Sticking solely to plans that map out an entire year has become inefficient and counterproductive, given the speed of the market today. It’s time to make your team more agile with continuous, always-on planning.
In the past, annual planning has been an activity completed once a year with very few iterations made along the way. However, with the speed of the market today, sticking to a static plan across four quarters with no wiggle room is no longer the smartest approach.
A clear, top-down, mission-driven annual plan helps align an organization around what success looks like. It can still be considered a best practice, just not the set-in-stone, 12-month go-to-market travel guide that it’s traditionally perceived to be.
Strictly-adhered-to annual plans can create wasted resources, with processes in need of adjustment to current conditions not getting sequenced properly. Cross-functional friction can also be an unfortunate outcome of a too-rigid, unchallenged approach.
Organizations that have moved planning from an “episodic” process to one that’s more continuous — or even “always-on” — believe it is a key to unlocking significant value for their businesses. Frequent and fluid planning connected closely to data that helps inform decision making and leads to better execution is the way to go.
The annual plan “helps leaders invest efficiently and it tells us where we’re going,” said Art Harding, COO at People.ai, in a recent conversation with Bill Schuh, CRO of Anaplan. But for leaders who want to improve company performance, Harding added, insights into where improvements may lie are key, and are best learned when they “still have time to affect the outcome.”
Today, leaders have access to loads of data, including some that indicates, as Harding also pointed out, “what your actual productivity is for your AE’s” and “what that translates to in terms of capacity.”
There are countless more strands of information to consider as well, so why not use them?
With the technology that is readily available, planning can be done effectively on a monthly basis. In the case of Schuh’s organization, the team at Anaplan leverages its data collection technology investments to make planning virtually continuous, on even more granular weekly schedules.
“The reality is the market is moving in real time,” Schuh said. “The risk is all the performance opportunity that the organization could have seized if it were running a weekly or monthly continuous review, and an ‘analyze-adjust-act’ type of continuous planning framework.”
He suggests that leaders consider data on “the current state of the business” and “leading indicators that can be pulled forward.” In turn, this helps to generate initiatives that can capitalize on opportunity and react and recover areas of risk.
Even more specifically — and relevant in this period of tremendous turnover throughout the industry — leaders should lock in on data covering changes in capacity, which can have “significant downstream implications,” Schuh said.
“How can you put the business in a position to understand what changes exist in hiring plans, conversion rates, win rates, pipeline trends, what they mean and what the organization should do about those changes to maximize financial performance?” Schuh posed hypothetically.
If such questions can’t be answered, an organization risks having departments over-resourced and others under-resourced, for example. All this and more should be — and more importantly can be — considered, almost in real time with helpful platforms of today.
We need not look too deep into the recent past for proof of concept on continuous planning’s advantages. The conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic provide plenty of examples, including what went on at the video conferencing platform giant Zoom last year. Though unexpected changes to the company’s annual plan arrived because of a happy boom in user growth, People.ai provided vital data to help Zoom rescale on the fly, and capitalize by meeting new demand.
At the same time, Anaplan was working with a prolific beverage company, whose major distribution channel is chain restaurants, which of course shut down due to social distancing restrictions.
“The annual plan, which had been very thoughtfully constructed, was no longer relevant,” Schuh said of the client.
But with Anaplan the beverage company was able to understand in real time what locations had been closed and which ones remained open for take out. Because they’d connected all the operational plans across the business, departments were in lockstep and could decipher volume implications and forecast margin changes, among other forecastable data.
Schuh said, “It changed the game for them in terms of how they were able to make decisions.”
Of course, the exact frequency of edits and iterations will depend on a number of factors unique to the organization. But the market has sped up for everyone so, with small tweaks to your annual planning approach you will find greater capacity to accommodate market changes while continuously driving results.