Gone are the days when business leaders were narrowly focused on just the net cash flow or balance sheet. Modern finance pros are asked to track not only a lengthy list of metrics, but also KPIs beyond the traditional finance arena. The old adage is, “You get what you measure.” When managers are held accountable for attaining or exceeding KPI targets defined by the executive team, their actions and decisions become aligned to the executives’ strategy.
Why the focus on KPIs and business drivers? Well, more leaders are realizing that to stay competitive and agile, their formulated strategies need to be managed and executed and that traditional budgets are no longer cutting it. Creating detailed, upfront financial projections for the next year and allocating budgets and planning inventory to cost centers no longer makes sense in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Instead, staying nimble and strategically savvy means embracing active planning and driver-based budgets. These driver-based budgets are categorized by:
- Budgeting and planning in smaller batches with horizon-adjusted precision
- Allocating resources in a fast and flexible manner
- Tying budgets and planning inventory to outcomes rather than cost centers
1. Identify the KPIs that drive your financial results
Most organizations have a company-wide set of standardized and consistent metrics they track. But what are the KPIs that truly impact the company’s financial performance?
The answer will vary from industry to industry and company to company, but identifying the right drivers means considering the entire operational arc of the business. For instance, you might have drivers from:
- Pipeline or funnel: prospective customer leads, first meetings, opportunities, sales generated pipeline, add-on revenue, channel sourced pipeline
- Sales: total customers, ramped representatives, average revenue per deal, current quarter pipeline, new logos, future quarter pipeline
- Customer success: customer satisfaction score, at-risk customer retention, cancellations, billable hours, time to value, average hold time
- Finance: manufacturing costs, freight and distribution, free net cash flow, revenue per headcount, cost per headcount
- Marketing: website visits, event attendees, new vs. returning leads, social followers, database size, earned media
2. Shift the conversation
“Did you hit your numbers?” That’s a question anyone who’s worked in a static planning environment has probably encountered. But with a driver-based budget and active planning, the psychology around targets actually shifts. Instead of thinking in operational silos and individual or department wins, the conversation becomes more integrated thinking about end-to-end business processes across the silos. Rather than hitting a static target, people are working to make sure certain drivers are meeting or exceeding expectations, to help fuel future success and growth at the organization.
Sometimes, that subtle but powerful shift can be hard for executives to wrap their heads around. But once the C-suite is sold on driver-based budgeting, the results usually speak for themselves. And many execs find that the forward-looking approach of driver-based budgets and KPIs actually aligns better with how they operate: with an eye toward the future, rather than toward the past.
3. Stop forecasting to the end of year
With an annual plan or budget, fiscal year end Dec. 31 is the end line. But business doesn’t actually come screeching to a halt at the end of the fiscal calendar year, and all of the effort required to put together an annual budget can be so onerous and complicated that it might take months in advance to assemble. That means some teams are racing toward an artificial deadline with little to no visibility into what the budget will bring even a few months into the future. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
We’re not arguing to do away with the annual plan. But with a driver-based approach, it’s easier to also create a rolling financial forecast—a roadmap for the next quarter or six months or 12 months, no matter what point you’re at in the fiscal calendar. Creating a rolling financial forecast isn’t nearly as time-intensive or intimidating as you might think when you have the input variables and parameter supported by an automated system. Because this forecasting happens more frequently and because it’s based on drivers and KPIs—rather than every single granular data point at the finance team’s fingertips—a rolling financial forecast can be both quick and sophisticated.
Are you ready to dramatically increase the agility, alignment, and accuracy of your company’s budget? It starts with shaking free of the status quo—static planning, traditional budgets, myriad metrics—and focusing on the business drivers and KPIs that will actually shape the future financial performance.