However, it’s fair to say that ‘control’ does not often get a positive press.
The whole concept is often regarded as a necessary but burdensome overhead,
required by regulation but adding no value. But being ‘in control’ doesn’t sound
like a bad thing does it?
Part of the problem may stem from recent experience of legislation such as
Sarbanes-Oxley with its strict financial control requirements. But the bigger
problem is the view that controls are there only to stop things going wrong
rather than to help things go right.
Let’s take a step back and consider the overarching concept of risk. We all
know the first principle of business – without risk there is no reward. However,
the ability of a business to control the risks it takes is critical to its
continued success. These risks should not only be what we might call the
‘unrewarded’ risks (associated with, say, a failure of financial control) but
also the ‘rewarded’ risks (such as those associated with getting a product to
market before the competition).
In the current climate of uncertainty, the need to control the types of risks
that create and sustain value should be as much a focus as the need to control
the unrewarded risks.
So what needs to be done? Finance functions, by and large, are comfortable
with the idea of control. Other parts of the business are less so and few take a
consistent view of control across the whole business. The key questions to ask
are ‘What are my risks?’, ‘Are my controls aligned to these risks?’ and ‘Are my
controls in balance?’
Too often, when faced with known risks, the attitude has been to introduce
even more controls as that ‘can only be a good thing’. However, controls are
then seen by other parts of the business as burdensome, because there are too
More worryingly, failing to get the balance right can mean that the problem
is not too many or too few controls, but simply the wrong controls.
There is considerable value in getting controls right and recognising the
fundamental need for a balance of controls that are risk-aligned, strong enough
so they don’t break, and free management to focus on the business.
Perhaps it’s time to transform your controls to enable calculated risk-taking
to drive and sustain real business value. Now, that’s much more exciting than
the proliferation of controls solely for the sake of compliance.
Margaret Ewing is a partner and vice-chairman at
Deloitte. She formerly served as CFO of BAA
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