A move beyond traditional budgeting does not necessarily mean losing the budget. Rather, it’s important to reduce some of the traditional planning approach and taking a modern, flexible view of how to best remain agile and perform better.
The world of financial planning and analysis has observed changes of such magnitude that they cannot be described by our traditional statistical and analytical models. In this age of frequent Black Swan events, the traditional business approach to operating on an annual budget and forecast is no longer effective. In order to deliver a competitive advantage to a company, modern FP&A function needs to be flexible and dynamic, be based on sophisticated analytics, examine life-time values of the products and services and encourage business partnering. This significant change in the role of FP&A function requires big cultural shift and modern change management techniques.
Flexible and dynamic planning process
A flexible and dynamic planning process is easily adjustable for different risk and strategy scenarios. It is multidimensional, driver-based, events-driven and activity-based. It uses advanced analytics and is not limited to the accounting period. It encourages collaboration between business functions and allows both top-down and bottom-up approaches to be used in the process.
Following are popular techniques for the flexible and dynamic planning process:
- Risk-adjusted planning
- Scenario planning
- Rolling forecast
- Activity-based budgeting and planning.
The risks enterprises face can destroy or create value. Therefore, successful mitigation of risk is important for the survival of the company. In order to survive in times of extreme changes, organizations need to be very quick and flexible in analysis and planning.
Historically, risk management has been a separate process within the organization, not connected to FP&A function. Increasingly more companies are beginning to incorporate risk information into the planning, in order to evaluate and manage external and internal risk. A risk-adjusted plan is one that responds to changing circumstances, providing the financial capability to react to events in a planned and proactive manner. The time of one static scenario planning has gone forever. The identification of risk scenarios enables the organization to develop risk response plans applicable to many possible events, not just one specific scenario.
Scenario planning is an important technique for flexible and dynamic FP&A process. At the time of rapid change, the technique is used during the planning process to evaluate risks and viability of different strategic alternatives. It is also used for sensitivity analysis. The standard approach of “three scenarios” (best, average and worst) is replaced with multiple on-demand scenarios. To arrive at one summarized view, probabilistic and expected values approach could be used.
Rolling forecasts are a planning method that refers to a process of forecasting trends that may impact your business 4-8 quarters in the future. With rolling forecasts the number of periods in the forecast remains constant and visibility of the business does not stop at year-end.
For example, the idea is to do a new forecast every three months and add another three months to the end of your forecasting cycle on the rolling basis.
A rolling forecast is a better management approach since it gives management a view into the future. According to APQC, use of rolling forecasting can save a median of 25 days on an organization’s annual budgeting cycle. A rolling forecast expands planning horizons and challenges the traditional static budget. More and more companies are introducing RF into their processes, many of them use the process parallel to the traditional budgeting process. However, quite a few organizations have abandoned the old budgeting and planning process in favor of the more flexible rolling forecast.
Activity-based (flexible) budgeting
Activity-based budgeting is a very effective technique for cost management and in the time of global expense cutting this method has become very popular. However, this concept challenges the traditional view of a budget fixed for the year. In an activity-based budget, variable cost is adjusted for the activity level throughout a year and cost managers learn to adjust to the idea that their annual budget is not fixed or based on previous years’ spending. It varies with the level of activity and could be lower or higher depending on the activity level. Therefore, the budget is dynamic, not static. The concept needs to be communicated to departmental managers, and it needs to be controlled and analyzed by finance business partners before it becomes part of the business culture in the traditional budget organization.
Advanced Analytics and Driver-Based models
Oracle recently commissioned a global study investigating the level of management coherence and profit visibility in large companies. The research, undertaken by Dynamic Markets, surveyed 1,500 organizations and found that 82 percent lack a complete visibility of profits, with 40percent suffering impaired financial performance as a result. Oracle explained these figures by the fact that more than half of the study participants used spreadsheets for profitability models.
Many companies have recognized that spreadsheet-based planning methods are inefficient and have moved to specialized planning and forecasting systems. Modern FP&A should be based on a model with formulae tied to fundamental business drivers. Advanced predictive analytics in FP&A model is a source of strong competitive advantage. This is a driver-based model which invokes consistency and participative cooperation across functions in organizations.
