Trust the Process – Integrated Business Planning

Trust the Process 

By Monte Maritz, Partner at Oliver Wight, and Gavin Fallon, General Manager –  Northern Europe at Board 

Business leaders require courage to implement Integrated Business Planning – it’ll be worth it in the long term 


Business leaders must prioritise creating a proactive, dynamic organisational culture capable of quick response and adaptation over a ‘perfect’ plan. 


Hands up: which business leader can honestly say they have returned to work after the summer break feeling refreshed, inspired, and optimistic about the next year and beyond? Or has the time away fuelled the flames of worry for leaders feeling the heat in an uncertain, evolving business landscape? 


Undoubtedly, there are multiple challenges to consider for those at the helm of organisations. Last year, the world lurched from one crisis to the next, with the coronavirus pandemic quickly followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This war further damaged supply chains and triggered an energy crisis and surging inflation across the continent. Little wonder Adam Tooze, an economic historian at Columbia University, popularised the term “polycrisis” in 2022. 


This January, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 explained: “Present and future risks can also interact with each other to form a ‘polycrisis’ – a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.” 


In addition to dealing with a polycrisis, the dark clouds of a potential global financial crash are looming – so it’s understandable that anxiety levels are rising. But perhaps a calmer mindset is required to lead in a world where change is the only constant. Indeed, as historian Niall Ferguson said of the concept of a polycrisis: “It’s just history happening.” 


Leaders must break free from the traditional, outdated ways of leading, where personality, rigidity and instinct are too heavily relied upon. Today’s best leaders have a clear-eyed view and – most importantly – the courage to trust in people, process, and technology to revamp operating processes and make smarter decisions for a better tomorrow. They must plan not for perfection but for change and volatility. The good news is that the solutions are there for those brave enough to do the right thing. 


Proactive and adaptive long-term planning 


In this milieu of uncertainties, the secret to surviving and thriving lies in bold, courageous leadership underpinned by a strategic vision that embraces innovation and technology. The way forward is Integrated Business Planning (IBP), a common-sense process led by leadership and designed for effective decision making. When implemented correctly IBP becomes the backbone of a robust and agile business strategy. 


We see and hear the need for constant planning from the CEO community. There is a thirst for data, but leaders often don’t have the correct information at the right time without a robust, panoptic system. Over-thinking or attempting to achieve a perfect plan is a common mistake, especially when external factors smudge long-term visibility.  


The “financialisation” of business strategies – worrying about maintaining stability in the current financial year, let alone setting long-term goals – tends to lead to disconnections and, ironically, increases costs while sinking reputations. Leaders must prioritise creating a dynamic organisational environment capable of quick response and adaptation over designing for perfect reporting. 


In a world where economic shifts and technological innovations happen at an unprecedented pace, leaders need to foster a proactive, not reactive organisational culture. This requires developing a planning environment capable of adapting to a shifting landscape. The real challenge is to turn these potential pitfalls into stepping stones to the company’s ultimate goal. 


Successful implementation of IBP necessitates the right blend of people, process, and technology. Organisations must avoid falling into the trap of “digital debt”, which results from a reliance on outdated technology and processes. 


Clare Barclay, Microsoft UK’s CEO, expanded this theme when she took to the stage at London Tech Week in June. She argued that to take advantage of new technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence, and – more critically – build a culture of innovation that allows an organisation to remain relevant, leaders must be careful not to be bogged down in non-essential tasks.  


Avoiding  digital debt 


Barclay cited Will AI Fix Work?, a report published in May by Microsoft, and noted almost two-thirds (64%) of all workers “don’t have enough time or energy to do their jobs. They’re challenged and overwhelmed with the pace of work, burnout, and a lack of productivity. I don’t know if anyone feels like that sometimes? I know I do.” 


She added: “Put simply, the pace of work is outpacing our ability to keep up. We call this deluge of information ‘digital debt’, sapping energy, slowing down the ability to think clearly, and severely impacting thinking for innovation.” 


IBP can revolutionise and simplify decision-making across the organisation from the top down. Yet implementing such a system necessitates top-level sponsorship, which requires a leap of faith from the CEO and the rest of the C-suite.  


Trusting the process, and accessing insights uncovered by quality data from numerous internal and external sources, might initially be uncomfortable for leaders still stuck in the 20th century. No longer can they make choices using their gut instinct or be swayed by influential colleagues. These elements still matter, of course, but the information surfaced by the system is grounded in truth.  


Moreover, IBP empowers leaders to make informed decisions, and the process frees everyone in the organisation to focus on efficiency rather than chasing the elusive – and never attainable – perfect plan. No time is wasted on working on strategies that are doomed to fail. Gavin Fallon, General Manager Northern Europe at Board, adds to this: “Truly integrated Business Planning means you leave less profit on the table and have less inventory write-off.” 


Embracing IBP will mean leaders accepting that it’s more beneficial to understand and address the gap between reality and ambition rather than seeking affirmation of their personal aspirations. Leaders should recognise that looking forward and planning for the future is more critical than dwelling on past performance. Additionally, business leaders must understand that their budget is only as old as the day it was created. 

Modern leadership style 


Implementing IBP brings about a paradigm shift in leadership styles, moving from the traditional command-and-control model to a more empowering, trust-based model better suited to the 21st century. Further, the best way to handle a polycrisis and plan for the future is not to increase complexity but the opposite: keep it simple. By aligning people, process, and technology, this simplicity is possible. 


It is ironic that in many major organisations, multiple technologies are present, but the information presented, discussed, and used for decision making in the C-suite remains mainly manually prepared, or financially focused. Why are businesses not able to build this bridge? This is still mainly related to the behaviours of leaders and the support they need for the validation of their own expectations. 


If we expect our technology to present perfect views of the future, we not only ask for the impossible but introduce complexity that is almost impossible to maintain. Organisations must move away from leadership behaviours that need to understand the detail to trust it, and instead look to properly equip people with processes and efficient technology to inform the organisation where to look and what to do.  


As Monte Maritz, Partner at Oliver Wight explains, it is about designing for an uncertain future: “There is an enormous gap between strategic visioning and business delivery – across process and tools – because businesses are not prepared to adapt their ways of working for a changing world. A world where plans can change, and leaders provide guidance and empowerment as opposed to targets and ultimatums. The solutions are out there, but the right questions must be asked.” 


Those bold enough to rip up their existing operating model in favour of an integrated model based on efficient, future focused information flow will equip their organisations with the necessary tools to navigate the uncertainty of the future and unlock growth potential in an era marked by constant change and digital transformation. It’s not just about staying afloat in the present but also about setting sail for a more prosperous future. 


An integrated modern business requires a vision of empowered execution, trusted escalation, and formal enablement. Are you courageous enough to leap? 


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