Today, Excelerate =SUM(it) was all about agility, adaptability and staying ahead of the curve. From contemporary skills for strategic finance professionals to best practices on effectively implementing change within your organization, our thought leaders provided plenty of food for thought on powering your personal and professional growth while driving optimal business outcomes—even in the face of today’s challenging market conditions.
Our all-star speaker lineup included Microsoft MVP Megan Strant, “The FP&A Guy” Paul Barnhurst, Vena VP of Finance Muneerah Kanji, Vena Senior Consultant Vern Redwood and a panel discussion led by Vena VP of Sales Shaun Jansen, featuring Venanites Tom Seegmiller, Burzin Contractor and Laura Victoria.
Read on for our highlights from day four of Vena's third annual virtual conference.
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Agile Business Forecasting Best Practices
Speakers: Laura Victoria, VP, Global Talent Acquisition, Vena; Burzin Contractor, CPA, VP, Revenue Operations and Strategy, Vena; Tom Seegmiller, CPA, CA, VP, FP&A, Vena; Shaun Jansen, VP, Sales, Vena
Today, finance teams are at the forefront of change—leading their businesses as they plan for today and tomorrow. With this responsibility comes the need for a new way of working: an agile methodology for business forecasting.
Agile business forecasting is about more than just informing quick decision making. It’s about planning differently, growing smarter and harnessing change.
In today’s session, led by Vena VP of Sales Shaun Jansen and featuring fellow Venanites VP of FP&A Tom Seegmiller, VP of Revenue Operations and Strategy Burzin Contractor and VP of Global Talent Acquisition Laura Victoria, the panelists shared best practices for connected planning across finance, human resources and revenue operations to drive agility and resilience in the face of ever-changing business conditions.
Throughout the lively session, the trio (or the “three legs of a stool that support the business''—we’ll get to that shortly) shared their own personal experiences of achieving cross-functional alignment at Vena and how adopting an agile approach to business forecasting helped them get to where they are today.
Shaun kicked off the conversation by asking the panelists how they define agile business forecasting through the lens of their respective functions—finance, human resources and revenue operations.
“To me, agile forecasting means keeping up with the times,” said Tom. “It means not tethering yourself to a plan that you perhaps set at the beginning of a fiscal year and instead adopting and adapting as a business to ongoing changes in the macro economic environment. This includes changes in competition within your industry, regularly looking for new opportunities within the business, mitigating against any potential risks that could pop up and ultimately updating your plan on a regular basis so that it reflects the realities of your business.”
So does the way in which agile business forecasting is defined depend on which function you work in? Laura weighed in with her definition from a human resources perspective.
“You know, it actually doesn't differ at all. I think what Tom said is entirely spot on. When I think back over the last two years from a talent perspective, I don't think we could have necessarily anticipated the labor market conditions that we find ourselves in right now—and I think this is universal across industries,” Laura explained. “I've been part of organizations that have had a single forecast or plan for talent for the year and have ultimately had to throw it by the wayside because the market conditions simply no longer allowed for it. So it has this downstream impact with regards to our ability as a talent function to support the business because there was no agility with regards to the forecast. We were entirely unprepared for the market conditions we found ourselves in.”
Lastly, Burzin weighed in through the lens of revenue operations. “The way I see agile forecasting is as a ‘play’ to ultimately achieve our desired business outcomes. It allows us to make business decisions on a more timely basis, deploy resources and react accordingly to business information in real time as we receive it.”
By exercising a finance muscle that many other companies simply aren’t yet using, agile forecasting gives finance teams an advantage—ensuring the best processes and practices are in place to anticipate and adapt to whatever uncertainty arises throughout the course of the fiscal year, as Tom explained.
“Working within a business with all the dynamics and assumptions at play over the course of a year—and then expecting to be correct at the outset—is probably not an accurate assumption on our part,” he said. “You’re obviously going to try to achieve the best plan based on the information that you have today, but I think it’s good to acknowledge that what you have is imperfect information and the world is going to change and you're going to get better information over time—and you're going to want that opportunity to be able to course correct and tweak your plan accordingly.”
When asked how businesses can get started with agile business forecasting, Tom recommended beginning by sharing your vision and getting buy-in from your cross-functional partners in crime.
