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Isn’t it amazing: people have the inclination to adjust the truth to suit themselves and thus serve their own interests: More Power, More Income, More Respect. But! How often is this recognised? How often is this used to explain why e.g. projects so seldom succeed?

Yes: based on one’s own interest, matters are portrayed in a different light. Reports are slightly twisted, data is being manipulated. A hard statement? Not really: just look at the recent Panama Papers.

All of this is done with the express aim of influencing decision-making.

This is often denied or hidden. Good projects intentionally gone bad is a reality in every business. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s just a matter of time. Remember: not even one third of the projects executed is successful! An extremely low figure. The reason why cannot be just a technical aspect.

Until now, little attention has been paid to the art of undermining and manipulating projects. Yet annually many millions of pounds, euros and dollars are squandered due to project sabotage. If more attention is given to the motivation and methods of project saboteurs, it could be combatted. This leads to large savings and better project results.

How does it work?

Start by recognising that each project has its opponents. Everybody probably knows them – people who, for one reason or another, have a self-interest in having a project fail.

Why would anybody want to undermine a project?

Some project saboteurs are convinced that the project is bad for the company and they will do anything to protect the company from making a mistake. Others believe that if the project fails, employment will be protected.

And there are other, less noble motives: the failure of a project offers the saboteur the chance of improving his position or of encouraging people to move on to other things: generally by beating a hasty retreat by the back door.

The dominant motive is survival; a budding saboteur comes to the conclusion that the project could result in him losing his job. And he’s not going to let that happen. He has to put up some resistance, otherwise who will pay for his car, his mortgage and his children’s education? He, so obviously indispensable, is in danger of becoming superfluous. It is what B. Brecht wrote in a song in the Dreigroschenoper: “The food is primary to morality”.

motivationIt will be clear that the project saboteur has purely human motives for committing his deed. I need only refer to Maslow and his behavioural pyramid.

Motivation, however, is not enough for bringing about the failure of a project; there must also be opportunities. The saboteur must have formal or informal influence. Or both. Formal influence is something you derive from your position. Informal influence is derived from your knowledge or social position.

If, for example, the saboteur is the manager of the department for which the project result is intended, then there is a good chance that he is the person responsible for accepting the result. This is an ideal position from which to frustrate both the demands placed on the project result and the acceptance of it. If the saboteur is an expert or a specialist, he not only has possibilities for questioning the proposed solutions but also for combating the actual need for the project. If, as a result of his knowledge as a specialist, he ends up in the project team, his possibilities are virtually endless.

Even if his influence is not based on knowledge or hierarchy, the saboteur can still bring about the downfall of a project. To do this, he needs an informal access to the formal project network. He must be able to influence the formal process. He can acquire this position by cozying up to the real players in the process, creating bonds of trust and friendship. After all, friends do not doubt each other’s motives and always take each other seriously.

A project

In essence, a project is extremely simple, and so, too, is its destruction. Many trainers and organisations that supply expensive project managers are not likely to agree with this. In project management training, people succeed in portraying projects as exceptionally complex, when in fact they are really fairly simple. There is a director, who states that a certain result (a change or a product) is necessary. Then there is a project manager, who brings the assignment to a successful conclusion within the time and budget allocated. He draws up a plan for this and hires specialists. The project manager asks the users what they would like to have and whether they can work with the result. Now and again, he reports the progress of the project to the director. The agreed result is delivered and accepted by the director. And that’s it.

In his efforts to undermine the project, the professional project saboteur makes use of the very elements that the project manager should use to keep it under control: assignment, plan, reporting and result.

The project saboteur has it a lot easier than the project manager; the saboteur knows the project manager, but the project manager does not know who the saboteur is. The project manager must report and communicate verifiable facts; the project saboteur need only insinuate suspicions.

What to do? Kill the saboteur?

You  might have the idea now that sabotage is everywhere and nothing can be done about it. The first is true, but the second isn’t. You can certainly do something about this. Start by being aware of this phenomenon called project sabotage. It is there, believe me. The world does not consist of 100% reliable and trustworthy people. Some have a huge personal interest that makes them act contrary to the interest of the project, rather than acting according to the general interest. There are not many projects that do not suffer from sabotage activities.

