The number one success factor in delivering business outcomes through the process, tools and techniques of change management is having an engaged, visible sponsor. Here are four tips change sponsors should follow to drive business outcomes – writes Scott Guthrie

Number 1 success factor in delivering business outcomes through change management is having an active, visible sponsor
Number 1 success factor in delivering business outcomes through change management is having an active, visible sponsor


Recently I wrote about News Corp Australia’s optimism for the future of its printed newspapers which appears to fly in the face of global newspaper trends.

Lachlan Murdoch, co-chairman of News told industry delegates in Sydney last week “there is a challenge [in print] absolutely, we are embracing digital absolutely, but newspapers have a long life left in them.”

It is a mammoth task to change the mindset of seasoned journalists to participate in, and embrace the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. This made me wonder how News Corp – and specifically the Australian masthead – was tangibly ‘embracing digital.’

As editor-in-chief of the Australian Chris Mitchell is the primary sponsor for driving change at his masthead. The role of sponsor is built on four pivotal pillars required for the success of any change initiative.


Get involved. Be seen to be involved

Make it “do as I do”. Not just “do as I say”. Primary sponsors must be both active and authentic when pushing a change initiative through.

According to a Guardian article, Chris Mitchell doesn’t have a Twitter account and wouldn’t be getting one. Regardless of his personal beliefs on social media as prime sponsor, he must be seen to embrace all platforms which carry the Australian’s content to its audience. This includes social platforms like Twitter which journalists should use to surface stories, amplify content and continue the conversation with their audience.

The sponsor needs to set the tone for change ensuring that change messages and support for change are cascaded down throughout the organisation. The required change needs to be embodied from the top to the bottom of the organisation – not paid lip service to.


Stay with it

Sponsoring change isn’t about making a rousing speech at the start of the project then disappearing until it’s time to ‘cut the cake’ at the project’s close.

Being a successful sponsor means maintaining momentum, removing ‘roadblocks’ for the project team, participating in project meetings and responding to escalated issues.

The sponsor needs to foster support and sponsorship with senior managers – anticipating resistance and reducing its impact. The sponsor needs to create a sense of enthusiasm but also accountability for results.

See also: Resistance to change is the expected not the exception


Communicate often and directly

A key role for a sponsor in creating successful change is to deliver messages ideally face-to-face with those affected by change. Goals and personal expectations for the project need to be set and articulated.

Creating a ‘future state’ that everyone in the organisation can visualise is crucial. Everyone needs a clear destination to march towards. Marching without a clear destination is just exercise.

Success stories should be shared. It’s also a good idea to celebrate early, quick wins and to use them to harness enthusiasm for the change.

Executive sponsors should clearly convey the reasons behind the need for change, the negative impacts to the company of not changing but also ultimate benefits gained from realising the change.

These key messages need to be repeated and reinforced throughout the project’s life and beyond until they have become embedded within company culture.

One chart which graphically pulls into focus the need for newspapers to embrace digitisation comes courtesy of Mark Perry. He has tracked annual data from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) from 1950 to 2013. Using inflation adjusted (2013) figures the chart shows the decline in print newspaper advertising to a 63-year low in the US with more than half of that decline being suffered in the last five years.

US newspaper advertising revenue
US newspaper advertising revenue

The Australian could also look closer to home at how other Australian editors-in-chief are using social media. Darren Goodsir Editor-in-chief, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald uses Twitter and has over 4,000 followers. Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian Australia until earlier this month is a Twitter fanatic with over 40k followers and author of some 26k Tweets. Mark Scott Managing Director and Editor-in-chief of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is even more prolific on Twitter with 56k followers and 10.4k Tweets written.

Mark Scott Managing Director and Editor-in-chief of ABC
Mark Scott
Managing Director and Editor-in-chief of ABC


We’re in this together

Lastly, prime sponsors need to create a sponsorship coalition. By this I mean building buy-in amongst key stakeholders. Asking for and then listening to their feedback whilst ensuring they know what is expected from them.




Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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