Monday, November 25, 2013

Sponsorship – you may already have it but do you know what it is?

Let’s start with what we know.

Studies have shown countless times: the most trusted communicator and biggest aspect of employee retention is a good people manager. How many of us have used a trusted people manager as a reference and ongoing place for ‘checking in’?

Most of us have a manager – short of running your own small company, there is someone to whom you must answer for your activities, productivity and results.

Some of us also have sought mentors beyond our managers and friends with good advice. Not as common, not a role as well understood, not something we think to offer or use on an ongoing basis.

Today, we hear a lot about sponsors. Like mentors, we sort of know the two things might be linked. There are books saying how we need them. Personal brand seminars urge you to identify them. Companies or artists might see sponsors as a means for financial supplements on top of bank loans or grants.

We have all used references. These are people who we hope will talk to our strengths and help us land projects and positions we desire. Or fix us up with nice dates. Or sign our passport applications. Or help get our applications approved.

Let’s look at career sponsorship. Many of us have given references. The call comes a day before: “Can you be a reference? Just tell them how it was to work with me!” “Sure,” we say. “No problem. You know I’m a fan.” We might check the rules our workplace has about providing references to past employees  - or we might be doing it as a personal favour for someone with whom we worked at another company – or it might be an internal reference. “Joey is great; you can’t go wrong with Joey!”

Mentors and sponsors – the search for the magical silver bullet of attaining a great career or coveted “in” seems a cheerleading squad away.

Seems simple; so why all the questions?

The meaning of words

“Mentoring,” “coaching,” and “sponsorship” are common terms; we need to be clear about what we are seeking and why.

Let’s spend a moment reviewing mentoring vs. coaching.

A direct manager, even with genuine concern for supporting a worker to a promotion or new assignment, is first and foremost occupied with – and accountable for - getting the current job or assignment done to the best of the employee’s and team’s abilities.

This can create uncertainty of where the mentoring relationship fits/does not fit in the workplace; it can feel in direct opposition to the manager’s immediate performance needs.

Mentoring puts the work and the success back on the mentoree. The mentoree owns their actions and decisions at all times. They choose – or don’t – to take the advice or challenges given by their mentor. They are answerable to no one but themselves on their progress. The mentoree sets the direction and the mentor guides.

Both a manager and mentor will create dialogue, encourage you and nudge you. However, while both your manager at work and your mentor "coach" you - there are some differences in the approach.

Manager - coaching
Mentor - coaching
Direct or indirect reporting line
No direct or indirect reporting line
Clarify your existing job & accountabilities for you
Explore broad career options
Create objectives for your current assignments
Encourage self-reflection and goals
Teach to have good performance on their team and for their projects
Ask questions around perceived barriers with only your development in mind
Support personal & career development – usually inside your organization
Support personal & career development for anywhere you choose
Hold you accountable for following direction and achieving your & their team objectives
Cheer you on, while pointing out when you are not being accountable to yourself
Assign actions
Suggest actions
Listen and escalate issues as they impact the team or project
Listen and keep information as confidential
Fundamentally one of obligation, driven by your manager
Fundamentally one of choice, driven by you

 So what does a sponsor do?

A sponsor is there to support choices you’ve made with your manager or mentor – or perhaps as a result of your own self-reflection. They might question your choices to better understand them but ultimately their role is to work with you to plan how best to use their influence to get what you seek.

A sponsor is part of your PR campaign; a sponsor is your billboard. A sponsor reflects who you are and what you are seeking and backs those choices with their own brand.

So when does sponsorship come into play?

Any time; all the time.

The first time you went after a babysitting job and needed to reassure a nervous parent that you could be trusted not to empty the fridge or host an impromptu party or the time you wanted to join your first volunteer board – you have been using sponsorship in some form.

Why do I need sponsors?

It is a frame of reference that provides reassurance and context when forming a new relationship.

You have probably already needed supporters and references throughout your career. We need someone to speak up for us at any time – from informal introductions to expand our networks, to new teams looking to understand each other, to job searches, to finding a mentor.

Who can be a sponsor?

Anyone can be a sponsor; even those you think might not hold obvious power/influence. If someone is willing to stand up for you and support your brand that can have a powerful impact. Think of a person who reported to you who would publicly state they would be willing and eager to do it again or the peer who sent a note of praise or thanks.