“I think the starting point is to make that decision yourself to say, ‘I want to operate differently as a finance organization,’ and then start with your partners in crime. In this instance, I'm calling my partners in crime the people team and the revenue operations team. I think about us as sort of ‘three legs of a stool’ that are supporting the business,” Tom explained. “So go to your partners in crime and share your vision with them. Tell them how you see operating differently and get their buy-in. Then, if all of you approach the business with a united front and say, ‘We truly believe that this is the optimal way to operate our business,’ the likelihood of the business accepting that in light of all of the changes that will have to occur to make it happen increases in leaps and bounds.”
And what about the benefits of agile business forecasting? Tom focused on two elements in particular: risk mitigation and having the ability to be opportunistic. “There are really two things that agile planning or rolling forecasts bring to the table. One, it gives you the opportunity to be opportunistic. How do you not miss out on extraordinary business opportunities through being too tied to a past plan?” Tom explained. “The second is risk mitigation. Over the past couple of years, some organizations have had to course correct just to survive. So [agile planning and rolling forecasts] are equally as valuable and equally important to an organization. I think the risk in not running an agile planning forecast is that your organization remains stagnant and you're either exposing yourself to risk or missing out on awesome opportunities because you failed to adapt.”
Beyond the obvious benefits of agile planning, Burzin also discussed the more intangible benefits that improved agility can bring to an organization. “There's certainly a lot of ‘intangibles' to having a strong agile process,” Burzin explained. “For example, from the employee side, I think you see it in their overall sense of happiness. At Vena, we conduct people surveys on a regular basis. And when we've got a strong process in place, strong data for people to work with and when people know how we're doing as a company, the results speak for themselves. They’re more positive. So there's definitely that intangible element to getting this process right.”
The conversation then turned to getting buy-in from key stakeholders across the organization and helping them see the advantages of adopting a more agile planning process.
“As things evolve and grow and improve, you find budget owners coming to you saying, ‘I want to talk to you about my next forecast. How do we shave this? How do I help?’ There's an element of excitement that starts to enter the mix,” Tom explained. “To me, that's the point at which you know you've achieved a strong level of business partnering within your organization. When you're no longer begging the business for their time and they’re coming to you instead and saying, ‘I really want to engage you because of the value you bring to this conversation’.”
In short, by adopting agile business forecasting best practices, as Tom, Burzin and Laura have demonstrated through Vena’s own experience in achieving cross-functional alignment, you too can turn change into an opportunity to realign your business plans and chart the best course for the future—no matter what that future might look like.
Contemporary Skills for Strategic Finance Professionals
Speakers: Paul Barnhurst, The FP&A Guy; Muneerah Kanji, MBA, CPA, CA, VP, Finance, Vena; Olivia MacDonald, CA, Senior Manager, Financial Systems and Operations, Vena; Truman Tang, VP, Customer Lifecycle and Community Marketing, Vena
To be a strategic finance professional, which contemporary skills do you need?
Vena VP, Customer Lifecycle and Community Marketing Truman Tang who moderated this panel began by asking this question before polling the panelists for what they believed is the most important skill for strategic finance professionals to have in order to thrive right now.
The “FP&A Guy” Paul Barnhurst said business partnering, Muneerah Kanji picked leadership and Olivia MacDonald chose agility. Each panelist shared anecdotes about their journey to finance. Olivia discussed her path from auditor to consultant because she wanted to learn about Vena’s Excel-native automation before moving into financial systems and operations. Paul talked about starting in government procurement and Muneerah shared that she first graduated in forensic science. It was a diverse panel—while they share little academic and early career overlap, the one thing they all have in common is they’ve become strategic finance professionals.
In a recent FP&A Trends report, it was described that there were five emerging FP&A roles that teams must play to be successful in planning and forecasting to fulfill the demands of the business: architect, analyst, data scientist, storyteller and influencer.
Which of these five do our panelists play? For Paul, none of them. He believed that there’s a sixth—interpreter—and a seventh—connector. Paul said he’s a connector and that he’s been doing this for a long time. Olivia saw herself as a connector-architect hybrid (she said they’re in high demand lately because there’s a growth in the volume of finance data and organizations are becoming more siloed). While Muneerah never “claimed” a role, she said teams need every role fulfilled to succeed.
