In the last week or so I have been mulling on the nature of sponsorship and what it means in today’s organisations. This all started when a good friend of mine took on the challenge of walking 26 miles for a UK breast cancer charity and was seeking sponsorship. My friend’s family has encountered breast cancer more than once and so this is a cause close to her heart. Over the years she has raised a fair amount of money for charity by running or walking or some such other activity. Of course, I will be sponsoring her. I am very happy to support her and applaud the energy and effort she is putting into this. Walks like this don’t just happen; they require a lot of training and preparation.
All of this got me contemplating the nature of sponsorship and the link between sponsorship and the actions they support. I started to wonder what if my friend had just asked me for money for breast cancer, without the need for her to train and then walk 26 miles? Would I have given it to her? My answer was yes, of course I would. She is a good friend and I would help her and support causes that matter to her, no matter what.
I am sure there are a number of academic studies that explore what we get out of doing things for charity, including sponsorship. I can guess that these include, feeling close to a cause or issue that is important to us, a sense of doing good, being part of a group that is doing something about something or engaging in what Richard Titmus called a ‘Gift Relationship’
This then led me onto thinking about the role of sponsorship in OD. Many years ago, when I did my first OD training I remember my teachers and mentors talking about the need for proactive sponsorship in any change or OD initiative. Making sure you have sponsors aligned and fully on-board. They also explained how more OD initiatives fail because of a lack of effective sponsorship, with one of the worst examples of being ‘The case of the Disappearing Sponsor’. This always sounded like the title of an Agatha Christie novel to me! It happens where you have, most usually, a senior leader who is sponsoring your change. They are all enthusiastic and excited but what you don’t know is they suffer from some form of OD ADD. This means that at some point they get bored with your initiative and move on to the next juicy item on their agenda. In doing so, they take the wind out of the sales of the project and though things may stumble on for a while they usually grind to a halt.
I decided to have a look at the dictionary definition of sponsorship. All the definitions said that sponsorship is about money being paid for an event in return for advertising, for example, BP sponsoring the annual portrait competition at the National Gallery in London and Royal Dutch Shell sponsoring Ferrari worldwide.
This made me wonder if this is where we are going wrong in OD, not clearly linking the sponsorship of OD, change and transformation initiatives tightly enough to executive reward. The executive reward could be directly linked to their tasks and targets and performance appraisal. Or it could be more psychological? But whatever it is, it needs to be something that ties the reward element in as clearly, visibly and publically a way as the sponsors supporting large-scale events. The kind of events where individuals and corporations fight to have their names associated with them, because they know it is good for them and their company. Perhaps we need sponsors of OD projects who fight to be seen as an active sponsor in the same way?
Maybe it’s time for folks like us to explore and open up the debate about the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of OD sponsorship and develop ways of including this more explicitly as part of our consultancy conversations? This would need to be both at the start of any OD project as well as at critical times during the transformation or change process. Can you imagine it? Lots of personal logos and badges with the CEO, CFO, EVP of HR and this and that on our jump suits! But maybe if that helps…..! Perhaps it’s our new uniform. I have often wondered if OD had a uniform what would it look like?!
So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself having an Agatha Christie moment hunting for the disappearing sponsor? What have you done to get them back or stop this happening in the first place? Be good to hear.