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FP&A Needs to Get Buy-In From Business Units. Here's How.

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 11/15/2017

fpa-bannerFinance often is involved in change management, both inside our own organizations and across functions. Many key elements of the next generation of technologies will pass through the finance function, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotic processes, internet of things. This will put us on the forefront of changes to systems, processes, strategies, and the people who manage these elements of our organizations. To accomplish this, we need to be successful change agents, and that means getting our partners to buy in to initiatives. I have been thinking about the buy-in in the context of change management inspired by two recent events.

The first event was the Houston Astros winning this year’s World Series title in seven thrilling games. The Wall Street Journal wrote about how they went from last place to champions by developing:

“…the industry’s most analytically driven organization, relying almost entirely on data to navigate through a full-blown rebuild. They assembled one of the largest and most sophisticated research departments in the game, filled with talent from the worlds of economics, physics, and engineering.”

Having the data was not enough. The team managers forgot to get support from the players, leading pitcher Dallas Keuchel to say, “There was a disconnect. Every player was a number instead of a person.” So management made a few changes to improve the team culture, notably explaining to the players the logic behind various statistical assessments rather than just assuming the team would accept the received wisdom of talented brains in the front office.

The article highlights one example, the use of “The Shift,” an unusual alignment of players in the field to get a defense advantage. After the players resisted doing it, management crafted a presentation justifying the unusual tactic, which led to players executing it. This led to more sharing of data, building of trust, and greater buy-in. Before, they were afraid of explaining detail for fear of losing trade secrets and proprietary research. Now, said the Astros’ general manager, “we’re more of an open book with our players. We tell them why as opposed to just how.”

A second example came from “The Hidden Brain” podcast by Shankar Vedantam (the recent keynote speaker at the AFP Conference in San Diego). In the episode entitled “Check Yourself,” Vedantam notes the dramatic impact that using a checklist has had in reducing fatalities in aviation, and the efforts to gain the similar benefits in surgical procedures. A pilot study in eight international hospitals led to benefits—47 percent reduction in patient deaths, 35 percent reduction in complications—and led to a world-wide push to implement surgical checklists.

The legislature in Ottawa, Canada passed a law requiring hospitals use checklists in all surgeries… and got zero improvement. How could a demonstrable, low-cost lifesaving procedure fail so completely? The checklist was imposed from outside the hospital system without a plan to develop staff buy-in. Rejected by the host like a bad organ transplant.

Conversely, a South Carolina hospital association developed a lengthy, voluntary process that included explaining the existing evidence to support the change, and encouraging the hospitals to adapt and customize the list for their own purposes. When some doctors refused, the leaders of the initiative took the time to meet with them individually and try to gain their support. Most did. After a year, the participating hospitals saw a 22 percent reduction in deaths, which helped drive further adoption around the state.

“Real buy-in involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome,” Kristi Hedges recently wrote in Forbes.

Blending input from Hedges and other authors, I would put forward the following suggestions for how to get buy-in from your constituents.

  • Develop the “burning platform” or the sense of urgency that leads to action (imagine standing on a platform that is on fire, you must do something!) Prepare your case with facts and figures, just enough to bring them to the problem themselves without overwhelming them and crowding out their own conclusions
  • “Invite the lions” to address the idea and challenge it. Remember that this is a conversation and people will need to wrestle with the idea and see if it holds up to scrutiny. If it does, they will be invested in the outcome. Hedges talks about productive advocacy—seeing a problem and seeking reactions—and productive inquiry—demonstrating genuine curiosity and willingness to seek feedback
  • Address the emotions of the recipients. Some will be enthusiastic supporters, while others may be suspicious, fearful, skeptical, or unclear and in need of additional data or reflection.
  • Incorporate the feedback to improve your path to the end goal. Having obtained input from others, keep the momentum by incorporating the ideas and tactics as appropriate. At this point you need to relinquish some controls and share credit for all those who have given input. Mindy your pronouns and consider shifting from “I” and “me” to “us” and “we”
  • Communicate your progress. Once people are invested, keep the momentum going by sharing successes and challenges. Don’t let them get distracted and fall aside! It may be useful to use multiple modes of communication, such as group meetings, messaging (email, social, etc.), and personal conversations. Stories and examples amplify your communications.
Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, is a contributing consultant to the Association for Financial Professionals and associate director with Allegiance Advisory Group. You can hear him speak about “Volatility is the New Normal” at FinNext, March 18-20, in San Francisco: 
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