Let us have a closer look at the project manager as a potential saboteur, just as an example how to act.

Will his department be reduced by 20%, because of a new IT system? Or will he be rewarded with a new job if he finishes in time? Two very different incitements, with two different outcomes: in the first case the project manager is not in a hurry. In the second he will do what he can to deliver in time.

By answering these question the intrinsic motivation will become apparent. These questions have to be followed by:  if he loses his job, could he easily be employed elsewhere? And if not, are there any personal consequences like having to sell his house because of the mortgage?

How is the project manager considered, as an accepted specialist and well trusted or as a ship passing by in the night?

The second step is all about the behavior: look at the facts and, very important, look if there is a pattern hiding in the facts. Do new problems pop up all the time, without the old ones being solved? Does the manager consider the procedure to be more important than the result? Does he prefer formal meetings and decisions above informal decision making? Well, if this is the case and you see a pattern (it happens regularly) you’d better beware and take appropriate measures.

Let’s see what measures can be taken. As for every stakeholder it could be quite helpful to align personal and project interest of the project manager. So, if the project manager finishes in time delivering the right result there must be reward waiting  That will influence his attitude towards the project.

There are several types of rewards one can think of for the project manager. E.g.:

  • Early retirement without salary drop;
  • Higher salary scale
  • Expensive training to boost his career
  • Promotion

If a reward is not an option the only way out is replacing the project manager by a project manager that does not have an interest in project failure. This might be an externally hired project manager.

But then watch out for another incentive: if the project manager  is hired from a consultancy firm, he might get a bonus from his firm if more external staff is hired on the project.

Sometimes you are not in the position to implement the counter measures yourself; in that case you have to involve the right decision maker.

Be aware: this decision maker might be the real saboteur!

So, it is about time to look into the real reason of project failure. Leave the obvious reasons (too little budget, not enough resources) behind and go for the human interest. It will bring about new insights and bright success.

Dion Kotteman, strategy advisor, former CIO of the Dutch Government. And author of: “The Project Saboteur……. And how to kill him! “

The Project Saboteur is published in ebook and paperback by Claret Press on 7th April 2016. ISBN 978 1 910461 13 6 

RRP £12.99 paperback. Available at all good bookshops and online booksellers

YesThis book provides deep insight from the perspective of the project saboteur and offers the tools necessary to manipulate a project successfully and professionally. In a humorous way it shows how you can manipulate the truth and what influence such manipulation can have on the course of the project. Understand the tricks!

The book also tells you how to counter all this. Many real life cases are described. In this way you are able to recognise and also combat the insidious conspirators successfully! You will learn about some methods. Beat the saboteurs  at their own game. The saboteur won’t win. Instead, you do.

Every project has opponents who try to manipulate it for their gain. And the good news is: you can beat them.

The book was a bestseller in The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

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A sleeping digital giant wakes? 4 key trends accelerating payments transformation in the US



A sleeping digital giant wakes? 4 key trends accelerating payments transformation in the US 1

By Lauren Jones, International Payments Ambassador, Icon Solutions

The US payments industry is undoubtedly ripe for change. Before the unprecedented shock of COVID-19, digitization and payments transformation initiatives had been organic, piecemeal and predominately the preserve of the largest banks.

Now, increasing pressure means that financial institutions of all sizes are working to define a digital strategy to unlock new opportunities, drive business value, and stay competitive. But beyond the immediate impact of COVID, what underlying trends are accelerating digitization in the US?

  1. Real-time payments – the stimulus for change  

Real-time payments have been met with a degree of caution by US financial institutions. Risking traditional profit generators in return for potential revenues down the line is a gamble many have not been willing to take. But immediate payments are coming to the US whether banks like it or not.

Major payments infrastructure providers, including NACHA and The Clearing House (TCH), have moved to encourage immediate payment adoption in recent years. But the Fed, frustrated with a slow rate of progress, has announced that it is pressing ahead with the implementation of its FedNow system (despite significant industry objection). Although the Fed’s true intentions are open to interpretation and this may just be a play to accelerate private initiatives, it is a clear signal that they mean business.

