Outcome: Financial controls’ weakness addressed, benefiting 5000 managers across three countries
Following an external audit, delegation of authority (DoA) was highlighted to AZ’s audit committee as a key control weakness across the organisation (note, delegated authority is the ability of an organisation to delegate appropriate levels of authority from the CEO, down through every level of the organisational hierarchy).
With the majority of managers based in the UK, US and Sweden, the situation was further complicated in that each country had their own procurement and travel and expense systems in place (both tangible examples where managers have the need to delegate and specify the levels of authority for every employee).
I formed a core programme team representing Finance across the US, UK and Sweden, to initially agree the principles that any solution would adhere to. It was recognised from the outset that a significant deliverable would be to design and build a centralised means for managers to enter delegated authority for their direct reports, which would cascade down through the organisation from the CEO. Managers would have to be engaged prior to the change to specify limits that would be pre-populated within the system. Moreover interfaces would have to be built to the six procurement and travel & expense systems in use across the three countries, allowing the delegated values to be applied to these systems.
Unusually, I advised AstraZeneca to deliver this change largely ‘under the radar’. In other words to leave manager engagement until just before deployment, keeping it low-key. This approach had the advantage of not distracting the majority of the 5,000 managers impacted, many of whom would not be directly interested in DoA. This also enabled the team to focus engagement on the most senior 100 AstraZeneca leaders, to set their delegated limits and pre-populate the system before go-live.
Colleague engagement wasn’t totally disregarded, with significant focus applied to end-user training, quick reference guides and embedded ownership for maintaining the system and processes post go-live.
With the challenges of impacting 5000 managers across three different cultures, a representative senior steering team was formed to ensure any critical decisions could be made quickly.
The programme was delivered in under 12 months. All 5000 managers had the ability to assign delegated limits to their direct reports, ensuring the principles defined at the programme outset were adhered to.
The low-key approach to colleague engagement was a success. Positive feedback was received from across the business, highlighting the simplicity of the processes, quality of the training received and the user-friendly interfaces.
Once the changes were operational, AstraZeneca’s external auditors concluded that the control weakness had been fully addressed.
I was under no illusion that delivering effective and sustained DoA controls across a complex global business was a simple change. With so many elements to address, each of which could lead to failure – system changes, managers’ compliance, new and revised processes – Neil helped the team define a very clear set of outcomes and project scope. He provided strong leadership throughout the change and quickly developed credibility with the teams in the US and Sweden. He wasn’t afraid to get stuck into the detail when needed to ensure momentum was maintained, but also supported the team to ensure they delivered against their responsibilities. Given the volume of change within a global organisation, this project particularly stands out for me, having achieved sustained outcomes and despite its complexities delivered in such a collaborative and constructive way.
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