Executive Sponsors

September 23, 2008

Off stage after a hot seat session (interesting but not deeply challenging questions) and now listening to Stacy Land talk about value propositions and executive sponsorship. Stacy interviewed me for her book Managing Knowledge-Based Initiatives. She is talking about matching what you want to do with what VP level sponsors want to achieve. This is good stuff about how to manage corporate politics and the needs of sponsors. Its all a bit Machiavellian though and that is an ambiguous statement. Remember I don’t necessarily see Machiavelli as evil, he was a product of his time, and has to be read in the context of that time.

Now Stacy is giving a lot of really practical examples of how to create a value proposition. Stuff about how to phrase value propositions, how to avoid getting trapped into having to say the wrong things. Arguing for alignment and targeting of sponsors. Almost a dating agency approach to matching ideas with sponsors. Its a great presentation on the basic internal sales techniques for an idea. When I first became a consultant we were sent on a course on how to sell double glazing (you know, getting an appointment, closing the deal) and it was great training if a bit cynical. This is reminding me a bit of that.

Paraphrasing she says It (your idea) will look like a hobby – even if its a great idea- if it doesn’t exactly match what an Executive needs to do. The implication is that you won’t get support if its a hobby. OK now I can see that such an approach is going to lead to successful achievement of sponsorship, but it seems to me (linking back to my last blog) that such behaviour perpetuated would reduce innovation and increase conformity. I don’t think I could do it, in that I’ve always had ideas, refused to compromise and relied on finding someone who was prepared to take a risk and provide top cover. Now I have been lucky with a series of great Bosses over the years (Humphrey, David, Bob, Mike my thanks) who did just that, but its not without stress and risk.

Become a salesperson/Publicist is the closing message and thats good, picking up on some of the stuff we talked about when she interviewed me. Now I have never apologised for selling, its something you need to learn how to do if you want to survive in any environment. I generally recommend anyone who wants to start up a company or become an intrapreneur to go and learn how to sell at a basic level (double glazing, call centres etc.). OK its not the same a services, but the lessons apply and they are hard lessons. That said, I think you have to balance selling with integrity and belief. Sometimes you just need to hang in there and keep saying what you really believe until someone listens and is prepared to help with sponsorship, money, support and critically top cover.

People are swarming for the slides which is good news for Stacy and kinda shows where KM is. People are looking for support and sponsorship and its not easy as KM is not really on the strategic agenda at VP level these days.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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