Leadership Development

Sponsorship – An Essential Element For the Organization’s Success


It is well attested that high potential employees are invaluable. They are instrumental in providing shape to the organizations vision and aligning operations and initiatives to the overarching strategy. It has also been identified (through innumerable studies) that proactive support is lacking towards high potential individuals. There is a clear need for sponsorship programs and sponsor relationships to bring in career advancement and improved performance to achieve overall business success. Or else, the organization stands to lose valuable talent.

Sponsorship is a strategic and proactive relationship that is developed between an executive/senior leader and a high-potential employee. The executive/senior leader sponsors the high-potential protégé by providing tactical counsel, access to power networks and advocating on the protégé’s behalf for high-profile projects and promotional opportunities within the organization. It’s a long term commitment for creating advancement opportunities for high potential individuals.

Sponsorship programs are also used as mediums to reduce gender disparities in some organizations and are used as an empowering method to help women break the proverbial glass ceiling.

A research report published by the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) says,
“Although the business case for women's advancement has been proven time and time again, women currently make up 34% of senior management and comprise only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs”

Sponsorship has recently been in the spotlight. A recent book written by her discusses her interesting findings:

“95% of men and 93% of women say they find it easiest to give and receive guidance in a one-on-one setting. Yet 64% of senior men (vice president and above) and 50% of up-and-coming women admit they’re hesitant to initiate any sort of one-on-one with each other lest their motives be misconstrued by their colleagues and rumors start poisoning the workplace. This may come as a shock to the many men and women who thought they left this sort of gossip in high school, but unfortunately, it still exists. And it hurts ambitious women’s chances for promotion.”

In such situations, sponsorship programs are key to promoting accessibility by their very design. Promising employees work with senior leaders who have the influence, on a formal basis, to achieve their career objectives.

More often than not, organizations as well as individuals relate to mentoring and sponsorship interchangeably. While some times strong mentors may act as sponsors, sponsors go beyond the traditional personal development mentors are known for. In a sponsor-protégé relationship, the sponsor actively influences, protects and advocates for the career advancement of their protégé.

Emma Sabin from Catalyst:

First look carefully at what mentoring is – someone who is providing advice, coaching, or providing emotional support. But a sponsor is usually someone at a high level in the organization who has influence over the decision-making as it relates to employees and employee placement. A sponsor assists an employee in getting an opportunity, a development opportunity or a promotion – and to get them specific positions. It’s a very action-oriented role.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett mentions the confusion in the minds of individuals with respect to differentiating between sponsors and mentors.

“When scanning the horizon for would-be sponsors — and yes, you need more than one — many high-potential women make the mistake of focusing on role models rather than powerfully positioned sponsors. My research shows that they align themselves with people whom they trust and like or who, they believe, trust and like them.”
“To avoid that mistake, be strategic as you search your galaxy of supporters for would-be sponsors. Efficacy trumps affinity; you’re looking not for a friend but an ally. Your targeted sponsor may exercise authority in a way you don’t care to copy but it’s their clout, not their style that will turbo-charge your career. Their powerful arsenal includes the high-level contacts they can introduce you to, the stretch assignments that will advance your career, their broad perspective when they give critical feedback— all ready to be deployed on behalf of their protégés “

The above could be applicable not just to women but all employees.

Organizations need to set a culture of sponsorship to promote talent and give deserving employees their due as well as capitalize on their capabilities and skills set. Aligning leadership with sponsorship as a catalyst to change will sow the seeds for business success. Organizations stand to benefit by embedding sponsorship programs in their leadership development strategy and socializing the concept amongst their employees.

Sponsorship is the route to success, both for people entering the workforce and those who find themselves stalled in their careers, as well as managers whose best protection against the vagaries of corporate restructuring is a well-knit network of protégés. – Forbes Magazine, September 2013

Sponsorship is vital to tapping an individual’s potential, who should earn that sponsors time and knowledge by being proactive and diligent, because, the right sponsor can help catapult their career.

Emphasis on sponsorship programs can help organizations retain their best talent by giving them opportunities to grow, promoting productivity, efficiency and tighter organizational networks.

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