Some basic principles of driver-based modeling:
- Concentrate on top 10-15 business drivers
- Analyze and manage the drivers
- Look at their interdependence
- Explain the variances through the drivers
- Update driver-based models on a regular basis
Harmonization of the planning processes
In addition, strategic, operating and financial plans should be harmonized through drivers and ideally reside in one system. They should allow cross-functional collaboration and use automated reports that can quickly generate scenarios and easy multidimensional capabilities. The system should also allow top-down and bottom-up approaches to be used during the planning and forecasting process.
It is extremely important to leverage both approaches in order to harmonize strategic and operational plans.
Expanding time horizons, lifetime value view
The accounting period is an artificial concept which does not show us the whole picture or lifetime value of the product/customer. Accounting treatments such as capitalizations and provisions deplete the real profitability view.
That is why the life-time value analysis technique and rolling forecasts are important methods as they expand the time horizons of the financial analysis. The rolling forecast is an important concept in breaking artificial accounting period views. Survival analysis techniques are becoming very popular in forecasting true future profitability of the business.
Participative planning is growing more important in the organizations in order to implement strategy and improve the level of analysis. An effective planning and forecasting process should involve all key staff to help everyone better understand the drivers and reduce office politics.
Participative planning process helps with the following:
- Risk identification
- Connecting strategy with the operational plan
- Improving communication and understanding business drivers
- Flexibility of the FP&A process: with top down and bottom up approaches.
Such collaborative planning can be accomplished through an iterative process that allows managers to forecast and share alternative scenarios, which are essential given today’s economic uncertainties. Finance also plays the key role in facilitating the coordination of plans across the company, which helps ensure that operational tactics are aligned with financial targets throughout the organization.
Successful execution of FP&A is inevitably linked to corporate culture. A culture based on silo mentality and lack of trust not only undermines integrated FP&A effectiveness but also reduces employee engagement and well-being. In this article, Niels van Hove argues that while effective integrated FP&A can thrive in the right company culture, the FP&A process itself can influence and shape that culture. He calls for FP&A leaders to articulate goals that include clear expectations on behaviors. Doing so will not only improve effectiveness but also enable FP&A to play an active role in improving employee attitudes and satisfaction.
The organizational mindset has a huge impact on integrated FP&A performance. However, certain mindsets have proven to be more effective for individual and corporate well-being and performance. Among them are positivity, a growth mindset, and mental toughness.
Many integrated FP&A initiatives fail, get stuck, or move slowly. It is likely that company culture and behavior are primary reasons behind this.
Executives can’t assume they have the right company culture to implement effective integrated FP&A. Rather, they need to clearly define their expectation for participant behaviors. Trust is paramount, and behaviors that improve trust should be prioritized by executives.
Culture-change efforts are most successful when fully integrated into a business initiative. The CEO is advised to use the FP&A cycle to actively display, manage, and nurture effective behaviours.
Integrated FP&A implementations require significant change, not the least being behavioral change. And change is hard. In his groundbreaking 1996 study Leading Change, John Kotter reports that change transformation is successful in only 30 percent of companies. A McKinsey study among 3,199 CEOs in 2008 confirmed that indeed only one in three transformations succeeds (Aiken & Keller, 2009). And of the failures, 70 percent are due to culture-related issues: employee resistance to change and unsupportive management behaviors (Aiken & Keller, 2011). It is not unlikely that a lack of attention to behaviors is a major reason why integrated planning initiatives fail. But rather than seeing behaviors and company culture as obstacles to implementing and developing integrated FP&A, we should view the FP&A process as an opportunity to shape and improve company culture. Executives need to align themselves around what effective mindset and behaviors to integrate into their company culture. If they should aspire to achieve high levels of integrated FP&A maturity, the FP&A cycle can play a critical role in establishing this culture. First, executives need an understanding of what these effective mindsets and behaviors are—and need to demonstrate these behaviours themselves.
In an extensive review of sales and operations planning literature, Tuomikangas and Kaipia (2014) list culture and leadership as one of six requirements to improve performance. Key points here they include “the organizational mindset and practices that facilitate and advance formal planning.” In terms of individual and organizational mindset, psychology explains how some mindsets are more effective than others.
