The thought of 2021 budget planning can be daunting. Macro-economic factors like unemployment and the recession make it hard to know how much consumers will spend. Macro-health questions about future treatments and vaccine roll-out make it even harder to know when consumers will be free to get back to normal. Permanent shifts in online behavior such as remote work, touchless payments and mobile commerce have accelerated by five years or more. The only thing that is certain about next year is that it will look nothing like 2020, or 2019 for that matter.
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To plan in such a situation requires a change in perspective. In a normal planning cycle, we would follow a similar general trajectory as the most recent corresponding 12 months. But, planning for the middle-distance based on previous years is no longer an option. Instead, we need to look into the near- and far-distance to ensure we are using the timeliest insights and that we are building toward long-term goals.
Time to Work Backwards in Your Planning Cycle
There’s an old adage that asks, “What is the best time to plant a tree? Ten years ago. What is the second-best time to plant a tree? Today.”
If plans were not already in place in your organization to create dramatic improvements in online capabilities, to be flexible and nimble (i.e. planting a tree ten years ago,) then now is a good time to start. In many companies, the reassuring habit of planning for next year the same way last year was planned can actually stifle innovation and change. Given that now is the time to plant a tree, it’s important to think in “tree” time, which is calculated in years, not months. Take advantage of the disruption COVID-19 has created to scrutinize your operations today and plan for 2023 and beyond with big goals that the whole team can rally behind.
Planning for 2023
First, get your team together and state up front that this planning cycle will be different. Discard the typically siloed approach, where teams jockey for control and nickel and dime their budgets. Instead, brainstorm together what 2023 and beyond should look like:
- What percentage of your business will be online?
- What channels will drive the most business?
- What products and services will you be offering?
- Will you expand to new markets?
- What will your technology need to look like to support your plan?
- How will your logistics support this growth?
- What will your team need to look like to support your customers?
- What technology accelerated in the last 6 months that you should adopt?
Once the team agrees on a 2023 vision, then you can work backwards, determining the roadmap that you’ll need to follow in order to achieve your vision. It’s possible that hard choices will have to be made and near-term projects or legacy lines of business will have to be sacrificed in order to focus on the long-term goals. You might realize the need to kick off an RFP process to onramp new vendors and service providers to support your vision.
Create a “backwards” checklist, one that starts with your vision at the top and then highlights the actions and milestones the company would need to reach in each quarter working back to today. Once the leadership team has this shared vision in place, then individual team leaders can take these larger goals and apply them to their own checklist, which can drive the strategy for their individual teams.
Let uncertainty free your company to innovate
This will likely be a “Who moved my cheese” moment for some team members during the planning process, as 2023 goals could require major changes in the near term—to free up resources, and set the company on the path to achieve the vision. But, it will be worth it. This is the right time in the planning process to address how this year’s uncertainty has essentially forged your team in fire and created a resilient foundation upon which they are now free to grow. Take into consideration some key industry examples of pivots and innovations that we’ve seen throughout this year. General Motors quickly stepped up to make ventilators at the start of the pandemic, Airbnb transitioned its platform to help hosts offer virtual experiences amid lockdowns and restrictions in travel, and many grocery retailers teamed up with local restaurants to offer favorite menu dishes for purchase when restaurants could not offer dine in services.
Now is the time to remind your own team of their own pivots they’ve had to make throughout this year to continue moving forward. Chances are innovation within your organization took place at a record setting pace. Therefore, rather than letting the uncertainty restrict your company, you can let the uncertainty free your company to innovate. Again, don’t get to 2023 wishing you had planted a tree.
Layer in the near-term view
Using near-term data, do a health check each quarter to see how close you are to achieving your 2023 goals. As you move toward 2023, keep in mind that your team will still want to know what the next quarter will look like. This is where near-term data comes in. As you innovate, each quarter will evolve so it is important to keep a pulse of the necessary changes from quarter to quarter. For example, has the shift to online purchasing increased from your customers or are you seeing lower spending on particular products or services from quarter to quarter? Use recent data to understand what shift from normal trends you can expect in the near-term and model forward with scenario planning. Analyze recent trend data from experts in your field to round out your view, and survey clients to understand how their budgets and buying strategies have shifted. All of these near-term insights can help shape your projections more effectively. Be sure to keep 2023 checklist should be nearby in order to keep everyone on track, balancing what will matter most for the long term with what is needed today.
A of the twists and turns from this past year can serve as the seeds to create a plan that is both resilient and poised for future growth no matter the obstacles that arise. To succeed, help your team embrace the fact that planning will be different for the next year and create a planning cycle that looks beyond 2021. Let this past year’s uncertainty serve as a force for innovation and layer in the near-term view as you forge ahead. Embrace the 2023 perspective and set ambitious goals that reinvigorate your team to work for the future. What’s worked in the past is not necessarily what will work in a post-pandemic world – now is the time for a new perspective in the world of business planning.
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