Posted by Caveo Learning ● March 12, 2015

Elevator Speeches and Action Plans: Tactics to Engage Change Sponsors

elevator_pitchIn order for learning or change initiatives to be successful, sponsors and key stakeholders need to be actively engaged. You know it and they know it.

Unfortunately, expectations are often misaligned between what we want from our change sponsors and what they actually give. Why is that? Well perhaps we haven’t been as clear as we could have been in outlining how we need our sponsors to act.

We've often heard people say that at that level, sponsors know what they need to do. But if that were the case, why aren’t we always getting what we need from them? Simply put, sponsors and key stakeholders are people too. Here is some advice on stakeholder management and actively engaging learning sponsors.

To the sponsor, engagement likely consists of:

  • Attending update meetings whenever the project manager schedules them
  • Responding to emails asking for information or support on a timely basis
  • Providing financial backing for the change initiative
  • Giving the team authority and autonomy to run with the project

But to you, this isn’t enough. To you, stakeholder engagement is all of the above plus active communication, proactive communication, and... well, more communication.

Clarify assumptions, expectations, roles, and responsibilities.

During a kickoff meeting, take some time to clarify assumptions, align expectations and roles, and strike a balance of responsibility between key stakeholders, the change initiatives' sponsors, and the change agents. Explain that by remaining aligned, we will be best positioned to help each other achieve our end goals.

To really get the most active engagement out of learning sponsors, it's best to go further with two key activities: creating an elevator speech and an action plan.

Creating an Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a brief overview—30 to 60 seconds, or about the time it takes to ride in an elevator—that provides the key points of the change initiative and attempts to get the listener engaged and curious in what the speaker is talking about. This speech is crucial for a number of reasons.

It helps ensure the team is aligned.

Team members each have their own perspectives, and these perspectives often differ from the rest of team. Sponsors and key stakeholders may not be on the same page as to what the future state looks like, or why people should come along on the journey. These speeches allow them to articulate (and allow us to hear) how each individual thinks about the initiative.

It is necessary for the stakeholder buy-in process.

Crafting the speech at the kickoff meeting gets the sponsors to start practicing how they will describe the change initiative to others. While they may need to read from a script at first, eventually the speech will naturally roll off their tongue. We want—no, we need—our change sponsors to be talking about the change initiatives as often as possible to help reinforce the important work we're doing.

Perfecting the elevator speech is a 5-step process.

1. Take several minutes to jot down some notes and draft a personalized initial speech that includes any or all of the following components:

  • The issue at hand (business need)
  • Why it must be addressed (benefit and urgency)
  • Where we are now (progress to date)
  • What we hope to accomplish (vision)
  • What others can do to help (resources)

2. Next, each participant should find a partner and take a few minutes to share their speeches with each other. (Yes, this means they get more than the requisite 30 to 60 seconds, but it takes a bit more time at first to articulate.)

3. Once they’ve practiced once, everyone comes together for a quick debrief. Ask if anyone loved their own speech, or if they heard something from their partner’s speech that was great. We will share and discuss, but at this point, most people don’t love what they have because it’s likely a bit artificial. Talk a bit about passion and authenticity, and then take another five minutes or so to rewrite.

4. Practice again, this time with a different partner. Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few more times, depending on the size of the team.

5. Do a final group debrief. Hopefully by this time, people are generally eager to share the pearls of wisdom they created, as well as what they heard from others.

Creating the Sponsor's Action Plan

Once armed with a powerful and personal speech, we start on our action plan. An action plan is a document that lists what steps or activities need to be performed for a strategy to succeed. Typically, action plans will have three major elements:

  • Specific tasks: what will be done and by whom
  • Time horizon: when will it be done
  • Resource allocation: what funds are available for specific activities

However, when working with change sponsors and key stakeholders, focus on the specific tasks they will commit to and by when. Once they’ve created their draft, have them pair up and share. Finally, we all commit as a larger group. This is a fairly easy activity, but it's very powerful in helping to set clear expectations.

These two activities—creating an elevator speech, and creating personal action plans and then committing to their follow-through—ensure alignment, clarify expectations, and better enable us to pave the way for a successful implementation.

Topics: Change Management, Managed Services