This means holdouts risk their own ‘Kodak’ moment if they miss the huge opportunities in front of them by fixating on traditional revenue streams. Banks are in a position to support innovation across entire industries such as healthcare, which could be released from the constraints of paper-based bureaucracy and slow, expensive transactions.

Another opportunity that can be unlocked via instant payments is ISO 20022 (used in the TCH RTP system). It is the future of payments messaging standards and can greatly enhance various payments processes through increased data-carrying capabilities. More importantly given the current climate, citizens reliant on federal or state support can benefit from RTPs combined with additional data to immediately access emergency funds.

  1. The kids are growing up

The US is getting older. Consumers who were 10 when the iPhone first launched are now 23. This means we are seeing a ramp-up of digitally native Gen Z consumers (roughly those born between 1995 and 2010) accessing banking services.

Demographics are an inexact science and not perfect predictors (there are technophobe college students and 100-year-old Instagram influencers), but we can detect noticeable trends.

Younger customers don’t usually choose a bank because there is an ATM in their neighbourhood, a slightly better interest rate or an advert in the newspaper. Rather, a strong digital presence, personalised tools, rewards and experiences, and the trusted recommendations of friends and family, will have a more significant impact on customer acquisition.

Banks must look at the effect this will have on their longer-term digitalization strategy and be able to segment what this emerging customer base might want and how they will interact in years to come.

  1. Checkmate? Evolving corporate requirements

    Lauren Jones

    Lauren Jones

Corporate treasurers are people and their experience of seamless, immediate payments in their personal lives shapes expectations in the workplace. Although check usage for business-to-business (B2B) transactions is still the norm in the US and barriers remain, corporates are increasingly demanding the ability to transact in a real-time, omnichannel environment, 24×7.

The benefits are clear. Corporate treasurers stand to enjoy enhanced liquidity management and transparency, greater control over payments and enhanced data for reconciliation purposes. And for consumers, alternative digital payment options such as buy now pay later promote choice and flexibility.

  1. Increasing competition

A significant consequence of emerging consumer and business demand for digital offerings is the increase in competition from fintechs, technology giants and other third-parties. Traditionally, incumbent banks have enjoyed the advantage of consumer trust to offset more limited innovation. But as consumers become more comfortable entrusting their financial transactions to non-banks, banks must differentiate and digitize to remain competitive.

Data is where the technology giants excel, and their ability to personalise experiences and emotionally connect with their users is unprecedented. Banks need to learn from the positive aspects of this model to better understand their users and deliver meaningful, useful products and services.

For data to become the cornerstone of a banks’ customer relationship and take services to the next level, breaking the channel silos and extracting value from a comprehensive dataset will be decisive. But with only 18% of banks reporting that they are in the process of shifting from a transactional revenue model to a data-driven revenue model, this work has some way to go.

Taking customer propositions to the next level

Customers now expect services that work for them, not their banks. All banks, no matter the footprint, need to move quickly to offer a broad digital service platform that adds value to both the customer and the bank.

By defining a robust payments transformation strategy, banks of all sizes can remain fiercely competitive by rapidly lowering costs, unlocking revenues and promoting innovation

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Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense



Return to Work Doesn’t Mean Business as Usual When it Comes to Travel and Expense 2

By Rob Harrison, MD UK & Ireland, SAP Concur

The last few months have been an exercise in adaptability for businesses across the UK. With the sudden mandate to work from home, company processes that were ingrained in employees’ day-to-day routines were either put on hold or turned upside down. The new office normal now includes virtual meetings, conversing through instant messaging instead of in the hallway, and the redefining of “business casual” attire.

Many of the processes that have undergone changes fall into the category of travel and expense. With most business travel on hold and the nature of expenses changing, finance managers have had to adjust policies and practices to accommodate the new world of work. Recent SAP Concur research found that 72% of businesses have seen changes in the levels and types of expenses submitted, but only 24% have changed their policies to support this. Examples of travel and expense related changes that were made at the beginning of work from home mandates include:

  • A halt to business travel and its associated expenses.
  • Temporarily ending expensed meals for business lunches, dinners, or in-office meetings.
  • Increase in office expenses like monitors and chairs as employees furnish their home offices.
  • New expenses to consider like Internet and cell phone bills for employees who must work from home.