Martin Seligman (1998) shows that individuals with a positive mindset are less depressed, live healthier, and perform better than people with a negative mindset. In one study in an insurance company, the 10% most positive salespersons sold 88% more policies than the 10% most negative sales personnel. Positivity can be influenced: one of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.
Another superior trait is the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. Carol Dweck has shown that people with a fixed mindset believe their talent and capabilities in life are a given, and not a lot of things can be done about them. People with a growth mindset believe that every skill can be trained and feel they are the master of their destiny. Dweck’s decades of research and many experiments show two important things: first, people can be influenced to adopt a growth mindset over a fixed mindset before they take on a task; and second, individuals or groups having a growth mindset almost always outperform those who do not (Dweck, 2006).
The mindset of elite athletes is often referred to as a differentiator between winning or losing. Performance psychologist and practitioner Jim Loehr (1995) called the mindset of the winner mental toughness, a concept that has been successfully used in elite sports coaching for the last 30 years. Peter Clough identified control, commitment, challenge, and confidence as the underlying attributes of mental toughness. Research shows that mentally tough individuals are committed, proactive, open to change, physically and mentally healthier, and perform up to 25% better (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012). In my own online research, practitioners indicate that effective integrated planning processes show more of the behaviors linked to these attributes of mental toughness (Van Hove, 2017). All these mindsets can be measured and supported in the FP&A cycle.
Effective Organisational Behaviours
There can hardly be any doubt that effective behaviors result in improved integrated planning and company performance. These behaviors include commitment, trust, top management acting as a role model, a collaborative spirit, empowerment, constructive engagement, and competence in dealing with conflict (Tuomikangas & Kaipia, 2014). Empirical evidence for effective behaviors was reported in a McKinsey survey of 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations (Fesser, Mayol, & Srinivasan, 2015). That survey found that four leadership behaviors explain 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations. These organizations differed significantly not only in terms of leadership effectiveness but also on McKinsey’s organizational health index, which measures supportiveness, strength of the results orientation, the seeking of different perspectives, and the effectiveness of problem-solving.
Four Main Constructive Behaviors
Even more significant empirical evidence is found by Robert A. Cooke and J. Clayton Lafferty (2014). Based on the survey of 1 million managers and 12,000 organizations worldwide, they conclude that there are four main constructive behaviors that support effective management across geographical boundaries: achievement, self-actualization, humanistic encouragement, and affiliation. These four behaviors not only help to better-integrated planning by improving motivation, work relationships, external adaptability, and interunit coordination but also give greater life satisfaction and well-being to the individuals who display them.
Achievement: People with this behavior have a tendency to set challenging yet realistic goals. They link outcomes to their efforts, not to chance. They also think ahead, plan, and explore alternatives before acting, and learn from their mistakes.
Self-actualization: Self-actualized people have a strong desire to learn and experience things. They are creative and at the same time realistic, with a balanced concern for people and tasks.
- Humanistic Encouragement: Individuals with this behavior have an interest in the growth and development of others and are sensitive to others’ needs. Further, they devote an extensive amount of their energy to coaching and counseling others. They are thoughtful and considerate and provide others with support and encouragement.
- Affiliation: People with a keen sense of affiliation have an interest in developing and sustaining good relationships with others. They share their thoughts and feelings, are friendly and cooperative, and make others feel a part of the team.
Trust Is Paramount
Although no single behavior is most effective for every business, trust seems to be a recurring and paramount theme. Trust is the first thing people seek when they meet someone new (Cuddy, 2015). A team without trust fears conflict lacks commitment, avoids accountability, and suffers from inattention to results (Lencioni, 2002). Studies have reported that trust has a direct impact on strategy execution, is one of the most important predictors of positive organizational outcomes and positively affects psychological well-being. When leaders display trust behaviors, they increase psychological safety, a shared belief where team members feel accepted and respected, and a study by Google of over 180 organizations reported that psychological safety is by far the biggest contributor to team effectiveness (Rozovsky, 2015). The latest research from neuroscientists focuses on eight measurable behaviors that most stimulate trust (Zak, 2017). Zak found that, compared to low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity and 29% more satisfaction with their lives.
