detail of painting, copyright 2006 by Benice Horowitz, Stamford, Connecticut. All rights reserved.

Articles, Case Studies, News, Events



Champions Wanted

Moira Katz argues that complex action plan projects need a manager to wear two hats: champion and administrator. The administrator hat is relatively easy to define. But what is a champion? What makes a champion effective? Moira’s insights are outlined in this article.

“Heck,” complained the training manager in the large organisation to his colleagues over tea. “I’m supposed to be all enthusiastic about this new training project—and I would be because it sounds really good. Problem is, I’m leading the project and I feel quite alone out there. My manager handed me down the project and told me she is just the administrator—she’ll collect the info back from me when its done. You know, the usual: how many did we train, who did what ... “

“That’s interesting,” said his friend, “I feel the same way. I’m also implementing the project in my area. I sure would like to see some real support from management for a change.”

A third manager chipped in, “Me too. What we really need is a champion!”

They all gloomily looked into their cups, hoping a genie would arise and give them a champion—not a faceless messenger who had told them very firmly, “I have inherited this project from the previous manager. I’m not really involved. I’ll administer it and deal with all the numbers and figures—but that’s it.”

With this attitude, this senior manager is a certainly not going to champion the project! What then are the chances for its success? Very limited.

Complex action plan projects need a manager to wear two hats: champion and administrator. The administrator hat is relatively easy to define. But what is a champion? A champion is an individual who leads initiatives that influence others to perform differently and better. To put it succinctly, the administrator works with numbers and processes, the champion works with people.

Qualities champions possess

  • To begin, champions have a vision of the overarching project plan with all its complexities, and are able to keep the end result in mind at all times.
  • They accept total accountability for the project and begin by seeing that the administration side is in order; that the methodologies, standards, tools, guidelines, communication systems are all in place. They use their problem solving, planning and organising skills and identify and remove obstacles. They take responsibility for clearing red tape and organisational politics.
  • They know that a team “cannot leap a twenty foot chasm in one go.” But they also know that the team can get to the other side in multiple leaps when the stepping stones are clearly demarcated. Accordingly they divide large projects into phases, with feedback on each phase so that all can celebrate the interim successes.
  • When they first start talking about project implementation they acknowledge that they will be met by silence, confusion, criticism, denial, discord, thoughts of sabotage, easy superficial agreement, deflection, ... all of which do not deter them. They overcome resistance, deal with each obstacle with patience and understanding as it surfaces, and carry on championing.
  • They are publicly committed. They have a team to whom they are dedicated. They champion this team to top management and champion top management to team. They develop these team leaders into a network of champions, who carry the torch forward to their teams. They talk to the network often, share information with them, hear what is happening, celebrate their successes and when asked help solve their problems.
  • Once they have handed down the work, they don’t interfere. They concentrate on their own jobs. But they are always there, ready to listen and support.
  • They are aware that communicating is a constant and never-ending requirement. They therefore communicate and monitor regularly to ensure consistent application of the methodologies, standards, tools and guidelines. But also to hear about problems and achievements.
  • They believe the key to communicating successfully is being proactive. It is their responsibility to get the word out. Because they know what is gong on, they do not assume that everyone else does. And because a message was sent out last month, it does not mean that everyone either got the message or believed it. Champions are out and about, pulling others in ever more closely, soliciting their ideas and hearing their concerns. They don’t rely solely on reports to tell them what is going on. They believe in MWBA (Management by wandering around).
  • They recognise that motivation can only come from within the person. So they set the scene for self motivation. They share their passion for the project to inspire passion in others. They know that if they are not passionate about the business and about the project, nobody else will be. They constantly speak to others of this passion and belief. They inspire others with their dedication and enthusiasm. They speak positively at all times and encourage others so that they perform better than expected. They are role models for gaining new champions down the organisation.
  • They share at all times information about the progress of the project: the stage it is at, the successes and concerns, and the difference the partial implementation is making as the project proceeds.
  • When they have to, they make quick decisions and take risks. They never forget that the work is done by others and include them as much as possible in problem solving and decision making.
  • They are aware of other projects within the organisation and how their particular project blends with the other initiatives. They share this information with their team.
  • They recognise the human aspects of the project and create supportive environments. They tolerate risk, failure, mistakes ... but use them to point to change and success.
  • And as for personal qualities, they realise that commitment is a better way, that personal initiatives go beyond defined boundaries, that it is sometimes necessary to have the courage to challenge, that it is important to care about how people are treated and enabled to perform so that they reach their working potential, that as champions they need to stay close to the business, and overarching all, have a sense of humour!
  • Page 1 of 1