“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
This quote by time management expert Alan Lakein perfectly summarizes the importance of planning for your business. Today, business leaders and finance teams are at the forefront of change, and they need the right plan to lead their organizations forward. As we shift away from crisis mode and move back towards a growth mindset, agile finance-led business planning will play a critical role at every step along the way.
For most teams, this starts by informing quick decision making. Thriving in the face of change means going beyond that, though, to provide a platform for adaptability, to plan differently and grow smarter. In order to confidently make the best planning decisions for today and tomorrow, consider the following eight tips:
- Be prepared to pivot
Uncertainties arise all the time—they can be your enemy or your friend. Successful planning comes down to the ability to pivot finance and operational plans quickly. You need to know when to anticipate change for the business and how to be agile to make that change—then be able to adapt accordingly. The best way to be as prepared as possible is to optimize your planning process from end to end. When a plan needs to be altered, detecting the earliest signals by analyzing and reporting on leading indicators will set you and your team up for success.
- Prioritize and set objectives for the company
Effective planning helps prioritize and set objectives for your company, both as a whole and within each department. You can’t do it all and neither can your company. You have to prioritize and focus where you spend your time and resources. Finance-led business planning aligns people around these prioritized goals and objectives, helping them plan to grow for the future and establish an effective framework for decision making. Inspiring your teams with aspirational goals will motivate them to perform key tasks with exact precision and to strive for improvement as they work to perfect their craft and achieve excellence. Encourage them to go beyond the two-dimensional spreadsheet, combine data from multiple sources and reveal the story behind the numbers.
- Maximize the impact of the finance function
When finance teams work cross-functionally to lead integrated planning processes, the finance function takes a more strategic role within the organization, ultimately maximizing the potential of the business as a whole. CFOs and finance teams are well-positioned to drive organizational success by helping to navigate, measure and communicate what matters most to different business units, setting their organization up to thrive—specifically in a pandemic and post-pandemic environment. However, the finance function needs to clearly identify the types of costs and thresholds of spending that create pressure points on the health of the business while effectively communicating those realities to other operational leaders.
- Focus on leading indicators
To react as quickly as possible to increasing or decreasing sales, you need to be looking at leading indicators, such as pipeline health and the quality of sales leads, or leads that will eventually cross the plate and convert into sales. With a solid planning solution in place, you can bring leading indicators into the planning process early and often. This is just one of the many ways CFOs can best inform future decisions and plan with agility and confidence for today and tomorrow. From a CFO perspective, leading indicators are also critical when communicating the current state of the company to other executives—from where it’s headed to where it should be going.
- Continually use forward-looking analysis
At some point, any budget or plan will prove to be wrong, which is why it’s essential to review plans on an ongoing basis. Treat change as an opportunity to optimize a continually evolving roadmap rather than as a hindrance in the process. Forward-looking analysis and scenario modeling are the most effective ways to manage change and create a competitive advantage. Using these processes and procedures will set you apart from competitors by speeding up the planning process and running the planning lifecycle in a series of “sprints,” creating a culture centered around forward-looking decision making. When you break it down, it’s simple: you plan, analyze, execute, measure, report on the results and then repeat.
- Work as a team from the start
Collaboration and teamwork are different. Collaboration involves working with a group of like-minded individuals who share common ideas. It limits the ability to be creative and open your mind to new possibilities. However, true teamwork involves working with various types of people with different ideas and expertise, opening the door to numerous opportunities. When building a finance team, there are key considerations to keep in mind. Be sure that the team as a whole is inquisitive, hungry to learn, detail-oriented, creative and theoretical, and also that everyone on the team believes they are making a difference for the entire business. This will put you on the right track and lay the initial groundwork to successfully plan through change.
Both the finance team and key business leaders must be involved in the planning process from the start to create internal alignment through open and effective communication. Cross-functional alignment removes any potential data silos and offers a transparent view of any financial and non-financial data so teams can make agile business decisions and anticipate change on demand.
- Unify people, process and technology
Some of the most analytical minds in business work in the finance department. To help these teams do what they do best, you must equip them with the proper tools and data needed to drive agile business planning decisions. When evaluating financial planning and analysis (FP&A) technology, look for solutions that offer data integration and visualization, and that doesn’t require you to uproot your entire system. Best-of-breed industry tools that leverage Excel will allow you to continue working in an interface you know and love and also create the flexibility to focus on planning without having to learn new software. These tools should enable your teams to comprehensively look at everything from cash flow, scenario modeling, agile forecasting and the big picture view of the entire organization, as well as evaluate the impact of any potential decisions and changes made.
- Establish a different perspective on growth
True change requires a culture that supports change. Leaders must set a standard that change is expected and something to be embraced, not feared. Start by building projects around motivated and diverse individuals and offer the support they need to succeed. Bring these teams together consistently to evaluate what they need to be more effective while also discussing and promoting ethical leadership to empower growth wherever possible both internally and externally. This type of culture expands beyond the bottom line and creates a workplace where individuals want to work. Focus on the idea of creating internal growth through diversity planning, corporate citizenship, and sustainability, which in turn will create external growth and drive business results.
The planning process is critical for success. If you know your business plans will need to be created, discarded and altered on a frequent basis, then you must ensure you have an efficient process in place that enables that. By implementing these eight tips, finance leaders and teams can harness change and create planning processes that are optimized to pivot quickly and align with company-wide business objectives.