How to Get Executive Sponsorship and Support for New Programs in HR
The time of year for budgeting and forecasting is already here. While it’s never too early to start preparing for next year’s HR budget and creating your case to claim your department’s percentage of company resources, it’s also a good time to look ahead at the new programs, concepts, and technologies you and your HR team need to support your organizational goals. You’ll have the attention of company leadership—and even though many of us in HR have a seat at the executive table—now is the time to get new initiatives pushed through for next year. The key to doing this is a strategic approach through executive sponsorship.
It’s important to remember and understand that HR is a primary driver of change. An organization looks to its leaders to be visible sponsors of change and to demonstrate why change is necessary. Senior leaders provide the authority and credibility that you and your HR team needs for new programs to be successful.
By definition, executive sponsorship is a role in project management, usually filled by the senior member of the project board and often the chair. The executive sponsor will be a senior executive in a corporation (often at or just below board level) who is responsible to the business for the success of the project. Each company has a different structure and it will mean something different in each case, but the concept is the same for the majority. The executive sponsor ensures approval and agreement that the project will happen, the timelines agreed to will be met, and everyone will cooperate. For most companies, an executive sponsor will be a C-level executive, depending on the size of your organization. At smaller companies, the executive sponsor is typically the CEO.
LEADERSHIP EXPECTATIONS FOR HUMAN RESOURCES
Your executive team expects you and your team to lead change within your organization. Using the example of talent management, the SHRM Competency Model is a foundation for the HR life cycle and the critical behaviors and knowledge that HR leaders need to solve today's most pressing people issues and strategies, especially in the area of change management. Whenever HR introduces new programs, one of the most critical milestones for measuring success is the rate of adoption within the company, which means change management is built in to the process of rolling out any HR initiative.
At the senior level within this competency model, a proficient HR professional (according to SHRM) “serves as a change agent for the organization.” At the executive level, he or she:
- Identifies the need for and facilitates strategic organizational change
- Oversees critical, large-scale organizational changes with the support of business leaders
- Ensures appropriate accountability for the implementation of plans and change initiatives
- Sets the tone for maintaining or changing organizational culture
- Gains buy-in for organizational change across senior leadership with agility
Considering that your senior leadership expects you to lead new programs and processes, your next actionable step is to get executive sponsorship for these new programs.
GETTING EXECUTIVE SPONSORSHIP FOR HR INITIATIVES
Executive sponsorship is key to the success of a new HR program. If everyone at the leadership level within your company is on board, more can be done faster and with greater acceptance. In fact, the Harvard Business Review believes executive sponsorship is crucial for shepherding major projects. Having a responsible executive who, when needed, can help move things along on the business side of things, is invaluable. This is especially true when launching new company-wide initiatives, like formal mentorship or training and development programs. Consider that HR is a primary driver of change. An organization looks to its leaders to be visible sponsors of change and to demonstrate why change is necessary. Senior leaders provide the authority and credibility that you and your HR team needs for new programs to be successful.
Engaging the right stakeholders as executive sponsors means that you’ll have a high level of commitment from leadership. For example, an executive leader who is committed to and focused on finding new ways to grow and reskill high-potential employees could be a great candidate to sponsor a new formal mentorship program or leverage a new technology like artificial intelligence that is embedded in new learning and development systems.
Your senior leadership team is the best starting place for you and your team to understand the organization’s high-level goals for growth and the expectations around competencies you’ll be seeking in candidates in the future. Is there a concern about a future skills gap based on new technology your company will need? This is happening across all industries and it’s why so many companies are focused on talent mobility within their organizations. For example, if your digital marketing team will be moving to a marketing automation platform, you’ll need to plan for certification and training for the employees identified as high-potential to take on automation. Your email marketers could become email specialists, digital journey builders, and even platform developers. It’s easier to fill broad positions than specific ones, so your executive sponsor for a program like this one should be invested in the ROI from automation technology and internal development.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS FOR EXECUTIVE SPONSORS AND HR
Your department’s role is critical to company success, so it’s important to be in the loop for your entire company’s organizational planning. The road to executive sponsorship looks like this:
- Schedule meetings with department heads and the executive team to assess what they’d like to focus on in the coming year, along with their goals and expectations.
- Ask how your department can assist and in what capacity, and use the opportunity to add an “ask” for executive sponsorship.
- Be clear on expectations for programs and the support you and your team will need to help your company meet its goals—and get a definitive commitment for sponsorship.
- Educate your sponsor on his/her role in the change management project. Sponsorship is not simply about approving a budget for resources. It also includes active communication about the program, support with key decisions and removal of roadblocks, and most importantly, leading by example.
Finally, it’s important that you and your team understand the level of commitment (time and resources) your executive sponsor is taking on that is in addition to their current workload. Be sensitive about engagement as you launch a program. Do it efficiently, which means not bringing problems to the table with your executive sponsor without also bringing a variety of solutions. It’s not your sponsor’s role to deep-think at the HR level. Do your research, do the legwork, and ensure that your sponsor is acknowledged, along with your team, for your new program’s success. This is a partnership and, if all goes well, you’ll have less difficulty each time you return to the executive boardroom to ask for sponsorship for future programs.