Today, strategic business planning is a natural part of running any organization. But it isn't a new thing. As early as the 19th century, organizations were looking ahead, trying to determine the best path to accomplishing their future goals.
What's changed, though, is the speed of business. Back then, a 10-year plan was adequate and a five-year review cycle was par for the course. For today's organizations, even annual plans fall short. Rather, shorter planning cycles and more constant review are necessary to keep up with short- and long-term goals—and to stay on top of market, industry and business changes. The business environment is more competitive than ever before and ever-evolving technological advancements—and technological disruptions—take constant diligence to keep up, which is why today's business leaders know that the most successful plans are agile and ongoing.
Just look at the recent pandemic as an example. The companies that were best able to stay ahead were those that could change their trajectory without waiting for the next planning cycle to begin. Thanks to agile planning processes, they were able to pivot on a dime while still staying on track towards their growth goals.
It's no wonder, then, that in a world that's always changing, agile business planning has become the best way to future-proof your organization. And when done right, it also lets you stay on top of what really matters to your organization at the same time.
Where it starts
Agile business planning understands that market conditions don't change based on your fiscal calendar—and that those plans need to be iterative and collaborative to keep up. Operationalized throughout the business, it makes resilience, executional alignment and sustainable growth more possible, keeping businesses ready for change and on track towards their goals. At the same time, the most agile planning processes are always questioning whether those goals are the right ones—giving you the chance to adjust them when they're not.
What's more, the most agile of business planning processes are led by finance, drawing on much of the same tools, conversations and data finance teams rely on. And by following the rhythm of your financial schedule, it becomes a natural part of the business cycle.
The following four steps can help make that happen.
1. Create an agile data-gathering process
Today, we have a sea of data to pull from—which can get a little overwhelming if you're starting fresh every time. By continuing to collect data throughout the year, using it to fuel your finance and operations rhythm, you take some of the load off your data-gathering process. But that doesn't mean you want to spend all of your time collecting data either. The right technology and people can help support your goals, providing reporting and real-time insights so that you can spend more time analyzing data rather than collecting it.
2. Constantly reflect and realign your goals
Of course, data is just the start—you also need to get down to the story behind it. That means reflecting on the information you have and collaborating with the executive team and key stakeholders regularly regarding your company-wide direction and strategic priorities. In doing so, you can constantly put those goals to the test, determining where you can be doing better, what you should continue doing in the same way and what you should stop doing altogether.
3. Narrow down your priorities and get the support you need
Once you've adjusted your strategic objectives as necessary, whittle down that list to your core priorities—then make sure your whole team is aligned with and focused on those goals. But organizational alignment is just the start—you also need to make sure your plan is sufficiently funded. Because without the right budget, you won’t get anywhere—making your plan nothing but words on a screen.
4. Create, communicate and deliver your plan
Finally, the last step is writing your plan down and putting it into action. By getting your plan onto a single page—including not just your strategic business goals and the actions you plan on taking to achieve them, but also your mission statement and core values—you ensure everyone understands your objectives and how you want to achieve them. It also gives you a place to iterate as needed over time. But that's not it: communicating—even over-communicating—your plan to your entire organization is just as critical. That communication helps to keep everyone working towards the same goals—and makes it possible to start delivering results.
Building an agile organization
By making the planning process part of the natural rhythm of your business—aligned with your financial cycle, leveraging the same tools, team and data—it never gets left behind. In turn, you put the pieces in place to create a more agile business—setting your organization up for success, no matter what happens in the future.