As a finance leader, you need timely information in order to deliver plans that guide decision-making. But when stakeholders are disengaged and unresponsive to your requests for input, you’re left scrambling during your planning process. You may feel undervalued as an administrative afterthought rather than a business partner.
You know that the finance function has the potential to be the fuel for business success, but it won’t happen without consistent input and mutual understanding with other departments.
How exactly do you get stakeholders to be more engaged? Let’s explore the challenges and opportunities of getting others involved in strategic financial planning – plus 5 strategies to get moving in that direction.
Getting Stakeholders Involved Can Be Challenging
As partners in the business, you’re all working towards a common goal of business success. So why does the annual planning and forecasting process sometimes feel like herding cats?!
Lack of engagement can begin when other departments don’t see the relevance of finance to their own plans and success. Interactions may be limited to the handful of times when the finance team asks for quarterly numbers or the plan for the next year. But the infrequent communication and lack of visibility may put finance on the sidelines.
If this pattern continues, other business units start to view finance as a traffic light to approve or disapprove of their individual plans, instead of as an air traffic controller who can enable and coordinate greater success for everyone through a data-driven planning process. Missed opportunities and blind decision-making become all too common.
Why is it so important to change this narrative? Because a different approach is possible, and it will transform how the entire business sees your finance function.
Why You Should Make the Effort
There’s one benefit of stakeholder engagement that all finance professionals will appreciate: fewer surprises! Frustrating conversations will be left in the past. No more hearing: “Oh, you didn’t know? So sorry, we made that decision two weeks ago. I should have thought to tell you.”
Once stakeholders are more engaged in a more strategic process, other common areas of friction will dissipate:
- The finance team won’t be spinning their wheels as they chase down other department leads for data and plans.
- Other departments won’t be waiting on finance to complete and deliver the updated reports that they need to check their spending against the annual plan.
Ultimately, higher stakeholder engagement gives the finance team the freedom to be a driving force for business success. They can support all departments to move in sync towards common goals, pivot when needed, and respond decisively in unpredictable economic times.
If you’re ready to change the tune of stakeholder engagement with finance, here are five proven strategies you need to try.
5 Strategies to Involve Stakeholders in Strategic Financial Planning
1. Rethink communication
It’s time to think of yourself as a business partner to all other departments. Ask yourself, “How can I support and bridge the gap between finance and operations so every other department knows they have my data-backed support?”
Your frequency of communication may need adjusting. Quy Dong, Stratify’s Director of Customer Success, explains:
“High-functioning finance teams see their jobs less as generating reports than as helping internal clients solve business problems—they reach out to them regularly, not just at the end of the month or the quarter.”
Make it a goal to gain insight as the finance leader into the ongoing projects, goals, and challenges of different departments.
2. Build relationships
If finance has been siloed for a while, it can really pay off to focus on relationships with stakeholders. It’s a reality of life that people are more likely to help those they know and trust. Take the time to get to know them as people – know how they’re doing and how their weekend was before you launch into your requests for information! Sit in meetings to gain a concrete understanding of their passions & priorities for their department.
You can even pay attention to how individual stakeholders prefer to communicate. Are they a face-to-face person? You might get input on the plan faster if you jump on a video call. Others might be silent over email but will respond quickly to an instant message. At scale, this may be less efficient. But for a smaller organization, it will be a great investment to build relationships and boost engagement.
3. Create your ‘Stakeholder Engagement Plan’
Not all stakeholders will automatically develop a high level of interest in strategic financial planning; that’s to be expected! A ‘Stakeholder Engagement Plan’ (SEP) is one way to plan ahead and adjust your communication and interactions.
The exercise asks you to consider the annual planning process from the perspective of other stakeholders and ask yourself: “How does an excellent plan built with quality input and completed on time benefit the R&D team? Or sales?” One may be highly invested, while another – not so much!
People will engage with a project when they care, and when they clearly see the value the finance team can bring through actual solutions and assistance to tackle challenges. Use your insight to give some context to each stakeholder when it’s time to request their involvement and support.
The SEP can also help you assess who might really want to access the plan in real-time, who is less likely to log in and check on their own, or who is eager but lacks the authority to make big decisions.
Use your SEP to be sure you’re offering the next step that each department leader needs to become more engaged. Enjoy the benefits of higher trust, synergy, and faster response time!
4. Provide real-time data
Consistent access to real-time data reduces friction in the decision-making process. It also reduces how often stakeholders need to come to finance asking for administrative support, like when marketing says, “Hey, can you look up what we spent last month on paid advertising?” This represents a big shift away from finance being the gatekeepers to being interpreters and business partners who empower other stakeholders to find the information they need with a few clicks.
You can leverage an FP&A tool like Stratify for support to buy back the time you need to be a partner to the business.
- Automated tools reduce the time that everyone spends waiting to see the annual plan and budget vs. actual reports. Stakeholders can log in themselves to access the latest relevant data and provide input. Security-first controls keep the most sensitive data for intended viewers only.
- FP&A tools provide a single source of truth and correct an over reliance on error-prone spreadsheets. This boosts your confidence as the finance leader that your numbers are rock solid as you advise stakeholders on changes they can make to see revenue gains or big cost savings.
5. Share the ‘why’ behind your numbers
- Data – use solid facts and figures, filtered to be the most relevant for stakeholders.
- Visuals – choose charts or visualizations that are as clear as possible, so stakeholders spend more time brainstorming solutions than eking out their own conclusions from the dataset.
- Narrative & context – take your deeper understanding of each department and use it to explain practical ways that forecasts or trends will affect them on a daily basis.
Lead the way and consistently dig into the ‘why’ behind the financial plans and updates you share with the executive team. Use your big-picture grasp of the trends to tee up strategic questions for business partners to consider. Just watch their posture change when they see the strategic value of your input!
It All Starts With Stakeholder Engagement
At Stratify, we talk a lot about the benefits of an integrated and collaborative approach to strategic finance. But without stakeholder engagement, the strategic reality just isn’t possible.
Fine-tuning your communications and building relationships will help you to engage thoughtfully across horizontal and vertical levels of the organization. Plus, when you have a solid data foundation from an FP&A tool and storytelling skills, stakeholders will know that their involvement helps you to help them.
So, when’s your next executive meeting? It’s time to show them the value that finance can deliver!
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