Tuesday 8 September 2015
Here's a story from the not too distant past.
Once upon a time a young highly motivated finance director was appointed CFO of a developing business. The remit was to change the company - to shift it from a small to big player. It was an exciting time. But, the precocious professional failed to realise that change was the last thing on the owners' minds, at least change at the speed the whippersnapper was thinking of.
The story was not to have a fairy-tale ending.
The fable itself is unlikely to trouble either the history books or business school academics. Yet, the story's moral comes to mind when surveying events currently unfolding in Nigeria. For so long now it seems any mention of the word "Nigeria" must simultaneously be coupled with the words 'fraud' and/or 'corruption'. Rightly or wrongly, actual or perceived, the country's reputation is tarnished. Change this negative connotation, remove the block and unlock the potential of this prowling powerhouse - yes?
Easier said than done maybe, but could we - with cautious optimism - at last be starting to see the outlines of a positive story for this country? Here's the synopsis; a new President appoints a new head to the state oil company. The remit is one of change - to reform, to clean up, to instil greater transparency and greater accountability. Sounds good.
In fact the job spec for the latter should assist the objective of the former - to rid the country, once and for all, of corruption. The oil company - N.N.P.C - with its huge revenue generating capacity is at the heart of this massive challenge. In highly simplistic terms fix Nigeria's oil leaks to help fix Nigeria.
Look - this is change to company and country. There's no quick fix here, no simple flicking of a switch from 'bad' to 'good'.
The opening chapters suggest a measured approach. Sure, new execs with their high corporate values have been shipped in from the overseas oil giants. Yet, according to press reports, the oil boss realises that "bringing in too many new heads too soon would not be so good"; how "a delicate balance needs to be struck when appointing critical managers'; how it's "so important to maintain people who understand political navigation". This looks like change management that does appreciate the necessity of playing the long game.
Let's not forget that change - however good the intentions - can make for very choppy waters. Its benefits, both tangible and those less so, may not be apparent for years, if not decades, beyond any pre-determined cut-off. As the story in Nigeria illustrates change is a journey to be undertaken with patience and utmost care - it's not just about the new but also about nurturing the existing to bring about a cultural shift that's positive and permanent.
Of course with rewards there are risks; with benefits there are costs. Nigeria will be no exception here. Financially speaking it's the regulators, lawyers, accountants, and technicians with their new education, new skills, new knowledge, and new mind-sets that will incur the extra bills - but the long-term benefits must far outweigh the shorter-term expense here? Without it, how can change filter down from the very top to the core foundations?
The accountant from story one is definitely older now, and quite possibly wiser too. Change. He knows full well that change takes time, takes people, takes patience, takes understanding, and takes care. Such is the importance of Nigeria to the region that success here could provide a catalyst for change elsewhere, as well as having a positive impact on the lives of its own people.
That surely would be a happy ending.