A plan, for an incompetent manager, is just an administrative task that needs to be completed...
- In my days as an Analyst at Kraft Canada, there was a massive blackout across most of the Eastern part of North America. You would think that the financial forecast would be deprioritised, but our FP&A team was still working in the office using candles!!!! Everyone else was long gone yet Finance was building the Budget. Was the forecast an ‘essential service’? Absolutely, ludicrous as I reflect on this.
- I remember one weekend where I was the only person in the building when I was new in FP&A. I spent the entire day documenting every change to the forecast and splitting my EBITDA variances between volume and rate.
- I remember a couple of instances recently as the FP&A Director where the P&L roll-up was miles behind our expectations. As the FP&A lead in both those circumstances, I had to be the bearer of bad news to the CEO and CFO. I learned a lot of things during these periods of ridiculous intensity where an amazing amount of pressure lands on the Finance team.
We all have these horror stories where we have all sacrificed our personal lives during this challenging ‘Budget’ season. I guess they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I personally think that there are several ways to make your lives better during this period.
I salute all of you amazing professionals who work ridiculous hours and put in the amazing effort with often very little recognition. Here are some lessons I have learned along the way that I hope will help you get through this period:
1. The Budget will be wrong so don’t sweat the small stuff! This always helped me put things in perspective. It is important to know that the Budget will come and go so put your best foot forward but don’t overthink it or spin on things that in the grand scheme of things are irrelevant. Focus on the big stuff and the little details will get resolved. Budgets are not life and death so don’t treat them that way!
2. Recognise your team sincerely: In my new capacity as a trainer and coach I teach a course on building High-Performance Teams. In this course, we teach folks to flush the sandwich rule of feedback and move to a 6 to 1 ratio of positive to constructive feedback. Who does not love ‘sincere’ recognition? In one of my latest experiences, I asked the CEO Dino Bianco to join our zoom forecast call for 10 minutes. He was gracious enough to say yes and he sincerely thanked the team for the amazing effort and sacrifices that all these amazing folks were putting in. The team was energised by this feedback, and it helped them understand how important their roles were.
As a leader, recognise your team often and thank them! Shout from the rooftops about how hard your amazing team is working!
3. Build in breaks and fun! Sleep on it! When you have those challenging times during a forecast where you can’t figure things out what should you do? My experience says that you should take a break, sleep on it if you can and the solution will generally come to you. It’s funny how during those crazy times, I would wake up in the middle of the night or on my drive to work the next day with a solution. I am convinced I was subconsciously solving the issue while I was sleeping (instead of banging my head against the wall trying to resolve the issue into the late hours of the night). Those breaks will often result in efficiency overall which is somewhat counterintuitive. As a leader, recognise when your team needs those nights and weekends 100% work-free. It will go a long way.
4. Limit complaining and focus forward. I read this amazing book called ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod and the author had a rule which essentially says that you can complain for 5 minutes or less but after that, it is a complete waste of time. Move from venting (a little venting is often needed) to a solution-based focus. Involve your team and anyone who can help build a solution to the challenge at hand. This is a very powerful tool for you and your team!
5. Involve the cross-functional team and don’t delay communicating bad news: This is one lesson that took me a while to learn. Early in my career I often delayed telling my leaders that we have a problem because I was afraid of the reaction. This is the wrong approach! Involve your leaders (functional and cross-functional) in these discussions and be upfront and direct. Note that you should always have a solution-based approach, but it truly is a business challenge (not a Finance challenge). Leaders much prefer to find out early so they can help build a solution to the challenge!
6. Have a plan B and don’t be afraid to use it! In one of my last roles, I had to completely abandon the ‘system build’ and move to a high-level Excel approach. It was a difficult decision, but we ended up getting the Budget approved. Clearly not the approach I wanted but, in the end, we were able to present the Budget to the leadership team in a very professional manner.
7. Plan a celebration at the end of the process: My work teams always had a drinks celebration planned for the conclusion of the forecast. For example, drinks and dinner at the Keg after every forecast was one of those rituals. It really helped our team get through the painful parts of the process. As leaders, it is so critical to build this fun reward into your process.
One of my mentors Brendan Flynn used to take the teams that worked the hardest to a restaurant that most of us would never be able to afford at the time. I also had leaders who used to bring in treats and lunches during forecasts which always helped motivate me. Food always helps! Clearly, this is a little tricky during Covid but be creative! Send a Timmies card or Starbucks card? Give your team a Friday or Tuesday off when they least expect it! Gestures like this go a long way.
Lastly, as a leader remember that your attitude and energy is contagious. Smile and try to keep things light whenever possible. It goes along way and your team will appreciate it! A smile and positive demeanour does not cost anything but makes a massive difference.
Good luck to all of you in Finance and Accounting as you finalise your Budgets and go through year-end. You are organisational heroes that should get recognised for your tremendous work!