Partnerships are not just there for fun, they are of strategic importance to your organization. That means that your top management needs to support the partnership and you want to ensure that you have the support of an executive sponsor. The executive sponsor will have a role towards his counterpart in the partner organization, with whom he will need to build a relationship, build trust and work together.

The role of an executive sponsor is broader than just building relationships and trust. The sponsor will be your executive champion, evangelizing the alliance to other executives in your organization. He or she will provide strategic guidance and will be the escalation point when the alliance manager faces issues that cannot be overcome on the level of the alliance manager.

At the end of the day, the executive sponsor will be overall responsible for the performance of an alliance. In daily practice it will most likely mean that he has a delegated responsibility to the alliance manager. The executive will remain on the background maintaining oversight and the alliance manager will be held responsible for daily results. It also means that the alliance manager will need to build a close working relation with the sponsor. There should be a constant information flow of the alliance progress, without overloading and without under-informing him or her. The executive sponsor will be the alliance managers best friend in the organization.

The executive sponsor has an essential role in an alliance and needs to be selected carefully. In smaller organizations this might be relatively easy, as it will quickly be one of the top executives in the organization. Whatever the size of your organization, it is important to think about the value of the alliance to the business area of the executive sponsor [to be]. On the other hand, it is also very important to have a look at the executive’s clout and longevity in the organization. What can he or she really accomplish?

I have seen two completely opposite examples in client organizations. One client always chose the most senior in line to be the sponsor. The advantage of this choice is that the executive will have a stake in the alliance; the results of the alliance will consolidate into his overall results. The downside is that this client was a typical large company where job rotation was on average once every three to four years, which also influenced changing the sponsor every three to four years. In an alliance with a company that was still being led by the founders after tens of years, this resulted in a complaint about “frequent changing of executives” by the client.

In another situation with a different client, they generally made the choice for a sponsor with sufficient seniority in general management of the company. Here I experienced that an executive sponsor moved from overall global responsibility for one product line, to overall global responsibility for another product line. In both cases the executive remained sponsor for the partnership and was personally measured for the overall results of the partnership.

Choosing the sponsor will in the end also depend on the culture of the company; what in the second example worked, would not have worked in the first example.

When an alliance is of strategic importance to your organization, the chances it can flourish without executive sponsorship are minimal. The alliance may grow in the early stages while still under the radar screen, but you actually already started of in the wrong mode at that point. Executive sponsorship needs to be ensured early on, already before moving into partner selection. Otherwise an alliance is doomed to fail or at least make a false start.

This article is part of a series of articles extending upon the 25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances article.  These 25 tips have been rewritten and published in the eBook “25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances“. See this page to purchase your own copy of the ebook in Kindle, PDF and ePub format.