Sponsorship Matters – What Organizations Can Do

Not a week goes by that SHAMBAUGH doesn’t get a call from an organization looking for help to better prepare its leaders to advance into more senior positions. One of the most common challenges facing these organizations is identifying and advancing talented women leaders. My last two blogs discussed the importance of sponsorship in advancing more women through the leadership pipeline to create balanced, integrated leadership teams that drive better business results. And while individual men and women leaders are on the front lines when it comes to sponsorship, the importance of the organization and senior leadership can’t be underestimated.

I recently spoke at a leadership conference for a client we are partnering with to implement a sponsorship initiative. I pointed out that for today’s organizations to continue to grow and maintain their competitive advantage, they must be committed to advancing women through the leadership pipeline all the way to the top. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through intentional corporate sponsorship initiatives designed to:

  1. Identify high-potential women in senior roles who are both interested in and deemed ready to move to the next level;
  2. Establish formal advocacy relationships for these women with senior executives;
  3. Position sponsorship not as another program, but rather an imperative that touches everyone in the organization and must be woven into the fabric of the culture;
  4. Reinforce the importance of women protégées being architects of their own careers and being proactive in developing sponsor relationships.

Although the primary goal of these programs is to provide greater visibility, exposure and opportunities for top talented women, they in fact create win/win/win scenarios. First, women benefit from formal sponsorship relationships that foster more commitment between sponsors and protégés. Second, senior executives who serve as advocates gain better insight into the business as they meet and work with leaders deeper in the organization. And third, organizations benefit from greater gender diversity throughout the organization, particularly at the most senior levels.

SHAMBAUGH’s unique consulting model for sponsorship helps clients build integrated leadership teams. We often focus on weaving sponsorship initiatives into the culture of the organization, and that starts with commitment from top leadership.  Who in the organization ultimately owns the responsibility for advancing talent? If it isn’t the CEO and the executive team, there’s a real problem. Developing talent and building a balanced leadership team doesn’t happen overnight. It is an intentional and constant responsibility that executives must be thinking about every day.

Although the specifics of a sponsorship program or initiative will of course vary from organization to organization, there are common steps senior leadership can take to ensure success:

  • Establish, internalize and communicate the business case. A strong business case which clearly outlines how a sponsorship program is not a “nice” thing to do but the smart thing to do will drive higher, more commitment to the program.
  • Engage men, their experience and wisdom. Men represent the largest proportion of senior leaders and as such have tremendous value to offer women. Organizations must bring men in from the sidelines, give them the tools to effectively sponsor women and then hold them accountable for doing such.
  • Tap women in the pipeline early on. It’s important for organizations to reach out to talented women in entry, managerial and emerging leader roles early in their careers and to be proactive in the conversations and actions they have with them.
  • Be sure each woman has a meaningful development plan. Put together a targeted plan that includes a 360° assessment, a focus on longer-term career and leadership goals, and specific opportunities that allow for building the skills necessary for executive leadership. Then, ensure there is intentional follow-up and on-going support for their career growth.
  • Create connections and visibility for them. Strengthen connections between high-potential women and senior executives or key male stakeholders in your organization. Provide opportunities for women to cross network, share ideas, share challenges and concerns, and mentor each other when appropriate.
  • Ensure that women on the cusp of advancing to the next level have excellent coaching. Having coached hundreds of leaders, I know from experience that when women have “on-boarding coaching,” it gives them a better foundation for success. Coaching at this particular time helps women gain a better understanding of the context of their new role, the dynamics of key relationships and a new environment, and the skills necessary for the job.
  • Provide customized learning programs. While organizations have a wealth of courses available to all employees, programs that address the specific needs of women make a tremendous difference. SHAMBAUGH’s research indicates that more than 50 percent of women who attend these programs take on greater responsibility in their organization within 12 months.

Companies that intentionally foster sponsorship of their standout women will gain and sustain a distinct competitive advantage. Here are a few questions to help you move this idea from conversation to intentional action:

  • Do you hold your leadership team accountable for recognizing talented women, advocating for them and moving them through the leadership pipeline all the way to the top?
  • Do you have specific plans or programs in place to intentionally and proactively sponsor high-potential women to help move them into senior leadership positions?
  • Do you provide professional development, tools and best practices for both sponsors and protégées?
  • Do you integrate the purpose and value of sponsorship into your company’s other talent development programs?

To learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Sponsorship programs and consulting services and our other leadership development and coaching services visit www.shambaughleadership.com

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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