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What Makes a Good Change Sponsor?
By John Britt, RN

Due to major regulatory initiatives such as ICD-10 and meaningful use, CEOs and health care leadership teams are facing the complexities of change throughout their organizations. However, designating a change sponsor to help work through these complexities can prove helpful.

Before choosing a change sponsor, however, it’s critical to conduct a readiness self-assessment. As you evaluate yourself and others for sponsorship of major changes, use the following as core criteria to help achieve success:

• Find all the information you need about the change. Don’t assume you’ll know all the answers to questions related to change; instead research and find out what you need to know in order to better communicate the project goals. When you don’t know the answer to a question, acknowledge that and then find the answer.

• Be a champion for the change. This doesn’t mean that issues and barriers don’t exist or that the change won’t be difficult. However, it does mean that you’ve made a commitment to work through the issues and barriers and will keep a positive attitude about the change.

• Recognize that people have different levels of acceptance. A few may enthusiastically accept change as a challenge and opportunity, while others may blatantly reject it, be passive-aggressive, or take a wait-and-see position. Your ability to understand these differences will be imperative in framing your language and actions to meet the current readiness state of each of these groups.

• Create a sense of urgency. Create and communicate the business case for change. Logically explain the outcomes of keeping things as is vs. making a transition. Don’t forget to deliver an emotional connection when discussing why it’s important to make immediate changes. Present examples of how the change relates to the evolution of the organization and how this change fits in.

• Create and uphold the vision. Help others see what the future state will look like. According to a Japanese proverb, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Sponsors maintain the balance between creating a vision and the practical aspects of fulfilling it.

• Communicate with enthusiasm and set expectations. Change often isn’t easy. As a sponsor, you must be constantly aware of your communication, including your body language. Everyone, including you, may find something negative about implementing a significant change. You must work through those issues in private and consistently display confidence, enthusiasm, and positive expectations in public.

• Model the expected behavior. People are watching you. If you model the behavior you expect of others, they’re more likely to follow. While one offhand comment may challenge the credibility you have built, inconsistent behavior can certainly destroy it.

• Recognize and recruit early adopters. Put early adopters in leadership roles to help you with the messaging and implementation. Early adopters can magnify your influence as a sponsor.

• Recognize and address resisters. Don’t dismiss early whom you perceive to be resisters. Often, they will be helpful in identifying real barriers. Many perceived resisters are anxious and reluctant, and when their questions and concerns are addressed, they can become your biggest fan.

• Commit to the time and energy it will take. Sponsorship does not come for free; it requires time and energy. Unless you are extremely lucky, taking on the role of change sponsor doesn’t necessarily mean you can quit your day job. Make sure you are clear about the commitment of being a sponsor and map out your core responsibilities.

Change is both complex and dynamic, and trying to pinpoint a single cause for failure is virtually impossible. A lack of qualified sponsorship can potentially create confusion, delays, unneeded expense and, most often, failure of a change initiative. For your next change, evaluate the sponsorship with this in mind.

— John Britt, RN, is a director with Kforce Healthcare Solutions and has more than 20 years of experience in revenue cycle management and consulting, including assessment services for ICD-10 readiness.