All of this shows that there are mindsets and behaviors that are superior in terms of integrated planning effectiveness, business performance, and employee well-being. Executives can use this knowledge to include behavioral change in their integrated business FP&A initiatives and would be wise to emphasize trust-building behaviors.
Combining an FP&A Cycle and Behavioral Change
If executives wish integrated FP&A to be successful and lasting while at the same time improving company culture, effective behaviors need to be embedded in their planning initiatives. As Collins & Porras (1996) note, “Embedded company behaviors will drive a sustainable company culture, which will last over time.”
Executives can’t simply assume their company has the right mindset and behaviors to implement effective and sustainable FP&A. Neither can they assume behaviors will automatically change for the better because of the implementation of integrated planning. Although the integrated business process can indeed support improved teamwork, we can’t assume this due to the complexity of individual behavioral preferences and company culture. An employee who has developed distrust or other defensive behaviors over a whole lifetime will not simply shed these behaviors when a new FP&A cycle is implemented. Similarly, a company culture of distrust, fear, or lack of psychological safety will not change without a significant cultural change effort on top of the integrated FP&A change program.
Combine Business Initiatives
There is evidence that cultural change efforts are most successful when fully integrated into a business initiative (Dewar & Kellar, 2012). This is a very important notion; it means executives can define what effective organizational mindset and behaviors they want to pursue and use the new FP&A cycle to carry some of the weight of this cultural change.
A CEO will often delegate change management for the cultural initiative to Human Resources. HR will develop a change program; define the cultural baseline, measurements, and goals; provide training or coaching; and develop internal communication about the initiative. HR could further update job descriptions, recruitment and induction policies, training and development materials, and reward and recognition schemes. However, the cultural initiative is more likely to succeed if it is integrated with another business initiative. A CEO can take a direct lead in both the FP&A and the cultural business initiative and use the FP&A cycle meetings to display, monitor, measure, improve, and nurture preferred behaviors.
In a well-established periodic FP&A process, the meetings should be the only management gathering where important future decisions will be formed about the annual operation plan, strategy, budgets and resource allocation. These decisions will sometimes be made under time pressure and stress, and it is during these moments when individuals fall back on their default behaviors, becoming defensive or aggressive.
Kotter (1995) and others argue that change is best established when executive leaders “walk the walk and talk the talk.” A CEO should use the executive meeting in the integrated FP&A cycle to set a behavioral example as well as clear expectations to his team, all the more so during stressful moments. I’ve facilitated executive meetings where the CEO would stop the meeting if emotions got out of hand. The language used in the meeting was not aligned with “show respect” or “provide constructive feedback.” Following time to reflect, the meeting would continue and, afterward, a roundtable of feedback would include comments about behaviors displayed.
An integrated FP&A cycle contains quarterly, monthly, sometimes even weekly planning meetings and includes many senior stakeholders from most business functions. The influence of the planning cycle can go across business units, countries, and even be global. A CEO can set the expectation that every FP&A meeting in every business unit or country takes the time to reflect on agreed behaviors and provide feedback during the executive meeting. In this way, a CEO can utilize the FP&A cycle across echelons, functions, business units, and countries to drive preferred behaviors— behaviors that, over time, become part of company culture.
Increase Executive Engagement
Executive engagement in an integrated FP&A cycle is critical. Done well, an FP&A cycle provides support to an organization to deploy and execute its strategy. If outcomes of the cycle are clearly communicated, executives continually update strategy and forecast, business goals are better understood, and employees get a clear understanding of how their job contributes to strategy and meeting budget requirements. These outcomes are among the most impactful employee-engagement drivers (HBR, 2013). The argument that an FP&A cycle improves strategy execution and employee engagement can be a strong case to make executives become change agents.
However, by making the FP&A cycle include a cultural change initiative, a CEO can increase the status of the program and create more executive engagement. It’s likely that HR, in turn, will show increased engagement with FP&A through its role. On top of this, when a CEO drives the right behaviors, the planning cycle over time becomes more effective and more valuable for all executives. If the behaviors include increased trust levels, additional benefits will accrue in terms of increased earnings, reduced employee stress, more energy, higher productivity and increased life satisfaction.
