Any transformation consultant or programme manager will advocate that having the right sponsorship is one of the key critical success factors to any transformation. 

In fact, many that work as an interim or a consultant, such as myself, will pay particular attention to this question during initial contact with a prospective client: does the planned transformation have a sponsor and is (s)he the right one?

What should you do in the following - and unfortunately realistic - scenario: the transformation is advanced but your sponsor has left the company, either voluntarily or not?

The first advice that many of you offered was to minimize the chances of being in this position. When considering a new role, doing due diligence on the company, discussing the role with the sponsor and other executives, meeting as many people as possible, can often highlight red flags. For example, if there is no obvious fit with the company strategy or if there is no general support for the transformation, the project is more likely to fail.

Once you have landed the role, the second pro-active action one can take is to continuously identify a back-up sponsor – i.e. have a plan B. If the transformation has a solid business case and several supporters, there should be a few possible candidates.

Assuming all possible pre-emptive work has been done, and all signs were as good as possible, you might still be faced with no sponsor. What then?

Should you stay and manage/sponsor the transformation in the transition to a new sponsor? For many, such approach encroaches on the role of the management and deviates significantly from the role of a programme manager.

On the other hand, should you recommend a pause in the transformation while a new sponsor is identified and "the why" of the transformation is re-assessed?

I, as I am sure some of you, have faced this question on a few occasions in my career despite all possible pre-emptive actions.

In the past, I have looked at some indicators and parameters to make my decision. First and foremost, I re-check if the planned change still has a valid business case - is it in accordance with the company's strategy? If it isn't, the programme should be stopped. If it does still have a valid case I also check if there is still general acceptance of the business case among the key stakeholders. I have often chosen to stay if the answer to both those questions is yes, and I sometimes even proposed a few options for the new sponsor to the company management.

However, if an appointment does not follow within a timeframe which I mentally define upfront, I question the management's commitment and motivation to the change. It is then time to move on.

Thank you to Scott, Susan and all those who expressed their views in conversation.

About Maria Rodrigues

Maria is a Transformation Consultant with a background in Finance. Her interest and experience in change and transformation grew in tandem with her career moves away from technical finance roles to more operational and commercial roles. Recently, she has moved to the other side of the transformation fence and has been working as an interim for both Plc and PE-backed companies.

Maria is a keen advocate of continuous improvement. With a range of perspectives, she often reflects on the key learnings of each assignment with other transformation leaders.

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