This steered the conversation toward additional contemporary skills. The panel seemed to agree on the theme of partnerships and relationship building. They talked about overcommunicating, automation and change management, mentors and mentees, telling a story with data visualization, the many layers of asking “why”—beyond that first, surface-level “why”—and partnering with internal teams.
Evolving Relationships With Change Management Methods
Speaker: Megan Strant, Microsoft MVP
Microsoft MVP Megan Strant led us through the relationships and the different ways in which we can create effective change. She talked about change theories and models, the “Learning Pit,” change agents and concluded by providing change management templates.
She defined a change agent as “anyone in an organization who is a catalyst or advocate for change” and change management as the “structured strategic management approach aiming to implement changes effectively.”
Megan said anyone can be a change agent.
She explained the differences between a change theory and a change model, walking us through three theories—the Bridges Transition Theory, the Kubler-Ross Change Curve and the Nudge Theory—and three models—Lewin’s Change Model, McKinsey’s 7-S Model and ADKAR. As Megan guided us through these, she outlined situations where each would be effective. For example, Lewin’s doesn’t fit today’s world of ongoing change, but it’s effective for creating drastic change. ADKAR isn’t effective for a major transformation, but it’s great for the “people journey.” To Megan, the people journey is crucial to consider in change management. She asked, “What is your role in supporting the journey of others?”
As a change agent, you need to acquire trust and to give support.
“In your role, you could be explaining data, charts, forecasting or details about ledgers. You’re the expert on that detail and people need to understand and trust you. And supporting them will drive stronger change and results,” she said.
“If you’re doing a change management review and an impact assessment, talk to people and support them on their journey.”
These were Megan’s five qualities of a successful change agent:
- Demonstrate flexibility and resilience
- Recognize growth opportunity
- Stride for results
- Lead courageously
- Gain buy-in
Her provided templates—which included detailed program plans, micro/macro impact assessments, the Stakeholder analysis RACI Matrix and more—followed a “plan, assess and teach” approach. Megan’s session taught us a lot about evolving relationships and change management methods, but most importantly, she taught us that anyone can be a change agent.
Training: Vena’s Change Management Playbook
Speakers: Vern Redwood, CPA, Senior Consultant, Vena; Naman Gupta, Senior Lifecycle Marketing Manager, Vena
Change and adaptability are necessities in any business or industry in order to thrive. As technology disrupts and simultaneously ameliorates our workplace practices, it’s essential for businesses to be prepared to navigate change at both macro and micro levels.
Today, Vena Senior Consultant Vern Redwood and Vena Senior Lifecycle Marketing Manager Naman Gupta walked us through exactly how to implement change management processes to ensure that your organization's adoption of Vena is seamless and rewarding.
Building upon the principles of change management to further strengthen partnerships, Vern stressed the importance of storytelling to operationalize the process of adopting Vena.
The story goes like this:
The Prologue: Set the stage for change, including:
- Define reasons and goals for change
- Build out clear, visible project sponsorship
- Introduce Vena to employees
- Outline how the system works, how it integrates and the key foreseen benefits
- Share an estimated roll out date
Act 1: Generate desire for change, including:
- Have a call to action by main finance leader in your organization which reiterates support for change
- Appoint Vena Champions (employees designated to facilitate the transition)
- Identify who will require training
Act 2: Enable and ensure everyone is involved in the change, including:
- Schedule training
- Build a knowledge base of Vena
- Ensure everyone is able to demonstrate a working knowledge of the software
- Have training follow ups
- Create user acceptance testing
Act 3: Ensuring the change sticks, including:
- A clear “Go-Live” announcement
- Get feedback from users
- Take stock of what is working and what needs improvement
- Monitor usage over time
- Schedule Vena quarterly business reviews
According to Vern, the implementation of well-structured storytelling surrounding the implementation and adoption of Vena at your organization ensures that the value of Vena’s functionalities is fully understood and that your team is fully prepared for the change. In doing so, you can preemptively address hesitancy and give your company a proactive stance toward preventing resistance to change.