Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, some companies are emerging stronger, wiser, and ready to make some big changes. And one of the main drivers of these organizational and technological transformations is the finance function. Finance’s evolution into a more strategic planning force within the business was already underway prior to the disruptive impact the pandemic dealt to businesses everywhere.
But the crisis seems to have kicked this transformation into overdrive, with businesses gaining confidence in the future from their enhanced ability to plan for it. For CFOs, this is particularly good news. Finance is in a unique position to drive cross-departmental changes and help organizations adopt a more agile operating posture when it comes to managing future disruptions (and there will be future disruptions).
One viable way to shift gears from a reactive to proactive stance—where companies have the ability to make thoughtful, data-informed decisions quickly, to gain insight into all the factors at play, and to respond to changes while simultaneously mining for new opportunities—is to embrace active planning.
Traditional planning models no longer cut it
In the first weeks of the pandemic, many companies that defaulted to traditional planning models (manual, siloed, and episodic approaches) found they were unable to keep up with the near-daily shifts and uncertainties. Their reliance on big annual planning pushes, versions and versions of spreadsheets, and siloed, stale data left them scrambling to model enough what-if scenarios at the necessary speed and make future-defining decisions without the pertinent data. When time is of the essence, static planning just isn’t sustainable.
But businesses that were applying modern processes and tools—for strategic finance planning that’s continuous and company-wide—found they were able to leverage real-time data to model and course-correct quickly and accurately, and then collectively arrive at the best decision for the health of their organization. A strategic planning model allows teams to broaden planning data beyond finance, pulling in real-time information from ERP, human capital management, sales, and marketing systems to make better, data-driven decisions quickly and to democratize the overall plan. Within a modern planning environment, finance has the ability to step into a more strategic role.
Finance is a natural change agent
Because finance naturally intersects all departments, it is uniquely positioned to spearhead transformative changes. Through the process of overhauling your traditional planning systems and establishing an active planning model, you’re uncovering opportunities for automation and bringing more stakeholders into the planning fold. More and more, you’re increasing ownership of the numbers and of planning itself. People throughout the company are more accountable for, say, the revenue model or the workforce model. And by encouraging cross-departmental collaboration within a unified planning environment, you can create a centralized hub for data, KPIs, and goals that inform the overall corporate plan.
Key to an active planning model are modern, cloud-based planning solutions that automate the manual, menial tasks that can consume as much as 75% of a finance professional’s planning time. Instead of miring your team in day-to-day minutia, these solutions provide an opportunity to partner with C-suite executives and other stakeholders, deliver nuanced and meaningful insights, map critical correlations, identify key drivers, and make proactive recommendations. Even before the pandemic, these capabilities proved a transformative way to gain a competitive edge and increase business agility. Now, they’re needed more than ever.
Lay the groundwork, then keep going
In a recent blog, we covered the three steps that will help you lay the groundwork for establishing a strategic planning environment. These steps will help you establish clear goals. Yet all too quickly, people lose sight of these goals as they work to achieve a new planning environment. So it’s important to fold active planning into your day-to-day process to keep everyone focused and working toward your desired end state.
Here, two suggestions are helpful:
Empower enterprise-wide uptake. Block time with your planning users to ensure they feel confident and able to navigate and understand active planning technology and processes. To promote collaboration and further establish that integrated business planning vision, try hosting cross-functional workshops.
Proactively find opportunities to maintain alignment. Book regular meetings with finance and other operational leaders to review performance, identify insights and obstacles, and flesh out next steps. Take this time to ensure that all activities align with your company’s active planning goals.
Start your agility journey
This past year has proven that business agility is no longer discretionary. There’s no benefit from leaning on familiar, traditional planning practices any longer. In fact, we’ve seen the devastating impact static, old-world planning can have on a business in the unforgiving turbulence caused by a global pandemic. You may be taking just the first step in your agility journey, but no matter how far along you are, keep going. Because one thing’s for certain: The future will be anything but static.