FP&A: How to Bring About Change without Top-Level Support

There’s no question getting senior executive buy-in for financial transformation and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) process changes is the best option. That official email from the CFO or the CEO mandating everyone to follow a new path and designating FP&A as the leader of change is a very strong way to kick-start a new journey. But as the participants of the FP&A Roundtable at the AFP Conference in Orlando admitted, getting that support from the top is not always easy.

Nevertheless, the roundtable, sponsored by Peloton, sent a very clear message: Just because there isn’t a clear mandate from the top doesn’t mean FP&A must stand still. There’s plenty of change that can happen from the ground up. The trick is to get the businesses to buy into the change without that C-suite directive.

Participants shared the following five tips on how to bring about change without necessarily getting top-level support from day one—and how to win that support over time.

  1. Work directly with the businesses. In leading a complete finance transformation that repositioned the role of FP&A as a business partner, one FP&A professional was told by management essentially to go ahead and show what he can do. He started by recommending FP&A develop data and analysis and show its business partners how they can make better business decisions. A lot can be done by bringing the business useful analysis. “Once you ‘feed the beast’, it starts to get hungry,” he said. In some ways, having to work from the bottom up proved beneficial for this FP&A change champion. “It forced us to get to know the business better,” he noted.
  2. Win over who you can. The FP&A leader of an energy company explained how he faced a CFO with a public accounting background and a controller’s mindset. While he recognized that FP&A needs to take a more business-focused role, “old habits were hard to break,” said the FP&A director. He started by winning the support of those who were open to change and is now using those successes to get the CFO’s buy-in to get others to join a broader finance reengineering effort.
  3. Present new insights. The FP&A chief at another organization said getting to know the business in detail helped him and his team offer the CEO and CFO new multiproduct, multinational insight into their operations they’ve never had before to get their buy-in. The strategy was to give senior management a view of the business performance they never had before to get their support for other transformational projects.
  4. Listen and learn. Another approach one company took when they encountered resistance on the part of business partners, is to ask whether they can just come in to learn about the business, rather than delve in and solve problems. “When you just ask to learn, people are more accepting and less threatened,” the FP&A leader said.
  5. Don’t assume that the entire C-suite won’t support you. And just because the CFO is not supportive does not mean his colleagues on the C-suite are not going to be, according to one FP&A practitioner. She regularly meets with the CFO, CEO and COO and has found that each one often has their own agenda and can influence the others. “You can find the one that gives you the backing,” she said.

While it’s clearly easier to launch a project with full support from the top, most of the companies around the table had a different experience; they started from the bottom. They earned early success or proved their value to the C-suite and through bringing valued change, got management to bless their transformational efforts.

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