Now, as companies begin thinking about return to work plans, finance managers are discovering it’s not simply business as usual again. SAP Concur research found that many expect finance will return to normal quicker than general workplace practices, but vast majority see the process taking up to 12 months. New policies and processes need to be put in place to accommodate travel restrictions and changes in expenses. While finance managers need to stay flexible as the business environment continues to evolve, spend control and compliance should still be a high priority.

Here are a few questions that can help finance managers prepare for return to work while keeping control and compliance top of mind:

  • What will travel look like for the company? Finance managers must work with travel and HR counterparts to determine the need for employee travel, if at all, and how to keep employees safe. At SAP Concur, we surveyed 500 UK business travellers and found that health and safety is now seen as more than twice as important than their business goals being met on trips (34% versus 16%. Clear guidelines should be developed, even if they are temporary or evolving, so it’s clear who can travel, when they can travel, and how they can travel. Duty of care plans should also be re-evaluated and businesses should ensure they know at all times where employees are traveling for business and how they can communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
  • Who needs to approve travel and expenses? While it may be temporary, businesses may have to implement a more stringent approval policy for travel and other expenses. Due to health concerns related to travel and the need to conserve cash flow, business leaders like CFOs may want to have final approval over all travel and expenses until the situation stabilises. To help ensure new approval processes don’t cause delays and inefficiencies, finance managers should implement an automated solution that streamlines the process and allows business leaders to review and approve travel requests, expenses, and invoices right from their phones. According to SAP Concur research, 11% of UK businesses implemented some automation of financial processes in response to COVID-19. This is definitely set to increase post-pandemic.
  • Rob Harrison

    Rob Harrison

    What types of expenses are within policy? Prior to social distancing, employees may have been allowed to take clients out to dinner. In-person team meetings held during the lunch hour, may have included expensed lunches. As employees return to work, finance managers need to determine if these activities and expenses will be allowed again. Clear guidelines must be put in place and expense policies need to be updated to reflect any changes.

  • What happens to home office items that were purchased? While new office equipment may have been purchased for employees’ home offices, they remain the business’s property and what to do with them as employees return to work needs to be determined. Perhaps employees will continue to work from home a few days a week and need to keep the equipment to ensure productivity. However, if a full return to work is expected, finance managers have options that can maximise their asset investment and possibly save the company money, like replacing old office equipment with the new purchases, reselling to a used office furniture company, or donating to a non-profit.
  • How can cost control be ensured? For many businesses, cash flow will be tight for the foreseeable future. Spend needs to be managed to help ensure recovery and stability. An important aspect of controlling costs is having full visibility of expenses throughout the company. Implementing an automated spend management solution that integrates expense and invoice management brings together a business’s spend, giving finance managers an understanding of where they can save, where to renegotiate, and where to redirect budgets based on plans and priorities.

Once finance managers have asked themselves the questions above and determined how they want to approach travel and expense procedures, it’s vital they create guidelines and communicate clearly to employees. Compliance can only be ensured if employees have a clear understanding of what has and has not changed with travel and expense policies and what’s expected as they return to work.

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Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals



Spotting the warning signs – minimising the risk of post-Covid corporate scandals 3

By Professor Guido Palazzo is Academic Director at Executive Education HEC Lausanne.

A recent report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that almost seven out of 10 anti-fraud professionals have experienced or observed an increase in fraud levels during the Covid pandemic, with a-quarter saying this increase has been significant. Almost all of those questioned (93%) said they expected an increase in fraud over the next 12 months and nearly three-quarters said that preventing, detecting, and investigating fraud has become significantly more difficult.

For corporations, banks and financial directors, this is a clear warning signal of new risks ahead. Indeed, it’s not difficult to predict that the birth of next big corporate scandal will be traced back to this period. As the ACFE put it, the pandemic is “a perfect storm for fraud. Pressures motivating employee fraud are high at the same time that defenses intended to safeguard against fraud have been weakened.”

