The boss of the maintenance mechanic sets their work standards and is indeed a Sustaining Sponsor. However, if that mechanic is on the floor, then the shift leader is the key sponsor at that moment, whether they are aware of it or not. The work takes place on the floor, so the Sponsor of that work IS the shift leader.
Why? Because, with few exceptions, the shift worker listens to their boss no matter what, and if their boss is telling them to do something different than what the maintenance mechanic wants, the shift worker does what their boss, their sponsor, wants.
In this way the maintenance mechanic, who sees systems, can think that while on the floor trying to get work done, they have to make sure there is alignment between the maintenance manager, the shift worker, and the shift leader. Of course this fact is only a problem if the shift leader directs the shift worker in a way that ensures they focus on tasks that are different than what the maintenance manager wants the maintenance mechanic to accomplish.
The fix is simple, yet not easy. The problem is most are not taught to think systemically. In fact, most view those moments as personality issues (i.e., the workers on the floor are difficult). They are not. SATA provides the systemic solution to clearing up the problems.
The goal is to solve the issue on the floor (i.e., through communication between the maintenance mechanic and shift worker). If not, then escalate the issue to the appropriate level. Escalation here is not about getting people in trouble, which is another reason why the fix is not easy. It is done to align the organization so work gets accomplished. Most people miss this critical distinction and most change agents under educate the Sustaining Sponsors where the work takes place.
Imagine these two scenarios and choose the one in which you would want to work:
A) You arrive and the employee is busy doing something else and does not want to do what you ask.
B) You arrive and the employee says something like, “Glad you are here because my boss is eager to get this done. My boss told me to inform them of any issues once we are done.”
Which scenario would you prefer?
I hope it is as obvious to you as it is to me; the second scenario is ideal. It may be rare that scenario B would be so overt. However, consider that when things are working well, sponsorship is aligned; when things are not working well, sponsorship is out of alignment.
A change agent must leverage the change by either
- directly working with the sponsor over the impacted area, or
- having their boss work with the sponsor to align the whole system.
This is not rocket science. All bosses need to know the task you are trying to accomplish: why, how long it will take, how to manage issues, and how to decide critical items.