In my earlier Foresight article (Van Hove, 2016), I suggest that the ultimate goal of integrated planning is the generation of a plan to support an organization’s efforts to deploy and execute its strategy. With a combined FP&A and cultural initiative, we can say that integrated FP&A improves not only strategy execution but also employee engagement and psychological well-being. For all these compelling reasons, there is no excuse for an executive not to be engaged with integrated FP&A.
To be most effective, integrated FP&A requires a positive, growth-oriented, mentally tough mindset as well as constructive behaviors. It is unlikely that a critical mass of effective behaviors is present in every company. Where it is not, integrated FP&A implementations also require that executives endorse behavioral change. Once FP&A reaches a certain maturity and level of integration, it can be used to support or instill appropriate behaviors in company culture. Rather than being dependent on the company culture for its implementation, an FP&A cycle offers a CEO the means to influence company culture with the result of improved employee engagement and psychological well-being.
This is an amended version of a Foresight article.
As the term ‘FP&A’ gains traction well beyond North America, how about the roles supporting the FP&A function? Are those roles edged in stone? I’m not sure. Accordingly, I’d like to suggest 3 defining and critical roles for every FP&A team.
The architect has this uncanny ability to create models that would take forever for non-architects to build.
They are the systems analysts, designers, and coders all rolled up into one person from a financial perspective.
I’m also amazed at how they can connect the dots on the drivers that cause costs to behave the way they do.
In short, the architect builds.
The analyst has but one job, to interpret results and to lose oneself through scores of what-if scenarios.
The instinctual analyst goes well beyond, ‘the what’ of an issue. The seasoned analyst has this special way of deriving ‘the why’ of an issue and can even start prescribing or advising ‘the how’ for problem resolution.
The analyst is brilliant when it comes to knowing both what and when to stress test the most vital drivers impacting top, middle, and bottom lines.
Before moving on to the third vital FP&A role, I want to point out that when analysts are required to expend energies in the architect role, performance declines. We’ve all been there at one point in our careers where we’ve been both the architect and the analyst.
When we build models, the analysis seems secondary. Or if we’re only focused on analysis, the models usually take a back seat. And that’s an unfortunate reality of the two- or three-person FP&A team.
In short, analysts interpret. They describe, predict, and prescribe.
My vocabulary is not wide or deep enough to describe the FP&A storyteller. But I can point you to one.
Jim Collins is a gifted storyteller. How does such a person take a five-year project comprised of 21 team members studying 1400-plus companies and roll reams of data into a best-selling book with ideas that simply stick?
Jim Collins gave us memorable terms and concepts such as Level 5 Leadership, First Who, Then What, The Hedgehog Concept, and my favorite, The Flywheel Effect.
Likewise, FP&A storytellers possess the unusual gift to turn seemingly complex issues into simple, digestible nuggets that any leader can both grasp and understand.
The FP&A storytellers are adaptive. They can do monologue. But they are masters at dialogue too. They can create the narrative. Or they can improvise on the fly. Ad hoc discussions do not scare them.
In short, storytellers leave us wanting more by communicating the financial story arc in plain, simple language.
Avoid This Mistake As The FP&A Function Evolves
Which role is the most important? Yes, that’s a trick question. We need all three roles if possible.
My biggest concern is when we try to have architects or analysts become storytellers. Or vice versa. That’s flirting with disaster.
I’m reminded of Peter Drucker’s advice on this matter when he stated, “First and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.”
My advice to the analyst who is really good at it and enjoys that role is to keep getting better and better at it. Every day, the analyst needs to become the best version of themselves. And that’s true of the gifted architect and the storyteller.
In the FP&A world, all of us love frameworks. The FP&A Roles framework is imperfect and needs to be honed. Yet, I personally view it as a great coaching tool for existing FP&A teams. I seem to recall one gifted storyteller urging us to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.
I want to see the term ‘FP&A’ become a household name globally. Equally, I want to see team members embracing an FP&A role they are truly proud of that will urge them to continuous, ongoing improvement.
Mark Gandy is a long-time outsourced CFO who enjoys practicing the art and science of FP&A across his client base. When he has time, he also writes on his own blog at G3CFO.com.
The 19th London FP&A Board was debating about Zero Based Budgeting (“ZBB”). One of the key questions was if companies see a new Era for ZBB. The meeting was well attended and was a great success.