I've written about staff engagement from the top-down in many of my past columns--written from the perspective of executives engaging their people in transformation work. But, this is the first time that I've tackled the subject from the bottom-up. How do staff members engage their executive sponsors in the process of change management?

As a management consultant responsible for driving organizational change in many of the top companies on the planet, I've often found myself needing to figure out the best way to garner executive commitment to change. Here are 4 tips worth considering:

1. Ask Them for It: Executive interviewing is a great first step to take to gain executive commitment to change. It is here that you can gain each executive's perspective on what needs to be accomplished and what "done" looks like.

2. Give Them Something to Live By: Once the interviewing is completed, it's wise to synthesize the results. It's likely that several themes will merge from your interview notes. Use that data to develop "strategic principles" that the organization can use to guide its behavior and approach to direction-setting.

You can think of strategic principles as a statements of senior management's preferences for how the business will be run. Each principle is crafted as a statement, followed by a rationale (that describe why this principle is important to embrace and institute) of a couple of paragraphs and a bulleted list of implications. The implications suggest what must be done (i.e., the price the organization must be willing to pay in order to realize the implementation of the principle) in order to institute the principle described.

Typically, a set of a dozen, or so, principles can be developed through the interview process. Once delivered, the executive team can use them to keep one another involved and aligned during the rest of the change effort.

3. Use Structure to Keep Them in the Game: In parallel with the interviewing process, it's wise to establish some mechanisms that can be used to ensure continued executive involvement. For instance, create an executive steering committee (ESC) comprised of your senior sponsors. Schedule monthly review sessions with the ESC. Use that time together to solicit input and feedback for your effort as it evolves over time. Establish ground rules that require their attendance. This can go a long way to keep them interested and engaged.

4. Make It Somebody's Job: As the change effort matures and the executives grow accustomed to meeting and discussing its progress, you can consider suggesting the creation of a new role for the group, that of transformation coordinator, who can act as a liaison between the ESC and the transformation team. This individual can use the strategic principles to keep the ESC members aligned through the duration of the change effort, while setting the ESC meeting agendas, facilitating the meetings, supplying meeting minutes and overseeing any follow-up activities that may be identified in the ESC meetings. While this role can be challenging for a subordinate to "keep the executives honest," the "right" person can serve as a critically effective linchpin between the senior team and the those charged with doing the work of transformation for the organization.

To close, these 4 tips are not intended to be a panacea that guarantees success. But, they can serve as an insurance policy, of sorts, that minimizes the risk of failure in your next change effort. I hope that you find them valuable and use them. I know that I will continue to use them in my transformation work.

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