Many records management, information management, and information governance projects suffer from a lack of support from executive leadership. Information governance professionals feel as if their concerns for the organization’s success are ignored and disregarded. Most of the time, this comes from a lack of strong sponsor support that can be fixed if you know what to do about it.

Sponsor Characteristics

Not all sponsors are created the same.  For example, the leader of scanning operations at your organization may be the best advocate to help you support the need for better information governance. However, they might fail to create any urgency in changing the situation due to the impact it would have on their staff. Meanwhile, in that same example, your chief legal counsel may be a better advocate because they believe in creating a sense of urgency so they can respond more quickly to cases and discovery requests. Or, you may have thought that you found a strong advocate in the new sales executive only to find that no one yet trusts their perspective on operational issues.

Successful sponsors contribute three basic characteristics:

  • Power – The ability to exert their position, reputation, and respect to get something done.
  • Legitimacy – The degree to which the sponsor is seen as credible on the topic of your project.
  • Urgency – The sense that the program must be done now.

Too often, prospective project sponsors don’t have enough of one of these three criteria.

Generating Buy-In

Practitioners spend all day steeping in what must be done and take the “why” we must do the work for granted.  However, outsiders have no idea or interest in knowing the details of what must be done.  They’re only concerned in why they should make a change or an investment or take an interest in a project.  In developing the chorus of sponsors needed for success, practitioners must switch hats from what needs done to why it needs to be done.

The “why” often comes in two forms.  First, there are the risks to be avoided; and second, there is the vision to be achieved.  Quantifying the risks isn’t exactly easy, but it’s possible.  You can review the impacts that you’ve already seen and plot a trajectory.  If your organization hasn’t been directly impacted, it’s possible to look to the broader industry trends and statistics.  You don’t have to have a cyber security breach to know that you don’t want to have them, and they’re happening with striking regularity.

Setting a vision for a future where your information is well governed may be hard, but it’s a more powerful motivator towards success – not just in getting sponsors bought in, but also in the broader implementation of the program.  Visions are often created in the space of new applications using the information that you already have and deciphering the benefits that it will bring.  Often, the implementation of enterprise search and the associated information governance can improve the quality of proposals, reduce the time to resolve issues, and increase employee engagement and productivity – due to lower frustration in finding things.

Speaking their Language

While there are many ways to set the vision, the best way is invariably to learn the language that the executive leadership is speaking.  In every organization, there are a set of issues which are critical to the board of directors, executive leadership, or both.  If you can set your vision around these issues, you’re more likely to get the strong sponsorship you need.

The best clues as to what is important are the executive leadership and board agendas – or, if you can get them, the minutes of those meetings.  The items that consistently get the most time allocated to them on these agendas or are consuming the most discussion time in the minutes are the topics which are the most important to the organization.  Executive and board time is the most expensive and precious time in the organization.  If it’s being invested in an issue, it’s a big issue.

If employee turnover or labor shortage is a key discussion point, your vision should involve happier and more productive employees.  If there’s a focus on pending legal cases, upcoming legislation, regulatory changes, or other factors related to the integrity of record keeping, you can focus your vision on a decreased risk.

Active vs. Passive

For many information governance professionals, it’s easier to sit and wait for the organization to wake up. We expect that a new leader will join the organization and be concerned about information governance or some event will awaken the sleeping giant in the organization.  However, the problem that most of us have is that these events are rare and unpredictable and the pain we’re trying to solve for is persistent.  If we want to get our project the funding, respect, and resources it needs, we’re going to have to become activists.

As activists, we need to prescriptively seek out the potential sponsors that will satisfy the characteristic needs of power, legitimacy, and urgency.  We also need to learn the language of the business, so that we can speak that language when we’re developing the “why” for our information governance programs, both from an avoidance perspective as well as for a future state vision.

To learn more about securing buy-in for your next project, check out my recorded webinar with Access, Securing Stakeholder Support for RIM/IG Initiatives (Without Selling Your Soul).