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Crowdsourced and Continuous Planning Can Transform Business Culture And Performance

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 16, 2021

In a world of radical volatility, CFOs have the opportunity to overcome stale and rigid processes by partnering differently with their organizations to develop crowdsourced and continuous business planning to transform strategy, culture, and operations. CFOs can become transformational change agents by leveraging new technology and processes to cast a broader net, gain faster speed to a strong point of view, and optimize the allocation and reallocation of resources. If CFOs can better connect at speed to where and when key decisions are taken in an organization, they will develop foresight, mitigate risk, and accelerate future business performance. Creating a more inclusive approach to business planning — crowdsourcing insight continuously in real-time around the organization — means a major cultural shift. We are leaving behind the days of static long-term strategic plans and back-and-forth negotiations within executive teams about budgeting … and shadow deals being struck in corridors.  Instead of the fatigue of always being asked to do more with less, co-creating business plans with teams and individuals can draw associates into the planning process, create trust, and drive shared accountability. Rather than making teams and leaders feel like victims of the process as they felt in the past, their resilience will be boosted and a more inclusive culture will be built. And I’ve seen it happen.

Crowdsourced business planning in practice

Before the pandemic, annual planning at Unilever had always cascaded down from leadership. But in 2020, Fabian Garcia, CEO of Unilever North America and Mike Clementi, the Head of Global People Ops and North America Head of HR, decided on a new approach. They crowdsourced ideas about the greatest growth opportunities and risk mitigation from senior managers below the executive leadership team. Crowdsourcing opened the aperture for new ideas wide open. Teams were invited to think strategically about ideas with enterprise-wide impact, while squads were formed to fine-tune initiatives. Time was built into people’s daily schedules to make it clear the work was a high priority.  From 90 initial submissions, six priorities emerged to help Unilever win in 2021. This inclusive approach to collaboration on the most important questions facing the business—its future success and direction—creates an alignment with mission that will filter through the organization. To the evergreen culture question, “Why are we doing this?” there is no better answer than, “I was among the voices that said we should.”

Becoming agile 

This connection between crowdsourced insight, faster decision-making, and an inclusive culture was a recurring theme of a recent discussion of leading CFOs we hosted with the Go Forward To Work Institute and Sara Baxter Orr, the Global Head of Solutions and the CFO Practice at Anaplan. CFOs told us they were moving away from monolithic annual planning cycles to continuous planning and looking to pivot to the most profitable opportunities in closer to real-time. Crowdsourcing ideas for investment, resources and delivery was generating new engagement from teams around the business. As one CFO put it, “It’s the end of the ‘that wasn’t my number’ mindset.”

Retaining a North Star focus

What this means in practice is that instead of settling for high-level summaries based on generalized assumptions and that are likely to be riddled with errors, we need to mine deep detail that’s crowdsourced continuously around the organization to tell us what’s really happening.  This isn’t something you can jerry-rig in Excel. We’re talking about tracking activity at scale and in granular detail to reveal where value is being created—and highlight where critical decisions are being taken within the organization. But continuous planning also demands retaining focus on the organization’s key strategic goals or North Star objectives. As Sara Baxter Orr said: “We have our North Star and what we know we need to achieve at the strategy level. Then you have continuous forecasting and early information and early warnings about where the plan may be falling short and where attention needs to be addressed to stay on plan. Continuous planning is really continuous forecasting and monitoring and taking that plan out to an execution layer.” It’s making the CFO the pivotal player in the strategic decisions about the allocation of resources—with better insight than ever before.

A movement for change

What we need is a movement to create this kind of change. Our research at the Go Forward to Work Institute, in partnership with Harvard Business School, showed us that if there’s a lesson to learn from the pandemic, it’s that we all need to get better at deliberate foresight. We need to get better at planning for the future we cannot see. We need to systematically see around corners and explore new possibilities to avoid unsuspected risk and find unexpected growth. That means thinking about how to detect threats and opportunities, assess and prioritize signals, respond and plan possible scenarios, and foster a culture of learning in your organization. It’s a subject I dive deep into in my forthcoming book Competing in the New World of Work. The past is interesting only to the extent of the lessons we learn for the future. What matters is the frameworks we can create to guide decisions for the future—more inputs, drawn more variously from around our organizations, more frequently: continuous crowdsourcing of information matched with a better understanding of where key value-generating decisions are taken in the business. If we can get this right—if the movement starts here—the CFO will become true transformational change agents in their organizations.

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