How to identify the saboteurs of change

Having spent the last six months meeting treasurers and CFOs across different geographies, from China, Hong Kong and Japan to Singapore and Australia, the constant theme that came out was 'change'.

My most common discussion centred around the challenges of managing change - whether externally or internally driven.

"The people behind the power plant attack were the generator providers."
Tareq Muhmood, Managing Director, Global Diversified Industries, Global Banking

One CFO worked for a company that had completed 26 acquisitions in the last 12 months and was struggling to ensure control measures were established across all processes. Another CFO had been embarking on a 'transformation' exercise, where certain activities were being centralised into China, India or the Philippines.

One treasurer was having issues getting his regional and local treasurers to agree to a centralised monitoring and management of liquidity. Getting the necessary 'buy in' – and being clear on where any 'blockers of change' could come from – seemed to be the greatest challenge to any change initiative being considered. So how do you prevent these 'saboteurs' of change from getting their way? It reminded of a recent visit to Beirut, where I went to visit my two boys.

Lebanon has been plagued with electricity shortages since their civil war. Many parts of Lebanon are supported by generators when the main grid fails. The grid fails to such an extent that the 'generator' business is very attractive, with each household paying $100+ a month to 'plug in' to a neighbourhood generator. Recently, a town in Lebanon was finally given the luxury of 24/7 electricity - as the main grid finally got the investment it needed. This meant the generator providers were no longer required.

This lasted for two weeks before the power station was sabotaged and damaged to the extent it could no longer provide 24/7 power - and the generator businesses were back in the game. As you have probably guessed, the people behind the power plant attack were the generator providers. Electricity Du Liban did not plan for such resistance. As a result, the people of Lebanon continue to wait for reliable infrastructure.

Of course, we are not operating in war-stricken Lebanon but the essence is similar – we can't assume legacy technology will just disappear, resistance to decisions can come from unexpected – or in this case, obvious with hindsight - sources.

While most treasurers say their companies did have Communications plans in place to explain and manage the changes, not enough effort had been put into thinking strategically, identifying where the potential 'blocks' could come from nor what needed to be done to mitigate or remove these blocks.

In Lebanon's case, I don't believe Electricity Du Liban gave any thought to the potential risks of upsetting the 'generator' providers.

We need to be ready for such resistance and take the necessary preventative action - not just to respond to the resistance but to minimise and prevent it where possible.

We are not alone - the people of Lebanon are with us in challenging the saboteurs of change.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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