Give the Gift of Sponsorship in Business and at Work

In describing my own experience with the lasting gifts of sponsorship last week to a colleague, I spoke of one of my best managers and career sponsors, Bill. Once Bill and his manager, the Senior VP of HR of our business group, identified me as a high-potential (promotable at least one level above my current career level or more), Bill took his commitment very seriously. A key leadership success metric at our company was to promote your subordinates to at least your level if not above your level, and Bill believed in that metric, heart, mind and soul.

As a result, I accompanied Bill, even at my much-more-junior career level, to meetings with company stakeholders at times 5 levels above my career level or more. Most were highly confidential. A few were heart-wrenching, such as the worst sexual harassment investigation of my 25-year HR career to date.

Some meetings, projects and assignments were career-changing indeed, such as working side-by-side with Bill and the rest of the site HR team to not only successfully mitigate a wildcat strike at our plant location over a new computer use task, but also to help develop and implement change management communication and process improvement to avoid a wildcat strike on the same subject in the future. After that experience, Bill assigned me to work with a technical team my own age, who were technically brilliant and perfectly capable of completing their mission-critical project, however who were not coalescing as a team under the supervision of their managers in their mid-50’s. Using my recently acquired facilitation and process-improvement skills, I helped move the team forward enough in their work that they finished their project ahead of schedule and under budget. I earned a management award each for both projects.

Because Bill not only had faith in my talent to officially label me as a company bench player, he also followed through by sponsoring me for projects that demonstrated and showcased that potential. And the most important audience for that demonstration was me. Bill’s sponsorship bolstered my confidence in my own career capabilities in such a manner that it created a foundational center of competency and subject-matter expertise that serves me to this day.

As Bill left the company to retire and I prepared to move to my next foundational career adventure at my next company, I asked Bill why he thought I was promotable. “My goal was for you to be the head of HR for the company,” Bill stated conclusively. I was touched, and taken aback – that was at least 7 levels above my current role at the time. “Thank you for the compliment,” I replied.  “However, I don’t see it right now.”  Bill was firm. “I did, and I do,” he replied. Not unlike a conversation many years later with my entrepreneur sponsor John, who saw me running my own business. However, not long after that conversation with John, I fulfilled John’s vision, as well as my own. Between the great sponsorship engagement work of my sponsors Bill and John, you can’t buy employee engagement like that. And you don’t need an employee engagement survey to conclude that I was engaged in my work / vocation under their tutelage – heart, mind and soul.

As I began to mentor and sponsor others myself, I aspired to produce the same results as Bill:

  • Sharing an office with my sponsee, so she could attend the same senior-level meetings as I did when I was Bill’s sponsee;
  • Not only promoting my very promotable sponsee from the entry-level to the manager level, but sponsoring her to get a promotional job above my level at another organization;
  • When I see talent, I acknowledge the talented person and lift them up, often without invitation.  Try it, the results can be amazing;
  • And I aspire to walk the sponsorship talk at home with my son Noah, supporting him to follow and lead with his gifts and his strengths on whatever career path gives him happiness and success.

What gifts of sponsorship will you give (and grow) during this holiday season and beyond, in business and at work?

gifts 21 dec. 2014

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