If we want to stop corporate misconduct, where should we be focusing our efforts? What should we do to minimise the chances of corporate scandals, fraud and unethical decision-making? Compliance and risk management are obviously critical in detecting fraud, but given that corporate scandals keep happening, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves whether we need to take a different, more holistic approach to combat unethical behaviour.

Bad Apples or Toxic Cultures?

Most compliance is based on the premise that we need to keep bad people in check and to root out the ‘bad apples’ who usually get blamed when there’s a corporate scandal. When the scandal breaks, we all ask, “how was that possible? What were they thinking?” And we also tell ourselves that we could never behave like that and that it could never happen in our organisation – it’s not our problem.

But are those who succumb to this temptation really ‘bad apples’ or rather people like you and I? Most models of (un)ethical decision-making assume that people make rational choices and are able to evaluate their decisions from a moral point of view. However, if you made a list of the character traits of a rule breaker in an organisation and then compared it to a list of your own, you might be surprised to find a lot of overlap.

When we examine corporate scandals, what we invariably see is good people doing bad things in highly stressful circumstances. If you put sufficient pressure on an individual and they start making ill-advised decisions or behaving unethically, the first reaction is fear as they realise what they are doing is wrong. But then they will start to rationalise their actions to justify what they are doing. Over time, such behaviour becomes normalised and they convince themselves that there is no wrongdoing involved. That’s something that my HEC Lausanne colleagues, Franciska Krings and Ulrich Hoffrage, and I have termed ‘ethical blindness’, and it is a phenomenon that plays a fundamental role in systematic organisational wrongdoing.

Professor Guido Palazzo

Professor Guido Palazzo

The trouble with conventional technical and regulatory compliance strategies is that while policies, codes of conduct and formal processes are all very necessary, they don’t take into consideration the importance of leadership behaviour or human psychology.   We can’t pre-empt those who succumb to the temptation to do bad things in difficult circumstances unless we understand why they behave in the way they do. If we simply attribute problems to the psychological failings of ‘bad apples’ while ignoring the context, culture and leadership style which made their wrongdoing possible, then the barrel will still be contagious.

So what can be done to reduce the chances of new corporate scandals emerging in these challenging times? One take-away from previous scandals is the learning how to read the warning signals. This entails a deep understanding the psychological and emotional factors behind human risk, which surprisingly is not included in most compliance and ethics training. These small signals viewed in isolation may seem insignificant, but over time they can combine to create a dysfunctional context and culture where it can be all too easy for people to slip into the dark side.

Develop a Speak Up Culture

One of the most potent antidotes to that sort of dysfunction and the ethical blindness it encourages is a culture in which individuals at all levels feel able to speak up to their superiors about problems and ethical issues without fear of retaliation. But that will only happen if their own bosses are prepared to speak up and the tone for this must be set at the top. So, the critical question every executive needs to ask themselves is, “do I speak up?” Then they need to reflect on whether people come to them and speak up freely without fear of the consequences. That’s an approach to compliance that offers real protection against the onset of ethical blindness in a way that no conventional strategy can match.

This understanding of human risk element also elevates compliance to a leadership topic with all kinds of positive implications beyond compliance.  Whilst on the one hand, this approach helps to boost the status of the compliance and risk function, my experience of working with senior executives is that when they start to understand the psychological elements of the dark side, it shines a light on their own behaviour. One thing they realise is that, yes, it perhaps could have been them doing those things in one of those scandals. The other is understanding that their leadership style can unwittingly creating the context for unethical behaviour.

That’s one reason I invited two former senior executives who were involved in corporate scandals to share their first-hand experience as teachers on our new certificate in ethics and compliance. Andy Fastow is the former CFO of Enron and Richard Bistrong is a former sales executive involved in an international bribery scandal. Amongst other things, the valuable insights of people like these can help others to understand how risks accumulate over time and how this can impact the integrity of an organisation. Their stories also highlight the temptation that people can face as a result of the tension between the pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply.

Traditionally, compliance training and development has been technical and regulatory – what are the rules, what are people allowed to do or not allowed to do, and how do we demonstrate to the authorities that we did everything possible to ensure that people understand the laws and regulations? But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that it’s time for a multi-disciplinary approach if we are to start redressing the balance between the legal dimension of risk management and the human element.

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