Leadership, Sponsorship, and Politics

Scott Francis
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These are three different things.  Recently Dave Brakoniecki commented that most successful change implementations or BPM programs had executive sponsorship.  And I responded that, of course, there is selection bias involved- because successful programs will collect executive sponsorship.  I attempted to encourage those “stuck in the middle” to find a way to succeed, and use that success as leverage to get sponsorship and support from executives. Jacob Ukelson commented (cleverly) that this could have been “more about Business Politics Management” – a subject he wrote about previously.  We even got a nice ebizQ discussion out of the topic.  Adam Deane followed up with a missive on Business Politics Management as well… but this is where I think our paths diverge:
The task should go to head of the department for his review. But everyone knows that Mister X needs to be bypassed. Sometimes it’s because he is a slacker, he will never do the task, he has been in the organisation for years, he doesn’t care about the “procedure” and there is no one to discipline him. Sometimes it’s because he is too powerful and can get away with murder. In any case, trying to force the process to make him do the task will end in tears. The best way is to bypass.
Actually, this isn’t the kind of business politics that interests me.  This isn’t leadership this is conflict avoidance (or resolution).  The politics around the particulars within a process are there – and you have to manage them – but the success or failure of your project depends more upon the leadership of your team and the sponsorship of executives – not the politicking of tweaks in the process. And lest someone get confused, sponsorship isn’t the same thing as leading in most organizations, though it should be either leading or coaching (taking a vested interest in the outcomes). Jacob returns to the subject here, but whereas Adam addresses design time of processes, Jacob focuses on run-time:
So yes, Business Politics Management is the cousin of Business Process Management – a kissing cousin. Most BPMS vendors don’t consider politics something a BPMS should address. In my opinion as long as BPMS tools ignore all the stuff that goes on around the process (i.e. politics), but has influence on the outcome of the process – they have a big hole in functionality.
Whether you agree with Jacob’s assessment of BPMS vendors or not, what Dave Brakoniecki and I were more focused on is whether executive sponsorship is a pre-requisite for success for your change management or BPM program?  Or is it sometimes a byproduct of a successfully run program?  Should you just give up if you can’t get the executive sponsorship lined up before you start the project?  (I’m not just talking about funding, I’m talking about truly sponsoring) It seems even with Business Politics Management we have different ideas about what BPM means… But I’ll step away from the terminology and just focus on the funding and executive support – these are things you will have with successful programs by the end, but at the beginning you may have to go it alone for a bit first.