A staple question in most of my interviews about enterprise initiatives involving technology is to ask folks if they can recommend any best practices. I can probably count on one hand the times my subjects haven't recommended getting an executive sponsor. It's not surprising. A great corporate culture usually starts at the top, and culture can make or break an initiative.
When I interviewed Craig Zampa, VP of Technology Solutions for TNG Worldwide, and Pete Martin, CEO of EntryPoint Consulting, a firm that guided TNG through an ERP implementation in eight months, they both repeatedly mentioned the active involvement of the company's CEO. The CEO Larry Gaynor attended steering committee meetings and wrote about the ERP project on his well-read internal blog. As Martin told me, it's not enough to simply recruit an executive sponsor. If projects are to succeed, executive sponsors must be "active and engaged."
The topic of executive sponsorship came up several times in my interview with Toby Ward, president of Prescient Digital Media and leader of The Social Intranet Study 2011, which was conducted in late May and early June with 1,400 participants from global organizations of all types and sizes. Ward will present the study at The Intranet Global Forum in New York City in November. Ward said:
If senior management is disengaged and executives aren't using it, the intranet won't get the funding and the visibility it otherwise would. The great intranets, at companies like IBM and Cisco and Verizon, have leadership from top down. The CEOs use them and senior executives champion them. If they use the intranet, they see the value and know it's something everyone should use.
Echoing Martin, he told me efforts to promote intranet usage among employees won't amount to much unless executives back up their words with actions. He suggested execs should send short email messages that link to longer discussions in blogs or wikis on the intranet.
The good news, said Ward, is that executives and employees likely share similar views on the kind of content they want to see on the intranet:
... Where management is connected to employees and know what they want, they will realize the employees want more information about where the company is headed, its strategy and direction. They want to hear success stories. They want to hear about the industry and how it's changing. That's what employees want from the intranet, other than a phone directory and a good search engine. They want the industry news and the company news -- not just press releases regurgitated, but what does the news mean to them and how does it affect where the company is headed. The good news is, these are things that executives usually like to talk about.
Several weeks ago I offered some great advice on recruiting the right executive sponsor, and perhaps more important keeping them involved. Reader Karen Posey chimed in with what I thought was a great idea in a comment following my post. She suggested matching executives from your organization with executives from strategic customers and scheduling meetings twice a year to "take a deep dive on some of the biggest challenges your customer executive is facing." This kind of program "can be a huge competitive advantage when done well," she said.