A sponsor – according to the Mirriam -Webster dictionary is:
1:  one who … undertakes responsibility for the person's religious education or spiritual welfare
2:  one who assumes responsibility for some other person or thing
3:  a person or an organization that pays for or plans and carries out a project or activity

According to the Free Dictionary, a sponsor is:
1. One who assumes responsibility for another person or a group during a period of instruction, apprenticeship or probation
2. One who vouches for the suitability of a candidate for admission…
5. One that finances a project or an event carried out by another person or group

 Let’s think of a sponsor as someone vouching for a candidate’s suitability or backing a person’s idea or project in some fashion.

Where do I find sponsors?


A sponsor can come from beside, below or above you and, sometimes, even outside your circle.

We are observed every day: the kind word you have for the coffee barrista who starts remembering your favourite drink; the other team who had to do the project your team’s way and were allowed a voice (or not) in some other way; the eye rolls; smiles; promises (kept or not) – it is not just the big end results but our walk along the way that is noted, filed and discussed. You might be surprised how many folks have an opinion about you, your work and your attitude /ethics /character.

A sponsor is someone who knows you and on whom you can rely to spread your story the way you wish it to be told. A sponsor is someone you trust and who trust the foundation and consistency of your actions.

As well, you can have multiple sponsors at any time; it is not an exclusive relationship – which is why you can also sponsor more than one person.

However, there are a few building blocks which should be in place before you start asking people to be a sponsor. Like any role, it becomes simpler if accountabilities and expectations are discussed and defined.

1 – Identify the types of sponsorship you are seeking

Understand and negotiate with your sponsors the type of sponsorship you are seeking at any particular point in time. Permutations will reflect both parties and can change over time.

To the extent that you both agree is possible, your sponsor can be any or all of the following:
  • Advocate – speaking on your behalf
  • Fan – cheerleader, believer
  •  Reference – thoughtful feedback and character opinions
  • Patron – financial or other type of backer
  •   Champion – campaigner, activist
  • Supporter – positive place in your network
  •  Mentor  (or ex-mentor) – working with you to define long-term goals

A sponsor can also be active or passive.
  • An active sponsor will talk about you without being prompted and may seek opportunities to reference you in a conversation.
  • A passive sponsor will wait to be approached before offering their insight /experience /opinion.
Depending on your requirements, you will need to ensure your sponsors agree to take on an active role. If you have been a sponsor, you probably waited for the phone to ring and did not necessarily go out and beat the bushes to extoll the virtues of the person you were sponsoring. The onus for building a brand still falls to the person being sponsored.

2 – Remember that sponsorship is a relationship requiring care & feeding

I believe mentoring is:
·         Building a community for others
·         Relationship-based
·         Collaborative
·         Fluid and inclusive

The heart of successful mentoring and excellent sponsorship is therefore in the relationship.  Like dating, sponsor relationships don't always work out.

Sometimes the chemistry just isn't there; the two people involved just don't understand each other. Maybe neither can agree on a definition of "sponsorship" or what actions are required. Maybe someone is just looking to do superficial approaches when the other is looking for substance.

Sponsorship is an activity driven by the sponsor and sponsored, requiring action as well as trust by both.

Be true to yourself. Be ready to do some work (on either side of the relationship). Be prepared to date a little if necessary.

3 – Know your brand; arm your sponsors

In the past, for many of us the approach to sponsorship was: do good work; hope people say nice things about it. As we become more mindful about our careers and lives, it makes sense to become more thoughtful about how we create support for our aspirations.

When looking for sponsorship, you can offer:
  • Exact purpose of sponsorship (general /ongoing or particular /time-boxed)
  • Specific skills, traits or attributes you wish to be mentioned
  • Adjectives & adverbs you want as your descriptors
  • Timelines in which sponsorship will (or will not) be useful
  • A request for active or passive support
  • A discussion to ensure your sponsor is actually comfortable with the request
  • An ‘elevator speech’ about you and/or what you’re seeking
  •  A view to how sponsorship might be mutually beneficial

It is like writing your personal ad with (or for) your sponsor. This helps your sponsor feel more confident that they can support you properly and for you to be comfortable with what might be said.

Why does any of this matter?

According to the US Department of Labor, the average worker changes careers three to five times. As well, a 2008 study by the US Department of Labor cites a person will change jobs every 4.1 years, making it seven to ten jobs across the multiple careers. Some of us have changed twice that much already and are not yet done in our careers. We need sponsorship as a tool in our tool box to build the lives we can value.

Mentoring and sponsorship require time and effort; great mentoring and sponsorship require us to take accountability for our own desires and careers. Our lives are all about relationships, choices and dreams; as those carve a trail both behind and before us, our personal stories form. Sponsorship is a means to spread our story and share the stories of others. Sponsoring and being sponsored is another tool by which we build community.

Building community is how we flourish – however we define success.

No comments: