About a year ago a client of mine lamented the fact that her long-standing supervisor, an individual who was responsible for bringing her into the organization and actively supporting her promotion and development, was leaving for another opportunity. My client wondered about the impact this would have upon her advancement, or even, her future, within her existing company. After seven years in her firm she wondered whether her sponsor’s departure signalled the demise of her career.
Sponsorship is Critical to Success
Some of you may wonder what a sponsor means within an organizational context. Very simply, a sponsor is a supervisor or advocate for an employee who is actively supportive of the employee. Sometimes, it can be the individual who hired the employee, or sometimes, it may be a senior-level individual who may serve as both a mentor and champion of the employee’s work and professional brand.
Sponsors are critical for employee success. A good sponsor is someone who actively supports an employee’s career growth, and seeks out opportunities for that individual’s professional development and advancement. An effective sponsor looks out for an employee, and is effective in clearing obstacles and ensuring their employee’s successful on-the-job performance. Seldom in my career have I seen an employee at senior levels promoted without the active encouragement, support and backing of a sponsor. A sponsor can often be a mentor, but not always as mentors are usually presumed to be individuals with subject matter expertise similar to their mentees.
If an employee is fortunate enough to secure a sponsor, then they should consider themselves lucky. However, is one sponsor enough?
One May Not be Enough
As in the case of my client, having one sponsor is often insufficient. Here are some reasons why:
- Your sponsor may be retiring;
- Your sponsor may be resigning;
- Your sponsor may be terminated;
- Your sponsor may not be highly regarded within the organization;
- Your sponsor may have conflicting priorities;
- Your sponsor may have divided loyalties, and may view the advance of another work colleague as more of a priority.
Finding Another Sponsor
If you are one of those individuals who may be in need of a sponsor don’t despair. Here are some practical techniques you can employ:
- Piggy-back on success. Check out who is being promoted, but more important, who is their supervisor or sponsor. Think about how you could network to connect and engage with this person.
- Deploy alternates. If you are on a project team, and you report to someone in a matrix management structure, that individual may be a good substitute.
- Do an “end run”. If your supervisor won’t support your advancement then what about his/her boss? Find opportunities to routinely engage and interact with your Director or Vice President to showcase your skills and talents.
- Ask for a career mentor. Go to your Human Resources Department, and tell them you are interested in securing an in-house resource to serve as a mentor. See if a mentoring program is something they will create or support.
- Talk to your supervisor. If you feel your supervisor is supportive of you, but not necessarily a vocal advocate on your behalf, then find an opportunity to speak to them about your career interests. Ask them politely if they will actively support your candidacy for other roles within the company. The worst that can happen is that they say “no”, and if they do then maybe that’s a clue as to your next step.
A Final Thought…
In the case of my client, the departure of her sponsor ushered in a new supervisor with a new mandate. My client “read the room”, and realized that advancement, and even laterals, weren’t likely to happen. Throughout her career in her company she had not built good connections with other prospective sponsors in her firm. However, to her advantage, she had a large number of broad, external industry contacts. She leveraged her network, applied for a new opportunity outside the firm, and was hired.
Financial advisors often tell us not to put all our eggs in one basket. With sponsors, putting all our hopes and expectations on one individual can turn out to be limiting and pose long-term, negative consequences.