When I was approached to write an article for Financial Executive magazine on the results of the 2013 Long-Range Planning Benchmark Study (conducted by FERF and Ventana Research), I was able to spend time with the data and think about the implications it presented to Finance and the annual budgeting process.
As I began writing the piece, two thoughts very quickly came to mind. The first was that the study makes it very apparent that many of the woes of the planning and budget process lie squarely on the shoulders of the CFO. Second, this very important process was virtually the same now as when I worked on my first planning process over 20 years ago. Everything else in business seems to be changing faster and faster but not how companies plan.
In May, Finance Magazine published CFOs Need a Fresh Perspective on Long-Range Planning (available free) giving me the opportunity to elaborate.
Why Calling on the CFO Is Important
Perhaps the most important study finding is that only 25% of senior executives own the organizational strategy process. From my perspective, it is a dangerous dance: Without ownership the plan becomes an academic exercise wasting valuable resources. Furthermore, ownership in its very essence is the job of dedicating commitment, resources, prioritization, funding, and political support within the company to the initiative.
If that is not the job of the CFO, then who else in the company can, with qualification, do these things on behalf of the corporate financial planning process?
Six Key Drivers of Long-Range Planning
Beyond the engagement of executive leadership, the article points to six additional things a Finance organization can do this year (before the annual budgeting process kicks into full swing!):
- Engaged executive leadership
- Process training
- Streamline approaches
- Integrate the annual budget
- Improve data quality
- Consider purpose-built software
While some of these tasks are easier to achieve than others — as FERF’s, Bill Sinnett, has explained in his analysis of the same study, Long-Range Planning: Steps to Develop a More Effective Process — item six, considering purpose-built software, may be the only option that “kills many birds with one stone.”
This again implicates the CFO who should be in charge of the decision to consider technology investments on behalf of Finance. As an executive, the CFO should be able to answer these key questions gleaned from the benchmark research:
- Why does Finance support technology investment for the business but not to run key financial processes?
- Why does Finance still use spreadsheets for planning when they are prone to control issues and errors?
- Why do less than 10% of companies surveyed think their planning software is highly effective yet very few companies have plans to make changes to their software?
- Why have open-market software tools for long-range planning made significant improvements in the last five years but only leading edge companies are using them?
- What is stopping you from using software applications for long-range planning?
CFOs Need to Take Ownership and Drive
To a general audience I could point to essays, papers, books, and still go on about how important the long-range planning process is to an organization; but to the CFO reader, I should not have to.
There is no other person in the company, other than the CFO, who could and should own the corporate financial initiatives of the organization. If you answer any of the questions about concerns over risk, I say take that risk — it’s even riskier to manage the plan with antiquated processes. Take ownership and drive change in your long-range planning process because you are the only person that can.
For more information, download the Financial Executive magazine article, CFOs Need a Fresh Perspective on Long-Range Planning.
This piece also references these items also available for download: