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What is Workforce Planning for Finance?

Workforce planning is the process of managing your business's headcount and hiring plan to achieve strategic goals. It’s a collaborative process between the finance team, HR, and stakeholders across all other business units to manage one of the business’s biggest expenses.

A strategic approach to workforce planning puts FP&A teams in the driver’s seat to gather key workforce data and analyze the impact that headcount changes would have on the business plan and achieving goals.

Workforce planning considers factors like predicted staffing needs, recruitment costs, salaries, and the organization’s strategic goals to ensure that every new hire and training initiative is a strategic decision to support long-term business health and success.

Why is workforce planning for finance important?

As an organization matures and increases in complexity, it will outgrow the ‘educated guess’ method of headcount planning. Workforce accounts for a large chunk of operating expenses – up to 70% for some businesses! That means that every headcount must be justifiable from a financial perspective.

Business leadership and the finance team must implement a metric-driven workforce plan to place guardrails around hiring, while still ensuring that the business has the staff in place to achieve top-line revenue growth and goals.

As the business grows, workforce planning becomes a more guided experience where FP&A coordinates across departments to manage headcount costs well. This metric-driven approach may seem like a rigid process, but it actually allows for greater flexibility.

“When the finance team knows the KPIs associated with adding, removing, or retaining headcount, they can easily create new scenarios or modify plans to fit business needs and changing economic factors.”
Quy Dong, Head of Customer Success at Stratify

Effective workforce planning ensures that:

  • Your financial plans reflect your actual workforce capacity, so you can adjust the hiring strategy to meet business goals.
  • Business resources are used effectively, especially considering the high costs of recruiting, hiring, and training talent, or a high churn rate.
  • Finance teams can spend less time hunting data and completing the manual reconciliation process – saving time for strategic analysis of workforce trends.
  • Finance teams can produce detailed models on a granular level, adjusting for complex factors like employee taxes, benefits, and bonuses.

Who is involved in the workforce planning process?

As we explain in Overcoming Challenges of Headcount Reconciliation with Best Practices, there must be a joint effort between FP&A teams, HR leaders, and all other budget owners to "manage all aspects of workforce planning, including a shared, accurate understanding of headcount." Each leader has an important role to play in the process.

  • Senior Leadership

As the business approaches a new fiscal year, it’s time for senior leadership to communicate their vision and goals to their teams. The CFO needs to guide discussions and decisions so there are sufficient funds allocated to workforce as the hiring plan is developed. Senior leaders should also keep their finger on the pulse of wider trends, opportunities, or risks and communicate those insights so the FP&A team can make more informed predictions and recommendations to business partners.

  • Finance

The FP&A team drives the workforce planning process as a key part of delivering the annual plan. After the executive leadership team delivers the top-line goal, FP&A needs to coordinate and collaborate back and forth with each department leader and build a plan for each team that supports the greater whole – including headcount plans.

Finance provides concrete headcount targets to guide each business leader in their planning. FP&A also supports HR with different scenario models to show possible outcomes of adding or subtracting headcount. Finance also has a continuous role in the headcount reconciliation process as they compare actual headcount decisions with what was planned, and adjust accordingly to stay on track.

  • HR

HR’s main role is to translate the strategic workforce plan into reality through the complexity of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, developing, managing, and firing employees. HR can answer the question of how to deliver on the workforce plan that was set to achieve strategic goals.

  • Department Leaders

As each business leader plans for the year, they may have a wishlist of headcount they’d like to add (in a desired timeframe), but their finance business partner can provide insights and support to determine how their plan fits with the organization’s wider strategic goals.

Common workforce planning challenges for FP&A teams

Workforce planning is a pillar of business planning and a key responsibility for finance teams to monitor and minimize loss and risk. So why is it still such a burden for financial analysts? Here are some of the top challenges for FP&A during headcount planning:

  • Tedious data gathering – Without headcount planning software, finance teams need to perform headcount reconciliation, gathering data from various business platforms and transferring into spreadsheets to reconcile actual vs planned headcount. Working from different spreadsheets with different numbers makes headcount reconciliation and building the workforce plan a pain to track and maintain.
  • Hidden errors – Manual calculations for salary expenses, benefits, taxes, and compensation changes are error-prone.
  • Inconsistent headcount definitions – HR, finance, and other departments don’t always agree on headcount! HR will be hiring for all positions in the organization – part and full-time, whereas finance is typically focused on budget allocation for full-time equivalents (FTEs). This causes confusion when FP&A reconciles the workforce plan with the hiring plan and numbers don’t match.
  • Struggle to collaborate – Financial analysts rely on input from HR to map actual positions in the headcount plan. Plus all department leaders need to be included to establish a new workforce plan once the top-line goals are handed down for a new financial year. Inconsistencies and incomplete data are likely to delay the process.

Workforce planning strategies & best practices

Implement these strategies to improve your workforce planning process:

  1. Align workforce plans with business objectives

Continuously check that your workforce plan is aligned with the short and long-term goals of the organization. Ignoring the long-term could lead to short-sighted staffing decisions that don’t pay off.

  1. Focus on people, processes, and systems

Look for ways to strengthen your FP&A team across these 3 areas.

  • People – Strengthen your communication with business partners, and learn more about the goals and struggles of each department.
  • Processes – How can you improve your planning process? Would a calendar help? Do you need to establish a more frequent rhythm of stakeholder meetings?
  • Systems – Do you have a workforce planning tool to automate your tedious spreadsheet-based reconciliation process? Prioritize a collaborative tool where stakeholders can view their business plan and respond to questions or comments.
  1. Stay agile

Be sure that your FP&A team has scenario-modeling capabilities, and use them to plan for possibilities like a market downturn, entering a new vertical, acquiring another business – anything that could dramatically affect your headcount.

  1. Stick close to HR

Determining concrete hiring targets is great, but the workforce plan is still lacking if FP&A isn’t familiar with hiring timelines, training routines, or new talent acquisition costs. Rely on HR insights so the plan is both fiscally- responsible and achievable.

  1. Get familiar with workforce KPIs

Use all the analytics tools at your fingertips to track key workforce metrics like employee turnover, revenue per employee, and time to fill. All of these will help you to better spot workforce trends and areas to improve in the business.

Learn More: Strategic Workforce Planning: 5 Tips for FP&A Professionals

Workforce planning tools and software

FP&A software solutions are an ideal way for finance teams to streamline the workforce planning process, including headcount reconciliation. Many organizations work within disconnected spreadsheets to manage workforce planning, but new solutions have emerged to speed up and improve this critical process.

Workforce planning software solutions do this in a few main ways:

  • Pull together data from HRIS, GL, and other business systems to be the source of truth for all stakeholders in the planning process.
  • Automatically display the latest data and track changes to assumptions for comparison, and prevent the dreaded question, “Is this info living in someone else’s spreadsheet?”
  • Reduce the time spent on manual headcount reconciliation by quickly matching actual vs planned positions to understand whether the organization is ahead or behind on planned headcount. In a collaborative FP&A tool like Stratify, HR business partners can access this workflow and complete the process themselves, saving valuable time for financial analysts.
  • Support payroll expense planning to forecast detailed payroll costs for positions in the workforce plan, such as benefits, merit increases, taxes, etc.
  • Allow for operations capacity modeling, plugging your workforce data into sales and operational models for a connected planning process.

Compare: The Top 5 Workforce Planning Tools for Strategic Finance

Future trends in workforce planning for FP&A

A finance-driven and strategic approach to workforce planning has never been more important. These 5 emerging trends are shaping the future of workforce planning. FP&A leaders, take note:

  1. Agility is a requirement

Post-pandemic, companies are working with a combination of office-based and remote employees. Workforce planning needs to be even more agile than before to find the right mix of in-person and remote teams to achieve revenue targets. The new element of remote headcount brings its own set of trends and KPIs (for example, your organization may experience variable retention rates between remote and office-based employees). Finance professionals need to discuss and adjust with their business partners and be prepared to support them with forecasts and data-backed recommendations.

  1. AI joins the team

Some enterprise-level workforce planning tools have begun to incorporate AI to provide predictive insights and models for salary calculations. Or, AI can be applied to analyze workforce data and performance and recommend custom training paths to help each employee build new skills. At a smaller scale, HR and Finance teams can use AI tools to make their interview process or onboarding process more efficient, saving time and resources.

  1. More contractors than ever before

The popularity of contracting and freelancing reveals a growing interest in alternatives to full-time, in-house positions. It’s not just Uber and DoorDash – consultants and freelancers are common in the corporate workforce too. Finance teams need to respond with careful attention to the benefits and risks of adding these workers into the mix. The workforce can scale up or down more quickly, but lower employee engagement or retention rates could cancel out potential profits. And because benefits and merit-based pay increases are different for ‘gig’ workers (and competitive pay is a top priority), FP&A must include those factors in the workforce plan.

  1. Skills gaps require investment

87% of organizations know they have a skills gap or will within the next few years. Leadership teams should pay careful attention to employee training and upskilling, otherwise, FP&A teams will start seeing inevitable losses due to high turnover and inability to achieve strategic targets. Respond by budgeting appropriately for employee training initiatives to plan and build a more resilient workforce.

  1. Multinational workforce

Remote work has also opened the door to a global talent pool, even for SMBs who operate in a single location. Hiring across the world introduces factors like time zones or cultural differences into the workforce planning process. Finance teams can support HR as the headcount expands internationally to track the quantitative aspects of this trend. Pay greater attention to KPIs around productivity and seasonal availability.

FP&A teams should pay close attention to these trends to increase the strategic value of workforce plans and add more value to leadership decisions.

Workforce planning FAQs

What is the difference between workforce planning and workforce management?

These two aspects of business planning both have efficiency and cost savings at their heart, but they’re not exactly the same.

  • Workforce management is an HR priority, focusing on whether employees are properly placed within the organization. Workforce management also covers day-to-day processes like payroll and time tracking to efficiently organize and supervise the workforce.
  • Workforce planning takes a wider view to consider how hiring and staffing decisions can support the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. Workforce planning pays careful attention to trends in the business to predict future needs or gaps and involves coordination between all departments. Because workforce makes up a large percentage of a company’s operating expenses, it’s a key component of the financial plan. Workforce planning seeks to manage those costs well and know the financial implications of adding or subtracting headcount.

Why should FP&A teams get involved in workforce planning?

Finance teams need to dive into workforce planning and coordinate with HR and business partners because they bring a unique perspective on the interplay of financial and operational data. When FP&A is involved in headcount planning, they can ensure that every headcount is financially justified and guide the organization towards achieving its goals without overspending. They coordinate and analyze data to align staffing needs with business objectives. That helps HR and department leaders to make strategic hiring choices and allocate their resources more effectively.

What are some practical ways for FP&A to support the workforce planning process?

FP&A teams can provide the data and operational insights to make workforce planning a strategic and financially informed component of the business plan.

These additional tasks support a more efficient headcount planning process:

  • Provide different scenario models of staffing plans to HR leaders, with the financial implications of each.
  • Provide data on budget limitations and opportunities for all departments to make informed hiring decisions.
  • Analyze and forecast the costs of hiring, training, and retaining employees, including benefits and compensation.
  • Track KPIs related to workforce efficiency, to stay in line with financial goals.
  • Support HR to ensure that staffing levels are aligned with the business’s strategic objectives.

What's wrong with the current approach to workforce planning?

Many organizations are stuck with a workforce planning process where finance and HR operate separately. Because their GL, HRIS, and ERP systems aren't integrated, finance and HR definitions of headcount and records don't match up. Without alignment, these businesses are losing money over time due to poor headcount planning and can't react quickly to market changes. These inefficiencies lead to misalignment between workforce capabilities and business needs, and missed opportunities for growth and innovation.

What should I look for in a strategic workforce planning tool or platform?

Workforce planning tools should simplify and automate key steps in the process. Look for these key features as you compare options:

  • Headcount Reconciliation: Ability to reconcile new hires, terminations, and backfills efficiently, leveraging automation.
  • Workforce Analytics and Reporting: Provides self-service access to detailed workforce analytics.
  • Integrated Planning: Ensures that headcount-based expenses are updated automatically in the financial plans.
  • Scenario Modeling: Capability to create 'what-if' scenarios and assess their impact on the plan.
  • Customizable Dashboards: Look for pre-built or customizable dashboards to keep business partners informed.
  • Excel Compatibility: For finance teams who prefer Excel
  • Security and Access Controls: To maintain data security as business partners collaborate on the workforce plan.
  • Comprehensive Integrations: Seamless integration with your HRIS, ERP, and other business systems.

What does an FP&A analyst do?

An FP&A analyst is responsible for budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis to support strategic decision-making. They create and manage budgets, develop financial forecasts, and perform variance and trend analysis. They prepare financial reports, conduct scenario analysis, and assist in long-term planning. Additionally, they work on process improvement, cost control, and special projects while collaborating with various departments to gather data and provide insights. Their role ensures accurate financial data management and effective communication with stakeholders to inform business decisions.

Is FP&A a good career?

A career in Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) is a good choice due to strong demand, competitive salaries, and clear career growth opportunities. FP&A professionals develop valuable skills in financial modeling, data analysis, and strategic planning, influencing company strategy and decision-making. The role offers flexibility across industries and continuous professional development, making it a rewarding and impactful career path. A career in FP&A begins as a Financial Analyst and can eventually lead to a Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Related resources

The Top 5 Workforce Planning Tools for Strategic Finance - If you’re ready to streamline your processes, here’s a breakdown of the leading strategic workforce planning software platforms. The guide compares your top options based on your business size and priorities.

Overcoming Challenges of Headcount Reconciliation With Best Practices - Tired of spending days on headcount reconciliation? Incorporate these best practices to save time and eliminate headaches.

5 Workforce Planning Trends and How FP&A Teams Can Confidently Respond - Explore 5 emerging trends are changing the future of the workforce planning process, including AI, the rise of the contractor, and looming skills gaps.

Strategic Workforce Planning: 5 Tips for FP&A Professionals - Practical tips to improve the speed and accuracy of your workforce planning process, and achieve stakeholder alignment too! 

Why Your FP&A Team Is Spending Too Much Time Modeling

An over reliance on manual modeling is wasting analysts' valuable time. Worse, it’s keeping your finance team from providing strategic insights to the business that are desperately needed. Adding headcount isn’t an instant fix – especially if the analysts you hire are still in the modeling mindset. To mature as a strategic finance team, you’ll have to reconsider the skills you need on your team moving forward. 

Our VP of Product Management, Nate Skelton, drew from his finance experience with Workday Adaptive Planning and PopSugar to write a tough-love article explaining the top challenges with FP&A modeling and why financial analysts should reconsider where they expend their energy: Embrace the Future: Why Financial Modeling Skills Don't Define the Value of Analysts Anymore.

“It's time to recognize that an analyst’s value is no longer defined solely by financial modeling wizardry.”

Here’s a snapshot of his top 5 reasons why you need to reassess how you allocate FP&A time and develop your team of analysts.

1. Your Analysts are Always Crunched for Time 

Adding strategic value to the business through operational + financial insights takes time. So does modeling. If you want to get to the next level, something’s gotta give. 

2. Modeling is Holding Them Back 

Yes, it’s how things have always been done. But complex spreadsheet-based models have their limitations. Even your most experienced analyst will miss a formula error. And there’s often a bottleneck when business partners request a new forecast. There’s no easy way for them to share their CRM or HRIS data, so important tasks like headcount reconciliation take much longer than they need to.  

“I was always fearful that an inconsistent assumption or hidden formula error in my work would lead to a flawed decision.”

3. Next-Generation Tools Have Arrived 

Modern FP&A SaaS platforms like Stratify are revolutionizing strategic financial planning by replacing bespoke models with highly configurable, cloud-based models that all stakeholders can contribute to. 

“Many analysts take pride in the sophistication of the models they’ve built, so trusting the business logic in a SaaS platform can seem radical or suspect. But hear me out.”

Nate explains that he longed for these capabilities after spending so much time on lower-value activities in previous analyst roles.

As the finance leader, these tools are well worth your consideration. Your financial plans are only as good as your data, and your business needs plans to be informed by accurate data from stakeholders themselves. 

4. You Have to Make Strategic Hiring Decisions  

Your analysts may love providing complex spreadsheets. But there are better opportunities for their professional development if they are willing to branch out and grow their operational knowledge and collaborative relationships with other business partners. 

“If a CFO can purchase software that can replace your spreadsheets, and instead employ analysts who are financial educators who can interpret the numbers and guide the business…your current role may be on the sunset list.”

In fact, according to a study conducted by FP&A Trends, there has been a substantial increase in organizations seeking expertise in business partnering.

FP&A Trends Group, ©2023

5. There’s So Much to be Gained 

The future of FP&A is focused on new frontiers of data-driven storytelling, problem-solving, and integrated stakeholder planning. Leverage your big-picture view of trends and produce new models with agility that isn’t possible in the old reality of siloed data and reliance on spreadsheets. 

“The new definition of success also includes understanding business dynamics and industry trends.”

Don’t get us wrong – modeling will always be a core skill your financial analysts should possess.

But as Nate explains, they’re also desperate to reclaim the long days and weekends of building new scenarios and hunting down formula errors. As the finance leader, you can equip and encourage them to gain these new and valuable analyst skills. 

Read Nate’s full article HERE, with more practical advice for future-proofing FP&A teams. 

Why FP&A Teams Use Driver-based Planning

The common theme? Less time spent on administration and hunting down formula errors. More time for analysis and welcoming business partners into the process. 

Note: To see exactly what it's like to use a configurable, driver-based platform, check out three simple steps for crating a complex salary assumption in Stratify.

5 Reasons to Choose a Tool with Driver-based Planning

1. Replace the outside consultants

Enterprise FP&A software often relies on complicated scripting that sets a high bar for learning to modify the simplest change – even for an Excel wiz. As a result, many companies rely on outside consultants to write complex formulas to build (and inevitably, to update) their models.

‍This takes away ownership from your team, and it’s very expensive. Distancing yourself from the process with a consultant means that you may not learn the underlying formulas they built to deliver on your assumptions.

“When I worked as a financial analyst with a different FP&A tool, I would always forget how to perform simple functions if I wasn’t regularly in the platform. 
My experience with Stratify is different. When I log in I can easily see and remember how to quickly modify an assumption behind an expense, even if it’s been a while.” 
Stratify user, Technology Company

Alternatively, driver-based forecasting platforms, with intuitive, configurable business logic, like Stratify, actually give you more ownership over your models, without the need to maintain the formula logic or manage the inevitable complexity of frequently expanding models.

Instead of calling your consultant or admin to add a growth factor for inflation for expenses, you can grab that driver from the bank in Stratify and apply it to your scenario or plan.

This transparency will boost your confidence as an analyst and prevent detrimental knowledge loss if that skilled admin leaves your business. Stratify equips you to build and adjust your own models and confidently share them with stakeholders.

2. Minimize human errors

As finance pros, we take pride in being the ones who can deliver scenarios for the leadership team that no one else can, built from scratch in a complex spreadsheet. But we’re hesitant to admit that manual modeling is error-prone. If you're planning in spreadsheets, switching to a 3rd gen FP&A tool can prevent those costly errors.

‍We see this firsthand in our configuration process. The initial migration to Stratify involves our success team partnering with customers to rebuild their existing plan(s) in our platform. We configure our business logic based on their unique requirements to build and validate their model in Stratify.

‍“My team has discovered formula errors in almost all of our customers’ plans! When we configure a customer’s plan in Stratify and it doesn’t match their plan, it’s usually because of an error in the customer’s model – an incorrect formula assumption hidden deep in a spreadsheet somewhere, but no one knows it's there.” 
Quy Dong, Head of Customer Success at Stratify

We all know how easy it is to make a formula error that will set you down the wrong path. Stratify delivers accuracy from the start and eliminates the fat-finger errors that every analyst fears. We’ve found this combination of human expertise plus powerful technology to be unbeatable.

3. Retain flexibility
In Stratify, driver-based planning dovetails with a familiar spreadsheet interface for ultimate flexibility. This is the ideal place for ad hoc modeling (like modeling the impact of various levels of marketing spend, or sales hiring) before you adjust the assumptions in your business plan. You can also develop monthly reporting packages customized for stakeholders. The major difference is that, unlike Excel or Google Sheets, these spreadsheets are connected to your real-time financial and workforce data to maintain accuracy. 

4. Easy for the whole team to understand

Strategic finance requires a collaborative planning process, but both legacy FP&A tools and spreadsheets make collaboration difficult. Stratify makes it easy for finance and other business users to understand the context behind the numbers in the plan. One click reveals plan assumptions in “plain English” in a sidebar. No one needs to decode complex formulas.

For example, in this image below of a Travel & Entertainment expense assumption, it is easy for anyone to understand that it is headcount-based and the current monthly planning rate is $275.

Adjusting T&E expense for the Sales Department in an OpEx plan in Stratify

5. One integrated plan

Modern businesses need the finance function to be like an air traffic controller, coordinating the flow of operational and financial information across the business. When you break down data silos and incorporate your GL, CRM, and HRIS data into Stratify, any changes to headcount, OpEx, or revenue assumptions will flow into the financial plan, so nothing gets overlooked. 

FP&A plans are constantly changing and analysts are great at bringing order out of the chaos. But teams who plan in complex, disconnected spreadsheets are feeling the pain.

A platform like Stratify provides a better experience – a collaborative way to plan where you won’t need to write every formula, search for errors, and email the 17th version of a budget spreadsheet back & forth across departments.

“Before Stratify, we were doing everything on Excel. People couldn’t collaborate in one tool and in one version at the same time. It was very hard for us to plan. Now I have more time to do more value-added work.“ 
Tina Lai, Finance Manager at Spotnana 

Read the Spotnana Customer Story 

Is Driver-based Modeling Right for You?  

If your FP&A team is stuck in a reactive approach to budgeting and planning, then driver-based modeling is the change you need to break the cycle.

Stratify is an ideal next step for teams who are frustrated with legacy FP&A tools and want to give ownership back to their finance team. It's also a great fit for FP&A teams who are tethered to spreadsheets and want to incorporate all business data for a clear view of the trends and opportunities across all areas of the business. Stratify provides the starting point for accurate, collaborative plans and forecasts you can share with stakeholders for strategic decision-making. 

We’re convinced that once you see and feel the difference of planning with configurable drivers, you’ll never want to go back. Get in touch today to take a look inside Stratify. 

It may seem like a leap of faith to pull your opex or workforce plan out of spreadsheets or a legacy FP&A solution, and switch to a 3rd gen FP&A tool to plan. But in our experience, concerns about control and customization are quickly resolved when finance teams see and feel the difference in their workflow (and stress levels!) 

What It’s Like to Model in a Driver-based FP&A Platform (Hint: You’ll Never Pay a Consultant Again)

At Stratify, we’re here to prove that an FP&A platform can relieve analysts from the burden of modeling. More than that, FP&A tools like Stratify provide the time-savings you need in order to finally shift your focus to more value added work and business partnering.

But how is that actually possible?

Imagine you want to start building a deck onto your home. You can picture the end result in your head, and you even know the steps you need to take to construct it. One big problem: you don’t have any tools. Your project just got a lot more complicated, and now you’ll need to call a contractor to come in and help. 

In other FP&A platforms, you are stuck without the tools you need for the job at hand. It’s difficult to change consultant-built models to adapt to changes in your business. As a result, you’re reliant on specialists to make adjustments. But Stratify equips you with the tools you need to dive into your project, plus some of the initial building blocks to build, modify, and adjust your financial plans with a few simple clicks – no need to scrap the project and start over.

How does configurable FP&A modeling work in Stratify? 

No need to write formulas in Stratify. Instead you configure business logic.

The underlying logic in the Stratify platform mimics analyst behaviors in the real world. We know the various assumptions analysts will need to input to produce a plan, and we have built a bank of drivers that finance teams can use to efficiently build (and modify) their plans, forecasts, and scenarios.

This process makes it easy to simplify and verify the calculations in your plans and forecasts.  

Three Easy Steps 

There are three steps to configuring a calculation and creating plan data in Stratify:

  1. SELECT & CONFIGURE A DRIVER. Choose the business logic driver that aligns with what you want to plan (expense or revenue).
  2. DEFINE ADDITIONAL ASSUMPTIONS.  Give the assumption a name and input values that leverage dimensions of your business.
  3. MAP IT.  Map the driver to the appropriate general ledger account.

For example, let's take a complex calculation like salary. Here are screenshots that show how easy it is to configure the logic and assumptions for that expense.

Step 1. SELECT & CONFIGURE THE DRIVER. Since you are planning for Employee Wages, you would select Stratify’s Salary driver. Each driver has various pre-built configurations available to you in a "plain English" sidebar. For example, define how many months an employee needs to be with your company before they qualify for a merit increase:

Step 2. DEFINE ADDITIONAL DRIVER ASSUMPTIONS as needed based on your unique needs. In this example, “Annual Merit” (Increase):

STEP 2 continued. INPUT ASSUMPTION VALUES. In this example, a 5% merit increase in June: 

STEP 3. MAP. In this example we are using the Wages general ledger account (602101 Wages) to map to the Salary measure in Stratify:

That's it! Now you can review the output in your reports and plans.

You Have Options

Configuring drivers is not the only way to plan in Stratify. 

You can input values manually where needed. Expenses that have no driver element – the one-time cost of a team event, for example – are easy to add to the plan.

For the ultimate in flexibility, we also offer a spreadsheet interface for ad hoc modeling. You can import an existing model or reporting template, or create a model from scratch. The advantage here is that formulas in the spreadsheet seamlessly integrate your current workforce and financial data. 

A custom sales plan in the Stratify spreadsheet interface.

Is Stratify Right For You? 

,Agility and efficiency are top goals for most businesses, and Stratify makes fast, flexible and transparent planning your new normal. With Stratify, you can support your stakeholders in data-driven decision-making and have a much bigger impact on business performance.

We’re taking a domain-based approach to build a better FP&A platform. Currently, we support expense, and workforce planning for any company that does workforce planning for salaried employees.  As experienced FP&A experts we have built best practices into Stratify. When we encounter customers with new requirements, we build that into our bank of assumptions and drivers so that all Stratify users can benefit.  

Stratify delivers a level of visibility and control that isn’t possible with complex legacy systems. Ready to see your future without the pain of manual modeling? Book a consultative demo now!

Top FP&A Software Solutions: Tool Recommendations for Your Company Size

If you’re searching for an FP&A software solution, you have no shortage of options. There are so many vendors vying for your business that it’s hard to pinpoint the distinctive features of each one. If you’re looking to increase efficiency and the strategic value of your business plans, an FP&A tool can take you beyond spreadsheet modeling and its limitations. 

We’re here to help you make sense of it all and narrow down your options. Let’s dig into the most common features that they all share, and your top FP&A software choices whether you have SMB, midmarket, or enterprise-level requirements. 

The Essential Functions of FP&A Software

All FP&A solutions exist to help finance teams spend less time on tedious tasks and focus more on analysis and other strategic activities. Generally, they do this in four ways: 

1. Integrate with Key Systems: Linking seamlessly with ERP, HRIS, and CRM systems, these tools centralize critical financial data, saving countless hours in data gathering and reconciliation.

2. Facilitate Streamlined Planning: Bypass the manual, disconnected nature of spreadsheet-based planning. Create integrated forecasts and annual plans based on the latest data and business intelligence.

3. Automate Reporting: Monthly and quarterly reporting become a breeze with automation features, enhancing efficiency and accuracy.

4. Drive In-Depth Analysis: From budget versus actual reports to advanced KPI dashboards, these tools uncover the narratives hidden within numbers.

Even with this common ground, there are lots of differences to explore. Here’s a look at the top solutions on the market right now to help you find your sweet spot. 

Top FP&A Solutions for Diverse Business Needs

Midmarket Favorites 

For when you want the agility of modern FP&A software but need additional features like the ability to consolidate multiple general ledgers and plan in multiple dimensions. 

These midmarket FP&A tools take a user-first approach and offer lots of self-service features, but low or no implementation fees or lengthy timelines. 

1. Stratify Our #1 recommendation to achieve a collaborative and coordinated financial planning process. Stratify is a cloud-based budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and workforce planning solution platform that uses configurable driver-based FP&A modeling to support agile strategic finance teams. 

  • Onboarding in as little as 3 weeks, which starts with building your current plans in our configurable framework. 
  • Make adjustments yourself – no more waiting (or paying) for model changes. 
  • Enjoy a flexible approach to planning. Create your financial plan in a driver-based application for accuracy, transparency and collaboration workflows. Or, use a spreadsheet interface for ad hoc modeling that is connected to your data.
  • Collaborate easily with stakeholders and share plans or reports securely with relevant business partners to gathershare their input directly. 
  • Reduce your time spent on repetitive FP&A tasks and creating custom stakeholder reports. Become the strategic finance business partner that your organization needs. 

Best For: 

  • Expanding businesses that need to consolidate multiple GL systems.
  • Teams that need to reduce time spent on manual processes like modeling and reconciling data.
  • Teams that no longer want to rely on outside consultants or IT specialists to modify their plans. 
  • A streamlined headcount reconciliation process for effective workforce planning and collaboration with HR. 
  • FP&A teams that are using a more expensive and complicated software solution, but aren’t getting the efficiencies or results they need. 

Key Integrations: Stratify can seamlessly consolidate data from multiple sources, including multiple GLs, HRIS, and CRM. This helps fast-growing businesses navigate the complexity of their operations, prevent errors, and support agile decisions with real-time data. 

  1. Pigment - Pigment is a cloud-based SaaS business planning software platform that puts the focus on strategic decision-making and agility. Pigment offers scenario modeling, custom dashboards, and reports. 

Best For:

  • Whole business planning. Built for finance teams, but revenue, sales, HR, and executive teams can all use the platform for better insight into performance + collaborative planning. 
  • Teams that need an API-first, modular approach to their FP&A solution. 

Key Integrations: Pigment integrates data across systems including ERP, accounting, HRIS, ATS, billing and payment, BI solutions, and Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheets. 

  1. Prophix - Prophix is designed for finance teams at mid-market organizations. It improves profitability and minimizes risk by automating budgeting, forecasting, reporting and consolidation-to-close processes for better decision making. Prophix began as an on-premise solution but now offers a cloud option.

Best For: 

  • Teams that need robust access controls for enhanced data security. 
  • Capable teams that can develop expertise in the platform. Users who are not regularly accessing your Prophix instance may need support from administrators to navigate. 
  • Advanced analytics, with the ability to drill down and view data on a transaction level. 
  • Automating repetitive FP&A tasks. 
  • Finance teams that want one platform to complete the FP&A, close, consolidation, reporting, and planning processes. 

Key Integrations: Prophix boasts its data integration interface that is simple for any admins to access and update without needing to call in IT. Connect all your business systems using their own integration solution or a flexible API. 

Honorable Mentions:

Enterprise Solutions

Look for the highest standards of integration with other solutions (like SAP or Oracle) and incredible computing power. You need an enterprise FP&A software instance built for your unique requirements and specifications, and you still value saving as much time as possible to put your analysts to work on higher-value projects. 

  1. Anaplan - One of the most recognized ‘legacy’ systems, Anaplan is a SaaS modeling and planning platform that offers sophisticated modeling capabilities that live up to complex enterprise-level finance needs. 

Best For: 

  • Making accurate and instant calculations within enterprise-level datasets of billions of cells to create new business scenarios with ease. 
  • Organizations with advanced data security requirements and complex data architectures. 
  • Organizations with large IT teams to manage the complex product and implementation process. 
  • Teams that need a highly customized instance configured to their specifications (no pre-configured starter models).

Key Integrations: Anaplan easily integrates with enterprise-level cloud systems, including Google BigQuery, AWS S3, and Microsoft Azure Blob. No trouble connecting systems of record, but the integration within Excel is limited compared to other Excel-first solutions. 

  1. OneStream - OneStream is an integrated business planning solution that can be used on-premise or in the cloud. OneStream excels in collaboration and Microsoft integrations, suitable for businesses wanting a balance of features and customizations.

Best For: 

  • Businesses looking for an all-in-one solution to collaborate across business units but maintain strict access controls. 
  • Businesses that want an Excel add-in option and other strong Microsoft integrations but don’t need to plan and model exclusively in Excel. 
  • SMBs that want to upgrade their FP&A solution for more features, but don’t need enterprise-level bespoke configurations. 

Key Integrations: OneStream provides direct integration with over 250 ERP, HCM, CRM, and other systems including Oracle, SAP, Microsoft AX/Dynamics, and more.

  1. Planful - Planful is a top alternative to midmarket options like DataRails and Prophix. It’s a comprehensive financial performance management platform that empowers finance teams to make highly impactful business decisions and act as a single source of truth for its financial and operational data. 

Best For: 

  • Teams that need a flexible and comprehensive financial planning and performance management tool across multiple business units, including accounting, sales, HR, IT, and operations.
  • FP&A teams that want to work more collaboratively and align the planning process across their business. 
  • Teams that can be patient with complex models and willing to set up templates in Planful.

Key Integrations: Planful boasts an integration strategy to keep all your business data regularly updated, with no limit on how many sources you can connect. They use a library of open RESTful APIs and SFTP (secure file transfer protocol) tools so you can access all your business data in your Planful instance. 

Honorable Mentions: 

Small Business and Startups

As a small business, you may not need a bespoke instance, global planning, or support for hundreds of users from your FP&A tool. But you still want to plan and report at the speed of business and provide strategic recommendations to stakeholders.

  1. Mosaic - A user-friendly cloud-based solution, great for SaaS businesses and teams favoring visual data representation.

Best For:

  • Teams that want multiple visualization options to share data, including charts, dashboards, and graphs, plus the ability to combine different department reports. 
  • SaaS businesses that benefit from Mosaic’s SaaS-focused features. 

Key Integrations: Mosaic allows teams to connect their other cloud-based systems, and synchronize multiple ERP systems to streamline data management across the business. 

  1. DataRails - Stands out for its Excel-native approach and AI-assisted analysis, making it ideal for teams comfortable with Excel and seeking advanced reporting automation.

Best For: 

  • Teams that place a high value on their analysts’ modeling skills and are most comfortable with Excel.  
  • Experimenting with AI through their FP&A Genius feature (currently in beta), which offers conversational AI analysis of your data to uncover trends.  
  • Robust reporting automation helps to streamline this critical process for finance teams, including automatic monthly report exports. 
  • Smaller businesses that want to embrace strategic finance functions in their early stage. 

Key Integrations: DataRails Flex offers an Excel add-in to connect your workbooks to the wider business data and access FP&A tools within your spreadsheets. 70+ other integrations, although it does not offer automatic Excel or Quickbooks integrations.

Honorable Mentions:

Choosing Your Perfect FP&A Partner   

There are lots of strong options, but not all of them will be right for your business and FP&A goals. Narrow down the choices by your business size and priorities, and clear contenders will rise to the top. Consider deployment time, data integration capabilities, simplicity in forecasting and budgeting, user-friendliness, and stakeholder collaboration support.

At Stratify, we empower midmarket and fast-growing finance teams to engage stakeholders across the organization in the planning process. With Stratify, you can have data and collaboration processes in one place, making it easy to report, analyze, and plan. Plus, you’ll be able to move away from the burdens of traditional spreadsheet modeling and endless versioning (errors and all!). 

Book a demo and get ready to see the difference of planning, reporting, and forecasting in Stratify.

What is Strategic Finance?

Strategic finance is an evolution of Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) that sees the finance function as the heart of effective decision-making and planning for the entire organization. Decisions are happening fast. Business leaders need accurate data from across the organization at their fingertips ready to leverage when opportunities arise. This approach helps the whole business to connect insight to action by enabling the two-way flow of financial and operational insights in real time. 

Learn more: 7 FP&A Trends to Watch 

Defining strategic finance 

Strategic finance is an approach to FP&A that focuses on how the finance team can become a vital partner to the business and drive success. Strategic financial planning and analysis views the process as an opportunity to: 

  • Unite the business in the planning process
  • Use all available data plus stakeholder expertise to create more accurate forecasts
  • Drive faster, informed decision-making.  

Operational engagement is often the missing link that holds teams back. Without FP&A leading the way and fostering connections, business units tend to lose sight of how their individual plans fit together and affect each other.

“A key differentiator of strategic finance is the ability to predict downstream outcomes and the possible impact of big decisions.” - Brian Camposano, CEO at Stratify 

Strategic finance embraces these critical components of organizational success:

  • Synthesized data from the whole organization that supports workforce planning and sales planning, not just financial planning
  • Timely analysis fed back to business leaders
  • Operational insights incorporated into plans
  • Collaboration and partnership
  • Agility and alignment

What is Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A)?

FP&A, or the Financial Planning and Analysis function, sits within the finance department of a business. FP&A works alongside other finance teams like accounting & governance, and risk & compliance. The FP&A leader and team analyze financial and operational data in order to evaluate past performance. They incorporate those insights into future planning, budgeting, and revenue forecasting to inform business leaders and bolster the overall financial health of the business.

The FP&A function typically focuses on:

  • Gathering, verifying, and organizing data from all departments to be used in planning. 
  • Producing an annual plan for the business, and then reporting on actual performance against that plan (Budget vs. Actual, or BvA).
  • Analyzing financial and operational KPIs.
  • Creating bespoke reports for management and the executive team on financial and operational trends. 
  • Generating predictive models or multi-scenario plans to inform stakeholders of possible outcomes of different strategies. 
  • Supporting the HR team and business stakeholders in workforce planning with accurate, timely headcount reconciliation and forecasts with the latest information available.

What's the difference between FP&A and strategic finance?

In general, strategic finance describes an FP&A function that has become more forward-thinking, operationally focused, and proactive in partnership with the business. Some organizations may have a dedicated strategic finance leader or team separate from FP&A, who report to the CFO or Head of Finance. But any finance team can evolve to become more strategic over time, whether or not they have a dedicated team.

In a strategic finance future, FP&A takes a more central role in the business. Strategic FP&A unlocks the vital connection between finance and operations to build the future of the business, not to just keep the day-to-day running.

When you approach strategic finance as a mindset and priority shift, opportunities to be more strategic will pop up everywhere in your process. 

Here is a general comparison of the two:

Your Page Title
Traditional FP&A Strategic Finance
Backwards-looking reports Forward-thinking forecasts and scenario planning that incorporate operational data
Scattered data Unified data
Juggling multiple systems + spreadsheets Connected, powerful SaaS platform
Data-gathering & financial modeling Proactive strategic engagement
Finance leader is disconnected from decision-making Finance leader is valuable partner and driver of decisions and C-suite strategy
Financial analyst mired in tedious tasks Financial analyst are valuable partners to their colleagues

What's the difference between finance and xP&A?

Finance and xP&A are quite similar. A term coined by Gartner, stands for ‘Extended Planning and Analysis’. Think of it as company-wide planning that is orchestrated by Finance. Typically, workforce planning and sales planning - two operating areas that have the most impact on financial outcome – are the first to be integrated as an extension of financial planning.

If strategic finance is the overarching approach to corporate financial planning, xP&A is like the detailed strategy to apply those strategic finance principles to every department’s plans using advanced tools. It is an evolution of FP&A that takes a modernized, leadership approach to improve on established processes and effectively manage the complexity of modern business datasets and operations.

xP&A incorporates advanced analytics, operational data, and continuous forecasting to help the entire organization synchronize its plans and share real-time data. 

Much like strategic finance, xP&A aims to:

  • Connect the operational plans from every business unit to the financial plan.
  • Connect those plans to the strategic objectives of the business.
  • Orchestrate the reporting and planning process with a collaborative and transparent approach.

The problem with the status quo

There’s a lot at stake if finance teams are unable to become more strategic. Here are some top challenges finance teams are facing:

1. Too much time is spent on manual processes, leaving little time for strategy.

2. A struggle to orchestrate the production of a timely annual plan that’s informed by all stakeholders.

3. Stale data and error-prone manual financial analysis methods.

4. A struggle to collaborate & engage stakeholders in the planning process.

5. Unable to support quick pivots or sudden opportunities with data-informed advice and fast scenario building.

6. Finance is seen as irrelevant or only the gatekeeper to money, and left out of big decisions.

7. Accurate data to support workforce planning and strategic personnel decisions. 

8. Compliance and data security concerns over keeping financial data secure. 

Learn more about key challenges + solutions for strategic finance teams. 

What are the benefits of strategic finance?

A strategic finance function is a powerful asset to any business. Here are the top benefits of becoming more strategic:

1. Stronger connections across the business 

Finance can only be the heart of the business if it works hand-in-hand with other departments. Strategic finance teams are uniquely positioned to have a detailed understanding of operational KPIs and the challenges and opportunities for each business unit. A strategic finance team focuses on collaborative planning. They form plans and scenarios that are informed by real-time data from ERP, HRIS, and CRM systems and business intelligence directly from other stakeholders.

2. Finance proactively influences business strategy. 

A strategic finance leader has a seat at the table and helps to direct the business. Other leaders acknowledge and appreciate the impactful and accurate guidance that finance can offer. Strategic finance teams are relevant, collaborative, and vital to success.

3. Agility and visibility enable decisive leadership

No more blind decision-making – strategic finance teams bring insights from real-time access to operational and financial data so that the full picture is in view when options are on the table and time is of the essence.

4. An efficient + productive approach to FP&A

Leveraging modern, SaaS-based tools, strategic finance teams are able to spend less time on data reconciliation and modeling. Instead, they are free to be more proactive and focus on analysis and partnership with other business leaders to make better predictions.

5. Increased accuracy 

Strategic finance teams adopt next-gen FP&A tools to reduce the likelihood that errors and stale data will muddle up or delay their reporting and planning processes. 

Steps to strategic finance maturity 

  • Approach strategic finance as a journey. 

Break the process down into smaller steps and keep your goals in sight for each stage. Taking clear steps to streamline your processes, you can help shift your finance team to be the financial heart of the business.

  • Choose the right technology. 

An FP&A platform can automate many of the time-consuming and manual elements of data-gathering and reporting. This frees your time to improve agility, reporting frequency, and stakeholder partnership.

For example, Stratify will automatically join your business data from disparate systems (general ledger, HRIS, and CRM), enabling faster analysis. Most importantly, an FP&A tool gives access to real-time data, which is an essential part of strategic finance. You can’t bring unique insights to the business if you’re modeling and forecasting with stale or incorrect data.

FP&A tools can also offer increased forecasting sophistication, helping you identify possible operational changes that could translate to efficiencies and financial gains for the business.

  • Engage stakeholders in the process. 

Rethink your communication frequency, build real relationships with stakeholders, provide them with access to data, and make an actual plan for how to include them. 

Learn more: Getting Stakeholders Involved in the Planning Process

How does technology enable strategic finance? 

Emerging tools have dramatically reduced the time FP&A teams need to spend on the reporting and planning process. To be more effective, you must have access to real-time data from ERP, CRM, and HRIS systems, plus insight into operational KPIs. 

Many finance leaders have stacked multiple tools to achieve this. Or, you can opt for a platform like Stratify to join all that data together and then use configurable business logic and driver-based planning models to start forecasting with ease. 

Here are three categories of FP&A tools you should consider to find the best fit for your organization.

Three categories of FP&A software

Software solutions that streamline the work of FP&A generally fall in one of these three categories. Understanding these approaches can help you understand which vendors might be a good fit for your needs.

1. Software fully customized for your organization

These are bespoke models created to your specifications, and serviced by a professional services team. Generally, these solutions require significant setup time, training, and implementation fees. They offer the ultimate in customization for complex organizations, but often changes to models must be implemented by the provider for a fee. 

Examples: Workday Adaptive Planning, Pigment

2. Tools that integrate with Excel or Sheets

With these solutions, you continue to model and create your plans in MS Excel or Google Sheets. They augment Excel and Sheets by making automation, report sharing, and queries much easier. Best for organizations that place a high value on the modeling skills of their analyst team.

Examples: Datarails, Cube

3. Cloud-based models

These solutions deliver configurable, driver-based models, and can significantly reduce time to value.  You populate your business’ data and assumptions in the platform, and start generating forecasts and analysis right away. You no longer need to create and manage business logic, improving both speed and accuracy. Some solutions, like Stratify, make it easy to collaborate with business partners right in the platform. Best for organizations that want their analysts to focus on business partnership and delivering strategic insights that aid in decision-making.

Examples: Stratify, Jirav

Dive deeper into the differences between FP&A tools. Explore Top FP&A Software Solutions for Businesses of Any Size

Roles in the strategic FP&A team

The Finance Leader 

Director or VP of Finance, or CFO, based on organizational structure & size.

Key Responsibilities The Value of a Strategic Finance Approach
Financial Strategy + Planning + Decision-making
  • Develop and execute on business goals, opportunities for growth, and risk assessment. Plan, budget, and forecast for long-term growth + success.
You have the opportunity to share your unique perspective on operational and financial trends with data-driven guidance. You’ll gain a seat at the table to help steer the business in the right direction and earn the trust of other stakeholders.
Capital Allocation
  • Advise and decide how the business uses its resources.
Spending decisions can be clearly linked back to the annual plan and justified with accurate reporting.
Risk Management
  • Assess and manage financial risks that could affect performance.
Insights and scenarios are informed by a full-picture perspective that you bring to the decision-making process.
Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Oversee the process of creating accurate and timely reports. Provide analysis and recommendations to leadership.
You’re freed from tedious, manual tasks to be more proactive because reporting has become self-service. Executives, stakeholders, and even the board are equipped with access to real-time financial and operational reports. You can shift your focus to analysis and partnership.
Managing the Finance Team
  • Guide and mentor the finance team, fostering a high-performing team that supports the company's strategic objectives.
The strategic finance approach expands the team’s scope of responsibility, requiring broader engagement to train and develop your team.

The Financial Analyst 

Key Responsibilities The Value of a Strategic Finance Approach
Support CFO
  • Help ensure that the business is stable and profitable.
Strategic finance analysts spend less time on data reconciliation and modeling. Instead, they focus on the story the data is telling and data-driven predictions that can be made. They support the CFO by offering unique and cross-departmental insights from the time they spend collaborating with other business partners.
Financial Planning + Forecasting
  • Build models and assist with forecasting. Analyze data and market trends, and help create forecasts and scenarios for the business.
A strategic finance approach frees analysts from modeling with time-saving automations. They can use the time to deeply understand the business and spot opportunities for growth or pivot.
  • Prepare reports to share with stakeholders, executives, the board of directors, investors, and banks.
Reporting becomes a much simpler process, informed by integrated ERP, CRM, and HRIS data. Instantly refresh dashboards and generate reports for stakeholders. Focus shifts from report generation to identification of insights.
Support Compliance
  • Ensure that reporting and compliance requirements are followed.
Next-gen, strategic FP&A tools deliver high levels of security and access control, ensuring stakeholders see only the data they are supposed to.

Strategic finance FAQ

Why is strategic finance important?

Strategic finance is important because it's a mindset that's essential to succeed in modern business. Businesses are trying to achieve more (often with fewer resources) and their volumes of financial and operational data are growing exponentially. When FP&A teams embrace a strategic finance mindset, they can synthesize this data and connect the dots between financial and operational drivers for more accurate forecasting and informed decision-making. Strategic finance promotes a collaborative approach to planning processes, driven by real-time data insights. This is how FP&A can ensure that strategic financial planning is directly connected to business goals.

What are the top areas FP&A teams should focus on?

Here are five key areas to focus on as you become a more strategic FP&A team. 

  1. Data: The methods you use to gather data, synthesize, and organize data. Having real-time data at your fingertips and using it to make informed decisions.
  2. Collaboration: The depth of connection and coordination between finance and other parts of the business. 
  3. Agility: The ability to quickly synthesize data, create reports & forecasts, and revise or pivot to serve business needs.
  4. Reporting and Forecasting Frequency: Establish your unique cadence for reporting that’s responsive to business changes and industry or market trends and events. 
  5. Technology: The digital infrastructure and tools used to support your FP&A function.

How can a strategic finance team support business leadership? 

A strategic finance team can support business leadership by running a coordinated annual planning process, enabling scenario planning for "what if" questions, delivering timely financial reports and forecasts, and adapting to the CEO's preferences for engagement. This approach will build trust, encourage innovation, and integrate finance deeply within the strategic decision-making framework.

Learn more: What Does Your CEO Need From the FP&A Team?

What challenges can FP&A software solve?

  1. Streamline reporting - FP&A software automates financial and operational reporting, enabling teams to generate accurate and real-time reports with just a few clicks.
  2. Enhanced budgeting and forecasting - FP&A software offers advanced modeling capabilities, enabling you to create dynamic, scenario-based forecasts that consider changing market conditions.
  3. Faster decision-making - FP&A software integrates data from various sources, providing a holistic view of your organization's performance. Take this insight to optimize your performance and act quickly ahead of competitors. 
  4. Facilitates collaboration - FP&A software fosters collaboration by centralizing data from all departments, providing access to real-time reports and analysis, and gathering planning inputs from stakeholders within the software itself. 
  5. Promoting compliance and data security - FP&A software incorporates robust security features, reducing the risk of inappropriate data exposure and fraud.

How do I know if my finance function is strategic? 

It’s helpful to imagine a progression from the early stages to becoming a mature strategic finance team. An honest assessment of your team’s strategic level will sharpen your focus on what habits to implement next and where to challenge yourself as a finance leader. 

Our FREE Ebook, The Finance Leader's Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance, identifies three stages of strategic finance maturity and is full of practical tips and inventory questions to help you assess your level and take proactive steps to the next one. Download your copy. 

What will FP&A look like with the growth of AI?

There are definitely rumblings of a future where AI and deep learning take FP&A to a more strategic level. An AI-enabled FP&A tool can digest all of your data inputs and begin to notice trends. It can then bring insights to your attention and highlight areas to focus on. At least to start, AI automation features can streamline tasks like data entry, report generation, and trend analysis. 

How does FP&A support corporate strategy?

Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) supports corporate strategy in several ways:

  • Providing Data-Driven Insights: FP&A teams analyze financial data and market trends to offer insights that inform strategic decision making. Through understanding the financial implications of various strategic options, FP&A helps CFOs and Financial Leaders make data-driven choices that align with the company's goals.
  • Budgeting and Forecasting: FP&A is responsible for creating budgets and forecasts that reflect the company's strategic objectives. These financial plans ensure that resources are allocated efficiently through expense and workplace planning. Regular forecasting helps the company adapt to changes and stay on track to meet its strategic targets.
  • Performance Monitoring and Analysis: FP&A tracks key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics to monitor the company’s progress toward its strategic goals. They analyze and share financial reports, while providing insights into key areas that need improvement.
  • Scenario Planning and Risk Management: FP&A teams conduct scenario planning to evaluate potential risks and opportunities. By modeling different scenarios, they help the company prepare for various future possibilities, enhancing strategic flexibility and resilience.
  • Strategic Communication: FP&A helps articulate the financial aspects of the corporate strategy to internal and external stakeholders. Clear communication of financial plans and performance builds confidence among investors, employees, and other stakeholders, supporting the overall strategic vision.
  • Capital Management: FP&A manages capital structure and funding strategies to ensure that the company has the financial flexibility to pursue its strategic goals. They analyze debt, equity, and other financing options to support long-term strategic initiatives.
  • Supporting Operational Strategy: Beyond high-level corporate strategy, FP&A supports operational strategies by linking financial planning with operational planning. Ensuring the correct technology and platforms are being utilized for effective planning and stakeholder engagement.

Related resources

FP&A Trends & Practices: 

5 Ways to Finally Achieve a Collaborative Budgeting Process - Go from an endless, messy budgeting process to a truly collaborative process where plans are created and supported by every stakeholder.

Financial Planning & Analysis Top 7 Trends Worth Watching in 2024 - This article covers top trends and best practices that are prevalent in 2024. 

How to Increase the Strategic Value of Your FP&A Reports: Overcome These 4 Challenges - Start out mired in manual processes. Move to analyzing performance metrics, identifying key insights, and making strategic decisions.

5 Ways to Engage with Operations and Improve the Strategic Value of Finance - Take the maturity of your FP&A team to the next level by collaborating with the business and incorporating their KPIs into financial planning and analysis.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Advice for the Financial Analyst’s Journey to Strategic FP&A - Financial analysts are so good at shining the spotlight on others that it can be hard to take risks in stakeholder relationships. Ultimately, embracing a bit of discomfort can lead to remarkable growth and opportunities. Quy Dong, Stratify Head of Customer Success, shares strategies and tips from her journey.

The Planning Season Calendar Template & Best Practices You Need Right Now - Do you have scars from previous planning cycles that were a disorganized mess? It doesn’t have to be that way. Use our customizable template to put guardrails on your planning process and change your approach to budget season.

Budget Variance Analysis (BvA) for Strategic Finance Teams - Use this routine FP&A practice to improve your predictions and support your business with strategic suggestions to pivot or respond. This article reframes BvA through a strategic finance lens.

Why FP&A Teams Choose Driver-Based Planning - Explore the top 5 reasons that strategic finance teams choose driver-based tools for workforce & expense planning. Common thread? More time for analysis and business partnership.

What It's Like to Model in a Driver-based FP&A Platform (Hint: You'll Never Pay a Consultant Again) - Take a look inside driver-based modeling with Stratify for a fast and flexible planning process, no expensive consultants required.

Older Planning Tools Block Business Partnership According to FP&A Leaders - When asked "Does inadequate technology limit your ability to impact the business?", 42% of mid market FP&A leaders said, "Yes." However, that number soared for those working in older technology.

New: Better Plans, Better Decisions with Multiple Financial Planning Categories - Stratify announces Dimensions, unlimited accounting segments and planning categories, to enable FP&A teams to consider all variables that impact decision-making.

Headcount Reconciliation & Workforce Planning Tips for Finance Teams: 

What is Workforce Planning for Finance? - The ultimate overview of workforce planning from the finance perspective. Learn more about the role of each department and how you can orchestrate a better process.

Overcoming Challenges of Headcount Reconciliation with Best Practices - This article explains the importance of collaboration between finance and HR to support accurate and timely headcount reconciliation. 

The Top 5 Workforce Planning Tools for Strategic Finance - If you're ready to streamline your headcount planning process, this article walks through the top 5 choices tailored to your business needs and size.

Strategic Workforce Planning: 5 Tips for FP&A Professionals - Practical tips to improve the speed and accuracy of your workforce planning process, and achieve stakeholder alignment too!

5 Workforce Planning Trends and How FP&A Teams Can Confidently Respond - Explore 5 emerging trends are changing the future of the workforce planning process, including AI, the rise of the contractor, and looming skills gaps.

Strategic Finance: 

What Does Your CEO Need From the FP&A Team? - Leading a business can be a noisy and lonely job. CEO Brian Camposano shares how FP&A can be the CEO's secret weapon and biggest supporter in four specific ways.

eBook - The Finance Leader's Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance - This comprehensive and practical guide helps you to assess your starting point and take confident next steps to grow as a strategic finance leader. We’ve taken your challenges and responsibilities into account at each stage, laying out a roadmap to greater alignment and agility. 

Becoming a Strategic Business Partner: The New Financial Analyst Skillset - This article summarizes the opportunities for financial analysts to pivot and improve their ability to partner with the business by investing in key skills. 

How Finance Can Get Stakeholders Involved in the Planning Process - Put an end to your frustration with 5 practical ways to meet stakeholders where they are and get the collaboration you need. Plus, we share a template for creating your stakeholder engagement plan.

What It Means to Make FP&A the Financial Heart of the Company - What do FP&A and a heart have in common? Answer: delivering vital resources to help the whole system thrive. Our CEO Brian Camposano unpacks how your FP&A team can be the financial heart of your organization. 

The Top Three Challenges to Becoming a Strategic Finance Team - Messy manual processes, stale and inconsistent data, and a lack of collaboration…sound familiar? We outline 3 strategic solutions to your biggest FP&A challenges.  

Your FP&A Team is Spending Too Much Time Modeling. Here’s Why - Is your FP&A team stuck in spreadsheets? Nate Skelton, Stratify VP of Product Management challenges financial analysts and finance leaders to reconsider where they use their energy and to spend more time on high-value activities.

Top 6 Focus Areas for Strategic Finance Teams - it's hard to make concrete progress with a subjective goal like "become more strategic." This article covers six areas where your FP&A team can get real traction with sharper focus and practical changes.

The Value of Strategic Financial Planning: Unlocking Business Success - Successful organizations know that strategic financial planning is the best approach to survive current economic uncertainties – plus it adds business value in some surprising ways.

Scenario Planning 101: How to Speed Up This Strategic FP&A Process - FP&A teams are under pressure to deliver accurate, validated scenario Scenarios can be a struggle, so learn how to deliver confident and collaborative version plans to your stakeholders.

Financial Planning & Analysis Top 7 Trends Worth Watching in 2024

FP&A teams are the key players in a new movement combining strategy, data, and collaboration. With support from solutions-driven technology, strategic finance teams can support the business to make wise decisions during uncertain times – paving the way for a new type of strategic finance that boardrooms are eager for.

But the pace of change can be overwhelming, and transforming your finance function is a complex process. Assessing the top trends in financial planning and analysis will help you to prioritize areas for your business to grow in the next year. 

One of these trends could be just the thing you can apply in your context for greater success. So, to cut through the noise, here are the top 7 FP&A trends to watch and incorporate to your strategy in 2024.

Trend 1: Spotlight on Scenario Planning 

Economic volatility, big layoffs, and global uncertainty are necessary realities for businesses to confront. Executive leaders need to understand the implications of different scenarios more than ever before.

How quickly can your finance team gather data, run custom reports, analyze, share with stakeholders, and advise on urgent decisions? 

Only 16% of FP&A departments can run scenarios in less than one day, and 20% are unable to run scenarios! 

Source: FP&A Trends

The ability to create scenarios has been a seismic change in corporate finance. And in 2024, scenario planning is one way that FP&A teams can offer significant value to the entire business. Scenario planning requires analytics plus imagination – the ability to notice outlying factors and the effect they could have on your sector or organization. 

To grow in your scenario planning ability, look for FP&A tools that: 

  • Fix the frustration of duplicating spreadsheet models, allowing you to quickly edit assumptions, see the impact of a new scenario, and compare it to others. 
  • Assist you with coordinated scenario planning – so your forecasts are informed by the knowledge that your business unit leaders have.
  • Use powerful EPM models to help you generate intelligent forecasts from industry-informed templates

Trend 2: Analysts Require Real-Time Data and Dashboards 

It’s time to say goodbye to manually creating and circulating custom stakeholder reports (that are stale by the time they’re received!) In 2024, analysts will prefer FP&A tools that create custom dashboards for business partners to access at any time. 

Organizations need accurate and real-time data to adjust and make changes at the speed of business. Analysis and reporting cycles that take 1-2 weeks leave the business with an unfortunate gap in the middle of each period where stakeholders are waiting for updates (and potentially missing strategic opportunities). 

Modern FP&A software integrates business systems to display the latest data from all business units. This makes it infinitely easier for FP&A to provide the strategic advice that business partners need to take action. Look for tools that: 

  • Gather all the business’ financial and critical operational data under one umbrella to avoid disconnected siloes. 
  • Generate accessible, accurate reports & dashboards for you and your stakeholders to see financials in real-time.

Trend 3: FP&A Becomes the Center of Strategic Collaboration 

In 2024, FP&A teams have the opportunity to become the heart of strategic decision-making through effective collaboration and coordination. 

FP&A has the potential to connect insight to action in every area of the business. As businesses grow more complex and hungry for valuable, data-driven insights, an integrated approach to strategic finance and operational engagement is the surest way forward.”
Brian Camposano, CEO, Stratify Technologies 

If your team uses bespoke, complex Excel models, it’s difficult to encourage collaboration or communicate with business partners about potential implications for the business plan. In 2024, make it your goal to support the business to make data-driven decisions. This is much easier when budget owners have access to financial, workforce, and operational data.

Look for FP&A software that allows non-finance users to proactively contribute to finance workflows. They should be able to monitor real-time financial and operational performance so all departments are working together – with permission-based access controls to put security first. 

Trend 4: Digital Innovations Stay in the Budget

Despite corporate budgets cuts in multiple areas, executives will still prioritize financial software investments in 2024.

58% of finance leaders plan to increase their spending on IT and digital transformation in 2024.

chart showing CFO spending on IT/Digital transformation 2021 - 2023

If your FP&A team still leans on Excel but you struggle with version control and constant reiterations, it’s time to find a tool that will serve you better (keep reading… lots of great choices are Excel-friendly!). But there is still plenty of room for discernment, since not every tool will be the best fit for your business. 

What are key differences between legacy tools and modern FP&A software

  • Automation and efficiencies in a modern budgeting and forecasting tool support positive business outcomes like savings and growth. 
  • Modern FP&A tools close the gap between business planning and execution by increasing agility. You don’t need to rely on expensive outside consultants or IT specialists to make adjustments to your models.
  • They streamline the process of gathering inputs from all departments in the business, giving you the freedom to be a strategic collaborator.

Next gen software solutions like Stratify recreate your plan using configurable business logic from a bank of drivers that all customers can use to efficiently build (and modify) their plans, forecasts, and scenarios. Making changes is easy and doesn't require support from expensive consultants.

Trend 5: Fighting Analyst Burnout With Automation 

Burnout is a real struggle in professional life, and finance is no exception. Of finance and accounting employees surveyed by London-based fintech LemonEdge:

  • 31% planned to leave the industry due to high stress. 
  • 36% attributed their heightened stress to “time consuming manual processes.”

Some doom and gloom reports say that automation will put us all out of jobs. But when used effectively, automation takes a big burden off the shoulders of financial analysts.  

Finance teams should adopt FP&A software solutions to automate time-consuming processes like data gathering, data sanitation, aggregation, report creation, and more. Headcount reconciliation, and workforce planning in general, are new areas where FP&A software streamlines a notoriously tedious process.

Rather than stealing jobs, these automations could actually pave the way for higher retention and employee satisfaction rates, allowing analysts to use their talents for more fulfilling strategic work. 

Trend 6: Spreadsheet-friendly Platforms Stay Popular 

Despite the challenges of hidden formula errors and limited collaboration, spreadsheets are still the default budgeting and forecasting tool for many organizations (including 64% of SaaS leaders). 

We see the future of strategic, coordinated planning happening in driver-based applications, not complex spreadsheets. But it often makes sense to do ad hoc modeling in a spreadsheet interface. Modern FP&A platforms are innovating to meet in the middle and combine the familiarity of Excel with the precision and accuracy of 3rd gen FP&A software solutions. When these two are combined, analysts can model in an Excel-like platform, drawing on structured, connected data using formulas they can easily understand. It’s an excellent way to get the ball rolling towards bigger digital transformation in your finance tech stack.

In 2024 and beyond, FP&A tools with a spreadsheet capabilities will be a popular choice for teams seeking flexibility. 

Trend 7: AI and Machine Learning Integration Into FP&A 

Data, data, data. You’re managing mountains of it from finance, CRM, marketing, and every software tool in use. What’s the result? It’s difficult to connect the data across platforms and tell a cohesive story.

AI and machine learning can give finance teams an edge in connecting all the data, finding trends and insights. 

of CFOs are already using AI in their finance process.

40% plan to tap into AI in 2024. 

These are a few ways AI can enhance your FP&A projects in 2024 and beyond:

  • Reduce the time spent culling through data and analyzing trends, by using AI features to summarize key insights for your reports. 
  • AI functionality can act as data hygiene filter to flag when source data is inconsistent or incorrect. 
  • Enterprise-level organizations can take the next step to use AI in a predictive learning function. This draws on their massive datasets and allows machine learning to make assumptions and predictions at lightning speed, which teams can leverage where desired. 
  • AI can also improve trend forecasting and scenario planning by making calculations based on a wide range of external and internal factors often overlooked by human analysts. 

Adapt With Confidence Using an FP&A Platform 

Have you found the best FP&A tool to meet the challenge of the moment?

Stratify is the FP&A platform that enables data-driven collaboration with business partners. 

“Our passion is to help you to embrace the FP&A time flip. Imagine a month where 70% of your time goes to analysis and strategic storytelling, instead of 70% tedious data aggregation and report creation.” 
Quy Dong, Director of Customer Success, Stratify.   

With Stratify, you’ll have:

  • Secure and accessible real-time reporting and analytics, giving you the competitive edge that larger enterprises enjoy. 
  • An efficient, collaborative, coordinated planning process, allowing for more time spent on strategy.
  • A painless transition to more strategic finance, with native integrations and support from a dedicated FP&A expert to implement and customize your instance. 

Get in touch for a personalized demo and a glimpse into your strategic FP&A future in 2024 and beyond.

Top Takeaways From the FP&A Leaders' Guide to Strategic Finance Maturity

These days, every finance outlet and thought leader is urging you to become more strategic. But you’re probably left wondering, “What do I actually need to do?”

That’s the question at the heart of The Finance Leaders’ Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance. It’s our free guide and roadmap for finance leaders. The guide covers three stages of strategic finance maturity and offers five key criteria to assess your progress and grow deeper.

Without FP&A driving and informing business strategy, opportunities get left on the table.

Source: FP&A Trends

Curious about the guide? Here are 5 of the biggest insights and priorities you’ll discover when you dive inside.

5 Priorities for Your Strategic Finance Journey  

  1. Redefine Finance's Role

Modern FP&A teams have a unique opportunity. Instead of staying sidelined with transactional modeling and planning work, take an active role in the collaborative planning process.

We explain ways to:

  • Build stronger relationships with your business partners.
  • Influence successful business decisions through faster scenario planning.
  • Gain insight into your operational challenges and opportunities.

  1. Measure Your Maturity Level

Don’t let the online gurus fool you – you can’t achieve strategic finance mastery in one month, or even in one year! It helps to envision a progression from the early stages to becoming a mature strategic finance leader.

Our guide evaluates strategic finance maturity in 3 stages. Each stage includes high-level goals to aim for. For example, at ‘Stage One’ you should aim to ‘produce a collaborative annual budget for the business that considers interdependent department plans’.

  • Each stage explains ‘why’ – the strategic value you’ll gain from accomplishing the goals.
  • Assessment questions guide you to determine if you’ve mastered each stage and are ready to grow deeper.

  1. Get Specific

We’ve always felt that ‘strategic finance’ discussions are too vague. Our guide uses five criteria as a rubric to help you pinpoint and improve the most important aspects of your FP&A function.

There are five key criteria we use in Stage One, Two, and Three. We constantly revisit them so you can ask, “How can our finance team become more strategic in this area?”

That means you get practical steps and ideas for how to improve your:

  • Data
  • Collaboration
  • Agility
  • Frequency of Reporting & Forecasting
  • Technology

…no matter what maturity stage you’re at!

  1. Incorporate Technology

Thriving strategic FP&A teams need a supportive digital infrastructure. But we don’t necessarily recommend that ‘Stage One’ teams immediately overhaul into a bespoke, consultant-built finance platform. We include specific recommendations at each stage for how modern FP&A tools can increase your strategic capacity.

  1. Master the Finance-Operations Connection

Operational insights are often the missing puzzle piece that hinders FP&A from connecting their insights to business action. Our guide emphasizes the importance of knowing what drives revenue for your business. With a deep understanding of operational drivers, you can provide better forecasting and insights that your C-suite will thrive on.

Start Here To Scale Your Strategic Finance Maturity

“The Finance Leader’s Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance Maturity” is like sitting down with an experienced finance mentor who understands the unique challenges at your business stage and size. If other guides and articles have left you wanting more practical advice, this is the roadmap you need.

Ready to start the journey?

Download Your Guide

The Top 5 Workforce Planning Tools for Strategic Finance

The old way of workforce planning is disconnected and time-consuming. Any discrepancies or costly mistakes in headcount reconciliation can leave the business in a difficult position. Financial analysts are nodding along at this point – this has been an FP&A pain point for far too long!

Headcount planning software was created to stand in the gap (literally!) to highly simplify headcount reconciliation and workforce capacity planning processes for financial analysts and HR teams. Lots of teams have transitioned from traditional headcount spreadsheets to dynamic, integrated solutions​​. But that doesn’t mean that all workforce planning tools will be the right fit for your business. 

If you’re ready to improve your process, here’s a breakdown of leading platforms for strategic workforce planning, and what factors you should consider based on your business size and priorities. 

Comparing the Leading Workforce Planning Tools 

1. Stratify 

Best for: Mid-market or fast-growing teams who need to streamline their workforce planning process, integrate workforce planning with the financial plan, and deliver more strategic value to the business. 

Stratify is a leading provider of powerful workforce planning and FP&A software. Stratify connects current employee information from your HR system with future hires in your operating plan to project workforce expenses into the financial plan. 

With Stratify, the monthly task of headcount reconciliation, and accounting for terminations and backfills, transfers, promotions, and more can be handled in minutes. It’s a great tool to streamline processes and ensure that your workforce needs are accurately accounted for in the business plan. More than that, with the time saved, Stratify helps your finance team focus analysis and discussion on the business implications of being behind or ahead of planned headcount.

Mid-market businesses can also leverage Stratify as a complete FP&A tool to enable a strategic finance shift in the business.

Headcount Reconciliation in Stratify


  • Reconcile new hires and terminated employees, add a planned position, or backfill positions all in a few minutes.
  • Simple workflow engages the business in workforce planning tasks and provides self-service access to workforce analytics and reporting.
  • Provide a single source of truth for the hiring plan.
  • Plan detailed assumptions for comp, benefit expense, employment tax, and more in an easy, plain-language interface with no complex formulas. 
  • Integrated planning. Headcount-based workforce-related expenses automatically update in the Operating Expense plan (e.g. higher recruiting costs or fewer software licenses).
  • Supports an agile FP&A team to build scenarios quickly and see the implications of headcount for the organization’s ability to meet annual plan targets. 

Key Integrations: BambooHR, Workday, Rippling, SAP Success Factors, and many more.

2. ChartHop 

Best for: Midmarket to enterprise organizations looking to unify their people data and operations onto a single platform. ChartHop is a good fit for businesses seeking data-driven people insights and efficient people operations, making it ideal for modern HR processes​. Finance teams can easily perform headcount reconciliation within ChartHop and collaborate with HR business partners for a smoother process. 


  • All-in-one people analytics platform to forecast workforce costs and measure impact on the financial plan. 
  • Built-in forecasting tools help to compare the cost of proposed changes to headcount or compensation. 
  • Offers org management, comp management, people analytics, and employee engagement features to save time each month forecasting headcount costs. 
  • Customize pre-built dashboards for people analytics like turnover rate, attrition risk, DEI data, and more to share with stakeholders. 

Key Integrations: ADP, Bamboo HR, Greenhouse, Humaans, Lever, Paylocity, SAP, Workday, Zenefits, and more. 

3. TeamOhana 

Best for: Midsize and enterprise businesses who need to make data-driven headcount decisions, achieve hiring goals on time, and stay within budget constraints. TeamOhana is ideal for companies looking to streamline their headcount planning processes. However, TeamOhana is a stand alone solution that does not integrate workforce and expense planning. 


  • Create 'what-if' scenarios to assess the budget impacts of organizational design changes.
  • Connects data from various sources like HRIS, ATS, and headcount budget to build current and accurate headcount plans.
  • Collaborate with other business partners to build and modify headcount plans.
  • Introduces automation to ensure more accurate and efficient headcount reconciliation.
  • Establish a standardized headcount approval process for consistency and clarity.

Key Integrations: Greenhouse, Ashby, Lever, BambooHR, Workday, Deel, and more. 

4. Planful  

Best for: Businesses looking to achieve a continuous planning process and link their financial performance to operational activities. Planful is a powerful platform that can be configured for your business needs, but it’s best for an IT-savvy organization who can support the implementation process. 


  • Strong reporting and analytics capabilities provide financial analysts with a real-time view of plan vs actual for workforce forecasting. 
  • Integrates HR, finance, and operations management for a unified approach to workforce planning. 
  • Can operate as an all-in-one FP&A platform for smaller businesses. 
  • Excel-friendly with a similar interface for teams who prefer Excel. 

Key Integrations: User-friendly integrations with HRIS and ATS systems, as well as BI tools to integrate recruiting, comp, and planning data.

5. Vena

Best for: Midmarket to Large Excel-first organizations, who will appreciate the familiar templates for comp planning and reporting. Vena offers advanced modeling capabilities, data integrations, and dashboards to support an efficient and agile headcount planning process.


  • Excel-native ‘Vena 365 Connect’ allows analysts to continue planning and reporting in spreadsheets, with the addition of dynamic modeling and reporting capabilities. 
  • Access dashboards to view labor expenses and employee information across the organization, which can be used to forecast revenue per employee and report on employee expenses.
  • Security-first access controls keep comp data secure while still allowing collaboration and review from business partners. 

Key Integrations: Connect with your HRIS (ADP, Workday, Bamboo, and Peoplesoft) and ERP (NetSuite and Sage Intacct) systems for a unified data approach and faster planning and analysis. 

6. Workday Adaptive Planning 

Best for: Complex, enterprise organizations with more intense modeling requirements and a large, dynamic workforce. The WorkDay workforce planning solution is part of a wider suite of solutions that can provide integrated business planning at an enterprise level.


  • Support for large, global teams with frequent workforce changes and a complex business plan. 
  • Factor in global or local business drivers to inform your workforce plans. 
  • Apply driver-based assumptions to your workforce models and easily build what-if scenarios for strategic decision-making.
  • Monitor changes to the plan in real-time, allowing for an agile response. 
  • Easily build what-if scenarios to see the effects of changes to the workforce plan. 

Key Integrations: Simple integration with your CRM, ERP, HCM, and user-friendly connections with any of your other business systems to ensure your plans are built with accurate data. 

Finding the Right Workforce Planning Tool  

With so many choices to support strategic workforce planning, it’s important to choose a workforce planning tool that aligns with your company goals and enhances your performance​​. You have to compare your company size, industry, and specific HR-Finance needs against what each tool has to offer. 

Midmarket FP&A teams looking to overcome the challenges of traditional headcount planning should consider Stratify to modernize and simplify the process. Stratify is focused on collaboration and transparency,  designed to put time back on your side – time to be a strategic finance business partner and contribute your data-driven insights when pivotal decisions are happening. 

Discover Modern Workforce Planning With Stratify 

FAQ: Strategic Workforce Planning Tools

What are the top benefits of using workforce planning software?

  • Effective forecasting – workforce planning software helps you predict staffing costs and align them with your business goals.
  • Cost-savings – increase the bottom line by reducing overstaffing and balancing staff levels.
  • Boost your productivity – no more hours spent gathering data and in endless meetings with HR and other business teams, reduce the time spent on this massive task.   
  • Data-driven decisions – support department leaders to make hiring plans based on concrete, real-time data.
  • Risk management – see potential issues with staffing gaps before they develop and problem-solve or escalate before they materialize.  

How does workforce planning software integrate with other HR and business systems? 

For a smooth headcount planning process, analysts need that insight into employee roles and new hires or terminations. Stratify (and the other tools mentioned in this guide) integrates with leading HR systems, and other business intelligence tools to give you the full picture of how headcount fits into your annual plan.

Adding a new tool to the stack can be a concern for business leaders, but modern workforce planning tools are designed for simple integration with pre-configured connections to common HRIS and financial systems. Automatic and secure data synchronization puts all necessary information at your fingertips for a more efficient process and visibility across departments. 

Integrating new workforce planning software like Stratify into your existing business ecosystem is not just adding a new tool – it’s a way to improve your whole system’s efficiency. 

The Top Three Challenges to Becoming a Strategic Finance Team

What stands in the way of your FP&A team becoming more strategic? 

Most finance teams desire to use their time to add value to the business, find a smarter workflow, and get other departments to actively participate in the planning process. But getting there is a complex and unique journey. Every team is somewhere on the spectrum from being less to more strategic with their own challenges to face.

Strategic finance requires alignment and clarity in data analysis and the planning process. And it’s impossible to achieve without meaningful collaboration with business units. To move to the next stage of finance maturity, let’s get honest about the top three challenges standing in the way and tackle them head-on with practical solutions.

The Top Three Roadblocks on Your Journey 

  1. Messy Manual Processes 

The way you’ve always done things may feel safe, but is it monopolizing your time and energy? Lots of FP&A teams operate in layers of spreadsheets managed by Excel wizard analysts who are spread too thin. 

These teams are gathering siloed data from multiple sources, organizing it into disconnected spreadsheets, generating multiple reports, all while managing communications and version control. Sound familiar? 

This process is so time-consuming, and it leaves the door open for human error and oversights leading to wrong calculations or conclusions. The process must be simplified if you’re going to gain back time to build your informed perspective before sharing with stakeholders.

Strategic Solution:
Streamline the reporting and modeling process with effective technology. 

Data gathering and modeling eat up the time you need for higher-value activities. Investigate FP&A SaaS options that offer fully integrated, configurable models based on drivers and assumptions. Then you can shift your focus to understand the deeper operational forces in your organization and deliver strategic insights. 

These tools also provide a secure and intuitive way for all stakeholders to share data and take ownership of their own department’s budget and spending as it relates to the overall annual plan. 

  1. Stale, Inconsistent Data 

Because of the time lag in requesting and receiving data from other departments, you’re fighting an uphill battle against stale data. Disconnected data not only wastes time, it also leads to incorrect reporting and modeling. Sometimes, it even results in blind decision-making and choices that benefit a single team instead of the whole organization. 

Let’s say you’ve asked HR to share the latest employee headcount data from your HRIS system on Friday. You upload it into your spreadsheet on Monday and complete reconciliation on Thursday. But – surprise! – two engineers quit on Tuesday and a new salesperson joined on Wednesday. Now stakeholders are reading a report based on stale data. 

The disconnect prevents you from being the functioning heart of the organization that drives success with accurate analysis built from real-time data. 

Strategic Solution:
Unlock access to real-time data.

With access to real-time data, your analysis and forecasts are exponentially more valuable to the business. An FP&A SaaS tool joins up ERP, HRIS, and CRM data so you can hit refresh to see the latest numbers and generate reports – no time lag. 

This real-time capability offers two big benefits:

  • Gives you a vital big-picture view of operations, including the campaigns, events, and staffing changes that will impact your budget and business performance. 
  • Helps you support all business units to make data-informed decisions when it’s crunch time or a new opportunity presents itself. 

  1. Lack of Collaboration & Partnership

Finance leaders are often functionally sidelined from the rest of the business in terms of data visibility, collaboration, and a shared understanding of pain points. This lack of partnership limits your FP&A team from driving the business to greater success. 

How often are you left out of the discussions when big decisions are being made? Typically this is because other stakeholders don’t see the practical value of insights you can offer, or how you can help improve their own plans. Ultimately, the struggle to collaborate will slow down business growth and leave everyone feeling frustrated and misunderstood. 

Strategic Solution:
Increase operational engagement and partnership. 

Operational insight is often the missing link that holds FP&A teams back from becoming more strategic. A solid grasp of operational drivers and enhanced partnership will completely change your finance function. 

Increase your communication and collaboration with other stakeholders to get better context and understanding of their plans. Show other stakeholders that you can provide data-backed ideas and solutions that will benefit them and help solve their biggest problems. The right technology, access to data, and operational insight, and strong partnerships will help your team of analysts to consistently bring valuable insights to the table.

From Roadblocks to Roadmap

Do these challenges sound familiar? It’s good to be aware of these roadblocks, but it’s even more important to move past them by achieving concrete goals and benchmarks. 

Our free guide, The CFO’s Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance, dives into the strategic solutions we’ve described here, and more. Plus, recommendations are tailored to your stage in the strategic finance journey to help you get laser-focused on your next steps with confidence and clarity.

The guide provides practical inventory questions and tips sourced from finance professionals to equip you to overcome the challenges of messy manual processes, stale data, and a lack of partnership.

Download your copy today
and see the vision for your mature, strategic FP&A function. 

The Planning Season Calendar Template & Best Practices You Need Right Now

I love collecting food recipes and learning secret ingredients from family and friends. When it comes to breakfast, pancakes are the top choice in our house. Recently, I did not have enough buttermilk, which all pancake aficionados know is the key ingredient. Luckily, a neighbor shared her secret ingredient: lemon juice or vinegar. The acidity in lemon juice or vinegar transforms milk into buttermilk. It saved our morning.    

What's all the fuss with pancakes and secret ingredients, you asked? As finance professionals, we all know the annual planning process is right around the corner! And, you’re going to need a good breakfast and maybe a secret ingredient to deal with the frustration and long hours. But what if there was a secret ingredient, just like my pancakes, that could make the process more efficient? Here’s mine: a planning calendar. 

It’s so obvious that you’re probably shrugging your shoulders, but hear me out. I’ve got scars from previous planning cycles that were a disorganized mess. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s what you need: a simple, ready-to-customize calendar template that I’m sharing, along with my top suggestions to put guardrails on this process and change your approach to budget season starting today. 

Why Use A Planning Calendar?

I know it’s not an original idea. You may have even tried one already, or you know you need to. Maybe it didn’t work very well the previous times you tried. But the planning process needs planning. It already has so many moving parts, which is why you need guardrails to keep yourself and stakeholders on track with clear expectations and communication. 

The date of the board meeting isn’t moving. Let’s say it’s in February. Work backwards from that and set smaller checkpoint deadlines along the way to the end goal. Your pre-read to the board is your ultimate goal post right now. Your plan has to be ready, otherwise there will be negative impacts to the business. 

Will the process be a chaotic marathon of 23-hour work days, or will you prepare ahead to rally the troops and get their inputs on time?  

Anticipate & Communicate With Stakeholders

First, you need collaboration with all departments to help you build this plan & get it ready on time. With the calendar template in hand, ask other executives, ‘Hey, does this look like there’s enough time for you and your team to work together with us and come up with a plan?’ Then deadlines are set that everyone has agreed on. 

Speaking from experience, you do not want to get to December and realize that your Head of Sales is out of town for two weeks. I’ve had to reach out to a business partner on their family vacation and trust me, that was not a very pleasant call! 

Imagine instead that you establish your planning calendar and can say, “Ok Head of Sales, I see you’re out that week. I’m going to need to get on some calls with you beforehand.” Set that expectation a month or two early, and the same executive is more willing to make it work. (Start laying the groundwork of strong relationships with your business partners to make these interactions smoother.)

The Process at a Glance 

The details of your fiscal calendar will vary, but let’s assume a planning process that spans from August to a BOD meeting in February. Here’s your timeline at a high-level:


Your finance team receives topline guidance from the executive team on ​​the corporate goals for the upcoming fiscal year. Now it’s time to create different scenarios based on the target, and a plan for the business that includes every department. Next, plan your kickoff meetings to share goals and targets with each functional business leader. 

September - January 

It’s time for your meetings and discussions with the business partner from each department to discuss their part of the plan. These functional business meetings are iterative by nature. Your finance team works together with other business units to ensure tight collaboration and keep teams working in their target, tackling both expense planning and workforce planning to support the top-line goals.   

Can you get away with only two versions? Probably not, but the version 1 and version 2 lock-in dates in the calendar template are designed as a pause to put pencils down so you can roll up the plan, review, and make your adjustments. At some point you have to stop iterating, and prevent you from getting to version 35! Generally, share with your C-suite for a soft sign-off around the OP1 deadline. 

The Q4 Conundrum

The reality is that planning season and Q4 will overlap for many organizations. It’s hard to start your plan for the next fiscal year when the biggest quarter of the year is still happening and results aren’t finalized. Your team has to do its best to accurately forecast Q4 so that your YOY numbers make sense. The key here is to keep your process and your plan agile enough to make the necessary course corrections. With a modern FP&A tool where you and your team can make updates and modify assumptions in a systematic manner, you’ll have more support to deliver the plan on time.


It’s meeting time! Be sure that your C-suite partners are aligned and have signed off on the version that is going to the board. Pre-read your plans to the board of directors 24-48 hours before the meeting so they have an understanding of what they can expect. They can focus and direct their questions to appropriate areas. Bonus – it shows that your team is prepared and confident. 

Be consistent in how you report and share the story of the data. Support comprehension with consistent font use and formatting, and use appendix slides to provide additional context for the board. 

The Day After 

It’s time to take a deep breath, celebrate with your team, and then go take a nap! But I think you’ll admit that with a planning calendar to guide everyone, it was nothing like the chaos of previous years! 

Don’t Leave This Up to Fate 

A rigorous planning calendar is a secret ingredient, but it’s not a cure-all. This process will always be your team’s biggest and most time-consuming event of the year. But imagine the difference it will make to be well-prepared and have the built-in margin to roll with the punches as they come. Plus, it’s your chance to establish yourself as a leader and orchestrate success for the whole business through strategic FP&A, earning finance some well-deserved trust and praise.

Need a simple place to start? Check out my free FP&A Annual Planning Calendar template to start plugging in your dates and get organized.

Stratify Achieves SOC 2 Type II Compliance, Ensuring the Highest Security Standards for Our Customers

We are proud to announce that Stratify has achieved SOC 2 Type II security compliance. This milestone demonstrates our commitment to ensuring the security, confidentiality, and privacy of our clients' financial data.

What is SOC 2 Type II compliance? 

SOC 2 Type II compliance is a rigorous security standard developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It requires companies to implement strict controls and procedures to protect their clients' sensitive information in accordance with five trust principles: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. Achieving SOC 2 compliance involved an independent audit and assessment by a third-party auditing firm, Prescient Assurance

Stratify's Type II certification, which confirms that our controls are consistently effective over time, provides meaningful assurance that customers' data is secure and protected. In contrast, Type I certification only provides a snapshot of a company's controls.

Why does SOC 2 Type II compliance matter?

Stratify is the strategic finance platform that helps Financial Planning & Analysis teams plan faster and with more accuracy. We know how important it is to keep our customers' financial data safe, so they can focus on providing insights and collaborating with stakeholders.

"We take the security of our clients' data very seriously, and achieving SOC 2 compliance is a significant milestone for us and for our customers," says Brian Torrey, VP of Engineering at Stratify. "We have always made security a top priority, and this certification is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team."

Know your data is safe and secure

SOC 2 Type II compliance is just one of the many steps we are taking to ensure that our clients can trust us with their sensitive information.  Stratify has implemented multiple layers of security controls to protect client data. These include encryption, access controls, penetration testing, employee background checks, and regular security audits.

We will continue to invest in security and privacy to ensure that our platform remains compliant with the highest industry standards. Thank you to our clients for trusting us with your data, and we look forward to continuing to serve you with the highest level of security and reliability.

Mastering FP&A Planning and Reporting Basics: Stage 1 of Strategic Finance Maturity

A haphazard reporting and planning process might be the biggest source of frustration for finance professionals. The miscommunication, delays, and surprises along the way are taking way too much of your time and energy! Whether you’ve inherited a messy process, or you’re starting one from the ground up, you need to build a solid foundation. 

When you streamline your reporting and planning, the whole business will benefit from the consistency and valuable insights that your finance team will be able to provide. Effective, strategic FP&A starts with the basics. 

To find your starting point, let’s dive into the fundamentals of financial reporting and planning. 

We’ll cover: 

  • Your top three goals to establish a regular rhythm of reporting and planning.
  • Assessment questions to identify areas for growth. 
  • 5 key areas for your finance team to become more strategic and start to deliver exponential FP&A impact to the business.  

What Are Basic Planning and Reporting Goals?

  1. Produce an annual budget for the business that takes interdependent department plans into consideration, and delivers the plan in time for presentation to your board of directors.

    Strategic value:
    The annual plan provides an agreed-upon framework to approve and justify all spending decisions, and tie these to business outcome.
  1. Create a Budget vs Actual report on a monthly basis, by the 10th or 15th of each month. 

    Strategic value:
    A monthly BvA helps you and your stakeholders monitor and analyze the execution of the plan. 
  1. Produce a forecast on a cadence that makes sense for your organization.

    Strategic value:
    A forecast provides relevant insight and look-ahead guidance to the executive team and department leaders, helping to inform decisions. 

These goals are attainable when your people, processes, and systems work together to establish baseline reporting and planning activities. With this routine in place, you’ll see a drastic decrease in time spent on manual tasks and a drastic increase in alignment between your finance team and the rest of the business. 

Imagine a month where 70% of your time goes to analysis and strategic stakeholder communication, instead of 70% tedious data aggregation and report creation. So, what’s your next step toward that future? 

Find Your Starting Point  

It’s time to evaluate your current processes and habits to see what’s working well, and what you should focus on next. Ask these questions to assess your current grasp of the basics: 

  • Do you get regular input from other stakeholders on your financial plans for the year? 
  • Does your business produce an annual budget in a timely manner? 
  • Is your plan developed in a hub & spoke model with a single source of truth that allows everyone to operate against the same set of data? 
  • Do you have timely access and the ability to synthesize data from the business’ ERP and HRIS tools to compare against your budget? 
  • Are your spending decisions clearly linked to operational business goals? 

If you answered ‘no’ to some of these questions, then you’ve found your starting point! 

5 Areas to Apply Strategic Finance Principles

The categories below are five essential elements of a strategic FP&A function. We would bet that you and your team already have processes and systems running in each area, but how well are they functioning? 

Here are practical ways to master the basics in each area:

  1. Data

At this stage, you may be working with a top-down budget set by the executive team and siloed data from each department. You’re tasked with reconciling data across all the different business tools – or hunting down inaccuracies! To meet your goals, you need access to your data in real time through a system or technology solution to reduce the time spent on manual finance work. 

What skillset do you and your team need as you lay this foundation?  
Modeling is a valuable skill, but it's also a complex process that monopolizes your team’s time. Spreadsheet-based planning is being eclipsed by software with highly configurable, cloud-based models that will ultimately free up analysts' time to become a better partner to the business. 

  1. Collaboration

As the finance leader, are you functionally separated from the rest of the business in terms of data visibility and collaboration? You cannot offer informed advice (based on operational + financial data) without strong stakeholder relationships

You need input from every department, so start making connections and getting buy-in from each department leader on the budget timeline. Make it your goal to gain a first-hand understanding of the priorities and challenges for each business unit. 

  1. Agility

Stay laser-focused on producing the annual budget in a timely manner. Search for ways to automate your data processes as much as possible, so you can quickly synthesize data, provide new models, and share advice on short notice. This gives you more breathing space to work on your partnerships and gain perspective on other business activities. 

  1. Frequency of Reporting & Forecasting

In your current stage, you may be reporting on an infrequent basis, with limited ability to produce a new planning scenario or forecast on short notice. To move onto the next stage, you need to settle into the right reporting and forecasting cadence for your business, responsive to business changes, industry and market trends, and events. 

  1. Technology

An FP&A platform automates manual data processes, giving you time to focus on improving timeliness, frequency, and partnerships. These tools can help you move from the typical 1-2 week reporting time to 2 days!  

A strategic finance function will engage in revenue planning and/or reporting using operational metrics. That is a great goal to work toward after you’ve mastered the basics. Look for a technology solution that can grow with you. 

Continue Your Strategic Finance Journey

We hope this dive into the essentials of reporting and planning gave you confidence and at least one idea you can implement starting today. Better outcomes are possible if your FP&A team applies strategic finance principles to everything you do. You’ll see greater agility and collaborative planning take root in your company culture, and your team will become the financial heart of the business

Mastering the basics is the first step toward strategic finance maturity. In fact, it’s the focus of ‘Stage One’ in our eBook, The CFO’s Guide to Scaling Strategic Finance. 

This is a comprehensive guide that outlines three stages of FP&A maturity with specific goals, benchmarks, and tips unique to each stage. It’s designed to give finance leaders the top areas they can focus on no matter where they are in their journey to become a more strategic finance team. 

If you’re looking for even more support, tips, and insight into the process, download your copy today

The Collaborative Budgeting Process Your Finance Team Needs

Preparing your annual budget. It’s usually a time-consuming, iterative process that requires significant manual orchestration and direction from the finance team. You may have cooperation from every department leader, but it probably feels like a stretch to call the process collaborative budgeting. It usually goes something like this:

  • Extract each department’s model assumptions from your “master” model.
  • Initiate endless emails and in-person meetings to share “actuals” analysis and gather forecast assumptions.
  • Ensure that each department’s new assumptions combine into a logical, consolidated budget.

When you mix in missing data and delays, the process is clunky and beyond frustrating.

Collaborative budgeting takes a different approach. It builds stronger connections between FP&A and each department, increases the financial literacy of non-finance stakeholders, and results in an annual plan that’s achievable, without overloading your finance team in the process!

Your team needs a collaborative budgeting process, and the right FP&A software solution supports and enables your success.

What is collaborative budgeting?

Collaborative budgeting is a ‘bottom up’ approach to budgeting where department heads actively partner with the finance team to build a data-backed annual plan.

What makes it different?  

  • It’s cross-functional – a buzzy way of saying that FP&A doesn’t create the plan in a vacuum. All budget owners should be engaged as active participants in the process. Ideally, they can view and contribute directly to edit the plan and complete tasks assigned by finance.
  • It aligns the budget with business goals – The executive team still hands down annual revenue targets and cost constraints. The finance team takes those and works with sales, operations, R&D, or marketing to be sure that each department’s plan works for their team and supports the wider organizational goals.
  • It’s all about transparency and accountability – There’s no hiding in a collaborative budgeting process; all spending decisions are up for debate. But the end result is a plan that everyone has agreed to and can reference as they make purchases and strategic decisions at a department level throughout the year.

4 Benefits of a collaborative budgeting process

A collaborative budget is built with stakeholder input right into the plans. That means a lot of time savings for financial analysts (who no longer need to track down data). But there are four other surprising benefits you may not have considered:

  1. Drive higher levels of ownership

Business partners may seem hesitant to get involved at first, but most department leaders do want to have some say in the budget process. They may only be accustomed to hearing from finance 2 or 3 times a year. Maybe they didn’t feel included in the planning process before.

The collaborative process promotes accountability and ownership as each business leader negotiates and advocates for what’s best for their team and the business. Bonus – they’re often much more willing to stick to a plan that they helped create!

  1. Improve accuracy

Strategic FP&A leaders need a working knowledge of operational drivers to the business to provide leadership with data-informed recommendations.

A collaborative budgeting process helps your analysts to organically gather those operational insights right from the source. Marketing or manufacturing leaders will be most-informed on their unique KPIs. Budgets developed in close collaboration with stakeholders will be more accurate, aligned with business goals, and realistic for that team to achieve.

  1. Break down data silos

Errors multiply when each department is tracking their budget in disconnected spreadsheets. Pulling all that data together just to complete baseline analysis is incredibly inefficient.

Collaborative budgeting uses a cloud-based FP&A tool to integrate data from key business systems into a unified plan. Stakeholders can view the plan and their actuals without needing to go through finance. And the finance team can point to the shared platform and plan as the source of truth when it’s time for hard conversations around spending or budget cuts.

  1. Position FP&A as the strategic finance business partner

The collaborative budgeting process will give you firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities for each department. Plus, your business partners often have ideas to increase efficiency that come directly from their daily workflow and their own challenges.

Without these insights, your FP&A team would be stuck in the stereotypical past of number crunching, functioning as the traffic light for purchasing decisions. With them, you can embrace strategic finance opportunities. Transfer your time savings from collaborative budgeting into higher-value analysis and scenario modeling as you support agile decision-making.

Finance teams deserve better from their tools

Current manual processes are impractical and inefficient. They limit the finance team to a mostly administrative role, including tracking down assumptions and data entry. Midmarket FP&A teams often have 30+ different budget owners to engage with. Emailing different spreadsheets around to capture their input is painful. An automated, software-enabled workflow would change the game entirely.

The problem? Previous budgeting and forecasting software solutions have not truly enabled cross-functional collaboration. To them, collaboration means allowing a few well-trained finance team users to access and edit the same version of the budget in a cloud-based application. The idea of engaging your CRO or head of product directly in the application to proactively participate in the budgeting process has been non-existent.

Most finance leaders want to directly engage P&L owners across their organization in the budget process. But without a modern FP&A tool, there are significant challenges:

  • Legacy budgeting solutions use proprietary modeling frameworks, so they require significant end-user training to navigate and use the application.
  • There are valid concerns about exposing users to highly sensitive information within the budget.
  • Without the right access controls, non-finance users may accidentally make changes that impact the finance team’s master model.

FP&A software for truly collaborative budgeting and planning

FP&A teams have an increasingly important role as a critical strategic partner. They deserve modern tools to address these challenges and enable integrated communication and cross-company collaboration. Stratify is the FP&A platform designed for collaborative stakeholder planning. Our proprietary structured data model and persona-based design gives you real-time analytics of financial and operational performance through a user interface that all users can navigate easily.

You’ll experience the biggest difference through our “Tasks” feature, which allows you to tag your sales or marketing leader, ask them questions, and direct them to input their data – without dropping them into complex financial models full of highly sensitive information. Role-based access controls ensure data integrity and track user changes far better than spreadsheets do. This brings your teams, processes, and data together so you can make better, faster business decisions.

Walk through the collaborative budgeting process in Stratify.

What It Means to Make FP&A the Financial Heart of Company

I’m always searching for new ways to communicate the practical value of strategic finance to anyone who’ll listen. Recently, I read a refreshing take on FP&A’s potential that has stuck with me ever since: 

“FP&A [is] the financial heart of the company…It pumps information through arteries to the other departments; it receives information back from the departments through the veins about what’s important to them.” 

Carl Seidman, FP&A Educator 

This is a transformative approach. An FP&A team that thinks and acts as the heart of the business will be an invaluable partner.

I keep coming back to Carl’s quote, so I wanted to share why it rings true, how I’ve seen it in action, and why it’s a necessary mindset shift you need to adopt.

Why I Can’t Stop Thinking About It…

The analogy just works. Like a body, a business is a system made up of units with cross-dependencies. Your budget – and really everything you do as a finance team – must consider the interdependencies that exist between different business units.

FP&A has the potential to connect insight to action in every area of the business. But I have seen plenty of organizations where finance is sidelined – bogged down with time-consuming manual processes - and business units are left siloed off without vital connections. The heart-pumping flow of information is not happening, Finance is left out of the conversation when big decisions are made, and business growth is stunted as a result. 

“The Way the World Should Work” 

At Stratify, we talk a lot about “the way the world should work” as a driving motivation. We want to see a world where FP&A is the heart of the business, facilitating the bi-directional flow of financial and operational insights in real-time. 

The analogy of the heart captures this vision where Finance excels in strategic partnership and supports other business leaders with real-time access to relevant data they need to make decisions and grow the business effectively. 

When you’re acting as the heart of the business, your FP&A team can unlock this potential. You can be the vital organ that supports the entire system to function optimally by informing and equipping other stakeholders. 

How to Be the Heart 

Over time, I’ve discovered that operational engagement is often the missing link on an FP&A team’s journey to executing strategic finance. Business units often don’t know in detail how their individual plans sync and affect each other. But FP&A has the ability to optimize financial outcomes for the business by helping to optimize operational performance across the organization. 

Want to strengthen your finance-operations connection? 

  • Integrate your ERP, HRIS and CRM data into an FP&A tool to analyze it along consistent dimensions. Connecting these systems gives you the immediate benefit of real-time access to data, and big time savings when you no longer need to hunt down those numbers.

    This will require data harmonization. For example, the GL may call a department “DevOps” while HR is using the term “Development Operations.” An FP&A tool will help you map the data across systems so dimensions are always consistent.

    Seeing the big picture gives you a better understanding of operating trends and revenue drivers for your organization.  
  • Identify key business triggers. Ask yourself: What levers can be pulled to adjust our plan and bring a better outcome? What’s working? What’s not? 

    For example, why are we missing our Sales targets?  Are our new sales reps not ramping up as quickly as we had planned?  Are fully ramped reps not attaining quota at the rate we planned?  Are we selling at higher discounts than we planned?

    With real-time data, your operational analysis and advice will support the business to pivot quickly and address things that aren’t going well – or double down on things that are.
  • Unlock insights and ‘pump information’ strategically. You can receive information (financial and operational) from different departments, and then send out information (financial and operational) to where it’s needed for better decision-making--often right from within your FP&A tool.

    You’re able to join together the data that is typically siloed within different systems, analyze it, and offer strategic advice that will be critical to multiple teams.

You Need This Mindset Shift 

I believe that the best financial plans are informed by business partners themselves. That’s why you need to invite other stakeholders into the real-time process. This philosophy underpins the Stratify platform, which is designed to provide an intuitive and secure way for all stakeholders to contribute and see the plan through strategic finance glasses. 

It’s not enough for just Finance to think strategically. You have to equip others in the business to think that way too. With direct access to relevant data (plus your big-picture perspective and analysis), other business units will start to think, “I should start planning for X or Y scenarios now.” Or, “how can I ensure that we have just enough capacity to support the number of customers that the sales team plans to sell to?” 

A key differentiator of strategic finance is the ability to predict downstream outcomes and the possible cross-departmental impacts of big decisions. As businesses grow more complex and hungry for valuable, data-driven insights, an integrated approach to strategic finance and operational engagement is the surest way forward. Adopt this mindset, and you’ll become the driving heartbeat of success.

Stratify Frees Spotnana's Finance Team to Do Value Added Work

“Stratify helps me be more efficient. I now have extra time to collaborate cross-functionally and delve into operational topics rather than just focusing on numbers."
- Tina Lai, Finance Manager, Spotnana

Spotnana is revolutionizing the travel industry with its global Travel-as-a-Service platform and open APIs. By modernizing the infrastructure for the travel industry, Spotnana provides freedom, simplicity, and trust to travelers everywhere.

The finance team at Spotnana plays a key role in helping the company succeed. Financial forecasting, visibility, and efficiency are critical for the agile, informed decision-making that this fast-growing SaaS company needs. We spoke with Tina Lai, finance manager at Spotnana, about how Stratify has transformed her work.

Challenge: Working in spreadsheets was time-consuming and error-prone. Team lacked visibility.

Prior to using Stratify, the finance team relied on Excel. This meant wrestling with disparate data sources, version control issues, and, with so much manual work, the possibility of errors was ever-present.

The lack of real-time data made it hard to provide timely, accurate reporting to department leaders. “There was no single place where the team could collaborate, and lack of visibility made it hard for us to plan,” says Tina.

Solution: Single source of truth frees up time for more strategic work

Consolidating financial and workforce data into Stratify was an essential step that freed the finance team from data gathering and synthesizing that was previously so time-consuming. As a result, today Spotnana now has a single source of truth and a streamlined reporting and planning process. “With Stratify, all of our information is in one place. Everyone sees the same real-time data at the same time,” says Tina Lai.


Automated Reporting Saves Time and Supports Department Heads

Automation has drastically reduced the time the finance team previously spent on manual processes. Tina has created custom reports in Stratify that are automatically generated monthly or whenever needed.

Stratify gives Tina the flexibility to produce insightful reports that are meaningful to department leaders. “In Stratify, you can customize reports in different ways, different colors, different layouts–whatever works for your audience,” says Tina. “Stratify works like Excel, but it's better, because it already incorporates all of my data.”

Improved Accuracy

Previously, unnoticed errors in Excel were a constant worry. With Stratify’s configurable models, calculations are transparent, and data updates automatically, ensuring that Spotnana's reports remain accurate.

Freedom and Flexibility in Planning

Tina can now build a true bottoms-up plan.  “One thing I like about Stratify is that I can plan expenses by line item and roll up to a high-level view.” For example, Tina can provide details like a vendor name, contract period, total amount, or a consultant’s name, ID, and rates. She can plan headcount by department.  “That’s very different from big company solutions that I’ve seen, where you can only plan at a very high level. I like that I’m able to plan in detail in Stratify,” says Tina.

Spotnana is continually evolving their plan. The team can quickly modify planning assumptions in Stratify themselves and changes propagate throughout the plan.

Rolling Forecast & Headcount Reconciliation Are a Breeze

Among the finance team members using Stratify, Tina Lai’s focus is headcount and operating expenses. “I save a lot of time on headcount and OpEx planning," says Tina.

Workforce often represents 60% - 70% of a company’s total expense, so getting it right is critical. “We have a lot of new people joining Spotnana. In Stratify, I can take a look at planned headcount and immediately understand whether a position is a backfill, a net new planned headcount, or whether it is a position that is already in the budget. Department heads appreciate the headcount reports I produce in Stratify. They quickly understand where they are at, and they can plan better.”

On the OpEx side, Tina has visibility into vendor spend by department, the cost drivers, and can see expected future spend. Stratify holds so much detailed, real-time information that it is easy for Tina to produce a rolling forecast. “This really helps me understand variances vs budget,” says Tina.

A Strategic Advantage

Tina is now a true business partner. “Stratify helps me be more efficient," says Tina. "Now I have  time to collaborate cross-functionally, delve into operational topics and not just deal with the numbers.”

Stratify has been pivotal in Spotnana's journey, turning financial planning from a grueling task into a strategic advantage. The detailed, real-time insights provided by Stratify not only aid in accuracy and save time but also empower Spotnana to make timely, informed decisions.

As the company continues to grow, Tina and her colleagues look forward to exploring more features and integrations offered by Stratify. “I love working with the customer experience team at Stratify, and the product keeps adding new functionality. The whole team is great!”

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Advice for the Financial Analyst's Journey to Strategic FP&A

Deciding to be a strategic finance partner is one thing, but becoming one is another.

There are hidden financial analyst skills that the job descriptions don’t mention, and – surprise! – there’s no one-size-fits-all instruction manual to learn and apply them. As an analyst at an enterprise SaaS company, I worked to provide the baseline reporting, analysis, and planning that my business needed, but like you I saw that there were bigger opportunities for me to connect the dots operationally and drive faster, informed decision-making. 

Just like you, I had moments of thinking, “Wait, I don’t want the spotlight,” or, “Wait, how and where do I start?” We’re so good at shining the spotlight on others that it can be hard to step out from behind our spreadsheets. Ultimately, embracing a bit of discomfort can lead to remarkable growth and opportunities, and this is no exception. 

There are no set rules, directions, or best practices to become a strategic partner to your business. My journey started out slowly, I took a couple of steps forward and backward.

But I learned some big lessons from the times when I had to go out of my comfort zone and use my insights to solve a real-life problem my business partner was facing. It made me a better colleague, friend, and leader. The uncomfortable journey is more than worth it.

If you’re ready to start for yourself, here is some advice I often share with the clients I work with here at Stratify.

Get to Know Your Partners 

One of my top priorities when I start a new position is to spend the first 2-3 months building relationships with business partners. It’s an intentional onboarding approach, one of the most strategic investments I can make into the success of future projects. That’s because collaboration and connection are the keys to better financial plans. Your plans will be exponentially more valuable if they’re built with business intelligence right from the source. 

I want genuine connections with my stakeholders, to get to know them on a personal level. The atmosphere in meetings changed when I learned that my VP of Operations spent 4 hours during the weekend supporting his son in a soccer game. I’m a mom myself, the unofficial cheerleader for my daughter’s tennis matches. Sharing the triumphs and disappointments of the sports season offered a great way to build a human connection with someone who used to feel a bit intimidating to interact with.

These are the top questions I generally ask to get a feel for their business unit:

  • What keeps you up at night? 
  • What are your 3 biggest priorities and challenges this quarter?
  • Why did you go into your field, and what’s your favorite part of work? 

Let’s face it: We have to have tough conversations on hard numbers, budgets, and decisions. If you have no real relationship and start dumping data on your recruiting or sales partner in the first 30 seconds of the meeting, the conversation will be much harder. 

I need my business partner to think, “I know Quy. She knows me, but more importantly, she knows and cares about my business, my priorities, and my biggest frustrations. I know she’ll do what she can to help me solve the problems I’m facing” – whether that is too much/not enough capacity, fewer sales than expected, etc.

The right questions are simple but powerful. They will tell you everything you need to know about what’s really going on in their team and what is on their plate. Now you can be the initiator to connect the dots and orchestrate or propose a solution that everyone will benefit from.  

Use Your Superpower

We can take one look at the numbers and trends in front of us and that’s all we need for things to make sense. It’s our superpower. But how do we explain things to mere mortals? It boils down to sharing the context behind the numbers.  

I want to help my management team visualize the practical outworkings of different scenarios for their plans and their everyday work. That’s why understanding business operations  is so critical.

If you’re not actually familiar with their strengths, their weaknesses, and the metrics that drive their success, your analysis won’t ring true. Show your business partners that you understand and care about what they care about. That’s how you lay the groundwork to be a strategic finance business partner.

Infuse Strategic Finance Into Everything

Here are some strategies you can explore for yourself:

Leverage every interaction 

The shake-up in remote and hybrid work has been challenging. But, are you in the office 2 days a week? Use that time for all it’s worth to connect with your business partners. Go spend a few hours working at the desk next to them. Get that face-to-face time and develop the foundation of understanding and trust. 

What if you’re fully remote? Don’t feel rushed to launch into business when a few minutes of connection are what you really need.

I know, I know, as introverted analysts we often want to rush into the business agenda and skip the small talk. Our palms get sweaty just seeing the meeting on our calendar. Diffuse the tension with a deep breath, and a smile, and don’t forget that it’s a two-way conversation – always ask the other person how they’re doing, and rely on open-ended questions to learn more and listen well.  

Listen first 

Speaking of listening…it’s everything. You will gain so much more insight when you ask questions of your business partners and then practice active listening. This gives your brain time to make connections and gives space for follow-up questions to bubble up. 

Turn your insights into action

Now you can start delivering strategic value to the business. Here are a couple of examples from my experience in the B2B technology sector: 

  1. In a previous role, I was able to step up and identify a bottleneck in the process for large deals that were verbally closed – but not officially ‘Closed Won’ in Salesforce for 7 long days. I knew Sales and Customer Success wanted to capture the momentum and get going with onboarding, so I coordinated a solution to shave 4 days off the process. That move delivered huge value to Sales and showed that I really cared about their goals.

    You are uniquely positioned to do the same thing for your other business partners. Take what you learn from listening to your business partners and speak up when you see a way to put your insights into action.
  1. Let’s say the revenue goal for the next fiscal year requires the Midmarket sales team to increase their quota plans. Because of the relationship you built with the SalesOps team, you understand that to hit targets, the Midmarket team might need to hire a new salesperson. You understand that if sales increase, Customer Success will be busier with implementations, and you’ll have to check in with number of leads the Marketing team's plan will deliver, too! You’ll be able to orchestrate that collaboration and create a realistic plan to support the strategic goals. 

The Surprising Payoff 

There’s no doubt that this journey takes effort and time. Wondering if it’s worth it? Here’s one immediate benefit: you’ll have relationships and trust to leverage in a very stressful time of year – your annual planning process. It will be so much smoother when you secure timely inputs and collaboration across the business, and approach it as a strategic finance business partner.

I think it’s clear by now that this is not just a professional journey, it’s personal. It's about recognizing that we're not just soulless, data-driven analysts; we're also colleagues and friends who genuinely care and have insights worth sharing.

Our suggestions can help meet top-line revenue goals and take care of a huge headache for a business partner across the office. Put in the work to build your confidence, communication, relationships, and operational knowledge. You won’t regret it.

Budget Variance Analysis (BvA) for Strategic Finance Teams

We all know that the best-laid plans … rarely go to plan. Especially in corporate finance. Budget variance analysis (also referred to as BvA, or budget vs actual analysis) is one of the core FP&A reporting tasks. BvA analysis helps you account for those changes to the plan and connect insight to action when it’s time to analyze performance. 

Strategic finance teams know that reporting and analyzing budget variances is one of the best ways to improve predictions and support the business with concrete suggestions to pivot or respond. 

We’re diving into all things BvA, including the what, why, and how the right technology can save time on variance analysis and maximize value for your business.

What is a Budget Variance Analysis? 

A budget variance is the difference between your plan and your actual results. Variances can be either favorable or unfavorable. This depends on whether performance exceeded expectations and benefited the business, or fell short and hurt the business.

Find the variance for each line item and budget category with this basic formula: 

Variance = Actual Value - Budgeted Value 

Each individual variance can be a positive or negative value, depending on the metric being measured. 

The analysis comes next. Budget variance analysis is the process where analysts and finance managers dig deeper to pinpoint possible reasons behind each variance, especially when the variance exceeds the threshold your business is comfortable with. 

Finance teams do BvA analysis on a regular basis, either monthly, quarterly, or annually. 

Why is BvA Analysis important? 

Budget variance analysis highlights what’s working and what isn’t in granular detail, which leads to more strategic decisions informed by your findings. 

The analysis process helps your FP&A team go deeper to understand the operational drivers that affect business performance and the bottom line – a necessary component of strategic FP&A. These operational drivers could include overhead expenses, employee turnover rates, cycle time to produce a product, or customer acquisition cost.  

Variance analysis can be more or less granular depending on your size. Smaller organizations can stick with high-level comparisons of overall variance. But larger businesses will need to take a deep dive into performance by different departments or product lines. The ‘guardrails’ of the budget are extremely important for start ups or smaller businesses, so variance analysis helps all teams to stay on track. 

How to perform Budget Variance Analysis

1. Collect Your Data 

Effective budget variance analysis depends on good data. Without an FP&A tool, you’ll need to aggregate and compare the budgeted values and the actuals in a new spreadsheet. And you’ll need to hunt down the data from lots of different sources. 

With FP&A software, you can quickly generate the BvA report, since the relevant data is accessible through integrations with ERP, HRIS, and CRM systems. 

2. Calculate the Variances 

Follow the formula above by comparing datasets in spreadsheets. Or, take advantage of your FP&A tool to quickly calculate variances and highlight any areas of concern. 

Don’t forget to evaluate variances on a line-item level, rather than grouping multiple expenses together. A significant variance on one item could be missed when you average and compare the variance of a group. 

3. Perform Your Analysis 

Generally, there are three main reasons for a budget variance: 

  • Errors in your budget (like missing data or formula errors)
  • Changes in the economy or market environments
  • Over or underperformance in the business 

Use the opportunity to ask, “What factors led to this variance?” “Are they inside or outside our ability to influence?” or, “What led us to make such confident predictions in the budget?”

The more you understand operational drivers for your business, the more accurate and useful your recommendations will be to your business partners. 

It’s also important to set variance thresholds for your business. Larger enterprises can be comfortable with variances that are immediate red flags for a smaller business. Set your thresholds so you can focus your analysis on the outlying variances that will reveal more strategic insights. 

4. Report Your Findings 

The next step is to report findings back to business partners. These reports display the budgeted and actual figures and highlight significant favorable or unfavorable variances. They also include commentary on possible reasons behind the discrepancies and strategic recommendations on how to respond moving forward. 

The reporting process is time-consuming for FP&A teams who are completing step 1 and 2 manually. Stakeholders rely on these reports to stay informed and understand the fiscal and operational health of the business, so it should be your goal to get reports out swiftly and spend more time on analysis than on the manual components.

5. Adjust the Forecast 

After completing the BvA analysis, apply your findings and adjust your forecasts based on the trends you identified and any decisions from the executive team on a change of strategy or priorities.

Automate for faster BvA analysis

BvA analysis is your regular opportunity to be a strategic partner to your business. Are you making the most of it? 

A budget vs actual report offers valuable insights to business partners. But the process of preparing a report can take so long that the information is delivered late and is no longer very useful. And without sufficient time to dig into analysis, recommendations and commentary on the reports is often sparse.  

A modern FP&A tool automates BvA analysis and report sharing, which saves time and allows your team to spend more time on higher value strategic analysis. 

Using Stratify for Budget vs. Actual analysis

With a 3rd generation FP&A tool like Stratify, you’ll gain significant time to spend on analysis and investigate operational trends and drivers. These activities are far more valuable to the business than reconciling data and hunting down spreadsheet errors. 
Stratify highly simplifies the process of creating and sharing readable budget variance reports and makes it easy to get feedback from business partners. 

  • Stratify integrates and automatically syncs key business data so the annual plan and forecasts are built on accurate and current data. 
  • Finance managers don’t need to spend valuable time creating reports each month. Automated reports are customizable and are easy for non-finance users to interpret. 
  • Stakeholders can view critical reports sooner, so they can make data-informed decisions.
  • All users can comment within Stratify to ask quick questions and align with business partners. 

With a clear understanding of the strategic value of budget variance analysis, it’s time to streamline your process so you can spot trends and make valuable recommendations to stakeholders. 

Want to experience a better, faster BvA analysis process? See the benefits of reporting with Stratify. Get in touch for a customized demo.

How Finance Gets Stakeholders Engaged in the Planning Process

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! 

Example Stakeholder Engagement plan for Head of Sales

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

Storytelling has been a prominent financial planning trend, but don’t forget these three components to make it more effective:

  • 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! 

Stakeholder collaboration FAQ

What’s the key goal of stakeholder engagement? 

The key goal of stakeholder engagement is to minimize surprises and reduce friction between FP&A and other department leaders. This leads to much smoother and more effective planning and decision-making processes. Higher engagement allows the finance team to be a strategic partner, helping the organization to move in sync toward common goals, react quickly to changes, and make informed decisions that benefit the business.

How do you measure the success of stakeholder engagement?

You can measure the success of stakeholder engagement by tracking both qualitative and quantitative indicators. Quantitative indicators could be improved operational and financial KPIs or a faster time to produce the annual budget. Qualitative indicators could be increased participation in planning processes, improved alignment on goals across departments, feedback quality, and more timely decisions. It’s about observing a shift towards more collaborative, informed, and strategic decision-making within the organization.

How can I help stakeholders improve their financial literacy? 

To help stakeholders improve their financial literacy, FP&A teams can start by including them in the budget creation process and prioritize transparency with regular updates on each business unit's financial performance. Meet them where they are with tailored financial data analysis and education on key financial concepts during regular meetings. This helps stakeholders gain confidence to manage their budget effectively. Additionally, adopting modern FP&A tools that offer self-service access to financial data can empower stakeholders to make informed decisions and take ownership of their spending.

Learn more: How to Improve Budget Owner Accountability: Guide for FP&A

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!

Overcoming Challenges of Headcount Reconciliation

Are you tired of spending days on headcount reconciliation? To improve this essential process, FP&A teams, HR leaders, and their business partners must work together to effectively manage all aspects of workforce planning, including a shared, accurate understanding of headcount.

Timely, accurate headcount reconciliation ensures that financial reports and forecasts reflect the best information available.  You are better able to align your workforce plans with financial goals and strategic plans, ultimately driving improved profitability and growth.

By embracing collaboration and implementing finance and HR best practices, you can reclaim your time, reduce errors, and make better decisions. 

Why headcount reconciliation matters

Headcount reconciliation is crucial because people make up the most significant component of operating expenses in many organizations–often up to 70%. An accurate understanding of your workforce–and where you stand versus your hiring plans–is vital for understanding the business’s capacity to achieve its strategic goals. 

Workforce reconciliation connects actual headcount data in your HRIS (Human Resources Information System) with positions in the workforce plan. This process can reveal gaps in hiring plans which may impact company goals. Once completed you will know if you are behind in your hiring plan or ahead of it.

The implications of this analysis impact each function differently. For example, if the Engineering team has yet to hire critical software developers, will it be able to build products at the pace you’ve planned? Maybe Sales is quickly signing up new customers. That’s great news, but if you are behind on hiring for your professional services or other support team, those new customers might not have a great experience and opt to take their business elsewhere.  

Accurate headcount reconciliation allows you to ensure your financial plans reflect the people capacity you actually have and make adjustments to talent acquisition strategy to meet goals. FP&A software tools like Stratify streamline workforce planning, including headcount reconciliation, making it easier for you to focus on the strategic implications of the data.  

The challenges of traditional headcount reconciliation

For many organizations, reconciliation is a time-consuming and manual process. “It is often the worst part of a financial analyst’s job,” says Quy Dong, former finance professional at Workday and the Head of Customer Success at Stratify, “but you can’t do the job without the picture it reveals.”  

Once an analyst understands gaps versus the workforce plan, she can have an intelligent conversation with her business partners about the strategic implications of missing or exceeding hiring plans. “Unfortunately, at many organizations, an analyst spends so much time pulling data and manipulating it in spreadsheets in order to reconcile actuals vs plan, they have no time to have that kind of strategic conversation with business partners,” says Quy. 

Here are some common challenges faced during traditional reconciliation:

  • Definitions: HR and finance may have two different definitions of headcount. For instance, HR may focus on all individuals including part-time, contractors and full-time employees while finance emphasizes budget allocation for full-time equivalents or “FTEs”. This challenge can create confusion and discrepancies when aligning workforce planning with hiring plans.

  • Manual processes: Relying on spreadsheets and data entry leads to errors and inconsistencies. These mistakes can have significant consequences, including financial discrepancies, misalignment between departments, and a lack of trust in the data used for decision-making.

  • Limited collaboration: A financial analyst needs HR’s assistance to map actual headcount to positions in the plan. She also needs input from both HR and business partners to determine the go-forward workforce plan. She may need to have multiple meetings with these stakeholders to come to consensus. When finance, HR, and business teams don't work together effectively, it's a challenge to identify and address discrepancies promptly, leading to prolonged reconciliation processes and incomplete input into forecasts.

These challenges underscore the importance of adopting a more efficient and accurate approach to reconciliation.

Best practices for effective headcount reconciliation

To overcome these challenges and enhance the efficiency of your reconciliation process, consider implementing the following best practices.

1. Create a Shared Definition of “Headcount”

A human resources team using HR best practices may define headcount differently than finance. But conflicting numbers will only frustrate your CEO. For workforce planning purposes, there can be only one number.  

Therefore, strong collaboration between finance and HR reporting is essential for accurate and efficient reconciliation. Keep in mind that many recruiting or talent acquisition teams may be very transactionally focused--they’ve got jobs to fill, and they are focused on that!  They are utilizing talent assessment tools and other workforce management software to achieve that goal.

So, start by fostering open communication, and work to agree upon terms. For example, does headcount include contractors? How will part-time workers be accounted for? What about interns? Aligning on definitions will help eliminate the chances that HR will have one number for headcount and Finance another.  In this way, you can ensure that data is consistent and up-to-date, leading to more efficient and effective resource allocation.

2. Leverage Technology and Automation

Investing in the right technology can help streamline the headcount reconciliation process. It’s the best way to get Finance out of spreadsheets and enable HR to take an active role in the process. 

Today, many financial analysts must download headcount data from an HRIS and manually upload it into a spreadsheet to compare actuals to planned headcount for the period. An analyst must do her best to connect the dots between the two data sets. She typically meets with HR’s talent acquisition team to get the answers she needs to do this accurately. E.g.  Is this Level 1 engineer position that we hired the same as the Level 2 engineer position we planned for? The data is critical, but the process is inefficient, expensive, and a poor use of everyone’s time. 

FP&A software pulls in HRIS data and compares it with the workforce plan in real-time. A simple workflow enables HR partners to walk through the reconciliation process themselves. HR can quickly see actuals vs. planned, match them up, and complete the reconciliation process in just a few minutes. With the time saved, Finance can focus analysis and discussion on the business implications of being behind or ahead of planned headcount. It’s an extremely efficient way to enable the work between strategic finance, HR, and other department heads to be focused on strategy, not data gathering.

“Headcount reconciliation has always been painful. Now with Stratify, Finance seamlessly syncs with HR & Recruiting.”
- VP of Finance, Jessica Lewis, Spotnana
Read Spotnana’s Story

3. Establish Clear Processes and Accountability

Having well-defined workforce planning processes that assign responsibility for defining planned positions and reconciliation tasks can help ensure efficiency. Creating a clear workflow and setting expectations for each team member can prevent bottlenecks, making the process smoother and more effective.

An FP&A platform like Stratify can help track accountability and keep cross-functional processes organized by assigning planning tasks to non-finance roles. All of these action items are tracked and accomplished on the platform with appropriate access controls.  Examples of assignable tasks include:

  • Finance assigns headcount reconciliation to an HR partner
  • A business partner submits new planned positions and assigns review/approval to finance
  • Finance requests that a business partner provide feedback on a new forecast 

Adopting these best practices for effective reconciliation can streamline the process, ensure accurate data for your organization, and foster a more collaborative environment. This positive change ultimately leads to more informed decision-making and a stronger foundation for financial planning.

Compare the top 5 workforce planning tools for finance.

Save time and avoid headaches with workforce planning from Stratify

Leveraging Stratify's innovative workforce planning solution is one way to make the headcount reconciliation process efficient, giving you more time for strategic conversations.  Stratify is the next-generation FP&A platform for strategic collaboration with business partners, including HR. Stratify enables finance teams to engage stakeholders across the organization in the planning process. With Stratify, you can have data and collaboration processes in one place, making it easy to report, analyze, and plan.

Learn more about efficient workforce planning in Stratify.

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