Budgeting as a strategic lever to unlocking sustainable business growth

Nai is the Head, Finance, Business and Commercial Banking, and Client Solutions, Stanbic Bank Ghana


Businesses are usually established to serve stakeholder needs which are either apparent or latent. The service of these needs is supposed to be done in a sustainable manner. Businesses are expected to grow and scale over time to satisfy the competing interests of their various stakeholders. Business growth could be defined as increasing in size, prominence and abilities which could be either organic, by acquisition or both. Notable growth metrics are revenues which drive growth in reserves and capital. Revenue growth is usually driven by sales and production volume growths.

Business growth is expected to be planned and executed in such a manner that the process could be tracked and monitored for progress. The anticipated growth or scale for a business could be planned for a short, medium or long term driven by ownership or leadership aspirations. Budgeting is mostly captured at the short-term end of the plan usually covering a single financial year.

Budgeting allows businesses to allocate organizational resources efficiently and ensuring that the resources directed toward strategic initiatives drive and achieve the intended growth. By dedicating specific resources for projects and programs businesses prevent overspending as well as spending out of line.

Budgeting and forecasting are vital for sustainable business growth as they provide a framework for prudent financial management, risk management and performance measurement. Driving sustainable growth thus ensures that specific attention is paid to the foundations of the business such as client growth, client experiences, shorter turnaround times for key processes and increased customer transactions etc. These are some of the elements required for stronger and sustainable business performance.

Challenges of budgeting and forecasts

Budgeting in recent years has come under intense pressure, challenging its relevance to ensuring sustainable long-term growth in businesses. Budgets are usually rigid and do not easily accommodate changes in the business environment. This rigidity is believed to stifle innovation and creativity as strict adherence to the budget do not allow for organisations to respond to unexpected opportunities and challenges, ostensibly to avoid overruns. Also, the budgeting process is usually laborious, time consuming and involves overly complex processes which amount to waste of resources in putting them together. Time needed for other value-adding activities are starved thus, driving lack of productivity inefficiencies.

Budgets usually focus on short-term goals over long-term strategic goals. This prioritises immediate financial performance at the expense long-term growth and sustainability objectives. Research and development expenses could be cut to boost short-term performance. This consequently could undermine the company’s future competitiveness.  It is believed some of the numbers could be manipulated, underestimated or padded to deliver a deliberate end. This drives mistrust and organisational ineffectiveness.

Budgeting unrealistic targets could demotivate employees as their best efforts could still not deliver those targets. Financial planning and budgeting also focus more on financial targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) to the detriment of non-financial metrics which may be equally important areas of organisations. Very often, budgeting prioritises cost control and expense reduction at the expense of budgeting for the realistic revenues thus depriving the organisation of relevant investments for value creation and growth.

The fast-changing economic environment within which the budget is framed makes accurate planning a challenging venture thus leading to misallocation of resources and potential errors and making the whole planning a pointless exercise. Budgeting usually encourages departmental or unit silo mindedness where the units focus on their own budgets other than the organisation’s broad strategic objectives.

Benefits of budgeting and forecasting

For starters, financial planning allows businesses to allocate resources effectively, ensuring that investments in technology and innovation are prioritised and aligned with strategic objectives. This enables organisations to capitalise on emerging trends and opportunities, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and cloud computing, to drive growth and improve operational efficiency.

Contrary to the view of the rigidity of the financial planning process, it rather guides organisations to focus on investments that are of utmost importance to achieving their set goals regarding customer centricity and consequently improved customer experience.  Other less impactful ventures may therefore be de-emphasised. Without financial planning and no clear direction, teams end up placing these less important investments top in the pecking order and consequently culminates in slowed business growth.

Furthermore, with thorough financial planning, businesses are better placed to manage risk and uncertainty in a rapidly changing environment. Especially with the high pace of technological change, organisations must be able to adapt quickly to new developments and mitigate potential risks. Financial planning enables businesses to scenario-plan, stress-test, and simulate different outcomes, ensuring that they are prepared for any eventuality.

Effective and efficient financial planning process ensures extensive stakeholder engagement and thus facilitates collaboration and communication across different departments. In the new fast paced world, no organisation can survive with a siloed mentality or unclear communication. Financial planning brings together finance, operations, marketing, and technology teams to align goals, priorities, and resources, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same set of objectives. This provides different teams with the invaluable insights required to ensure organisational growth.

Contrary to the notion that budgeting and planning focuses on only short-term gains over long-term sustainability and growth, financial planning and budgeting rather enable investment in sustainable technologies and innovation, driving growth and competitiveness. This process provides the organisations with the opportunity to assess the necessary investment required to move to the next level of organisational growth.

When done in the right way, the budgeting process promotes transparency and accountability, enabling businesses to track sustainable performance and make data-driven decisions.  This is because, the planning process will bring to bear the abilities and the limitations of an organisation and outline clear plans for performance monitoring.

Lack of clear targets set or a performance reference point, gives room to mediocrity in performance. Therefore, financial planning enables businesses to measure and track performance timeously, using data analytics and other tools to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed rather than getting demotivated. This allows organisations to respond quickly to changes in the environment, customer needs, and technological advancements to promote their agility and competitiveness. Indeed, setting challenging targets and incentivising teams appropriately in most cases encourage teams to accelerate organisational productivity and growth.

Financial targets and KPIs are only outcomes of how efficient and productive an organisation is in meeting the fundamental non-financial elements that underpin the business operations such as customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, effective risk management which insulates the business from undue risks which could threaten the very existence of the organisation.  For instance, top notch customer experience leads to increased patronage and ultimately increased revenue. Again, proper financial planning would ensure the right investments to achieve this within the capacity of an organisation. Without these, investments may not be properly targeted.

Finally, financial planning helps businesses to attract and retain top talents, as well as raise capital. In a highly technological world of ours, access to capital and talent is critical to driving growth and innovation. Financial planning demonstrates a company’s commitment to strategic thinking, risk management, and long-term sustainability, making it more attractive to investors, lenders, and top talents.

Admittedly, the traditional budgeting system has challenges but among other interventions, the emerging concept of Beyond Budgeting is being deployed to address the identified challenges. Beyond Budgeting is a management approach that aims to overcome the limitations of traditional budgeting methods whilst focusing additionally on non-financial KPIs as much as possible.

In conventional budgeting, organisations create annual budgets based on historical data and predetermined targets. These budgets are often rigid and hierarchical and focus intensely on cost management.

However, this new budgeting strategy recommends a more dynamic and decentralized approach to managing organisations. It addresses the shortcomings of rigid annual budgets in a fast-paced and unpredictable business environment. It encourages organisations to shift from fixed budgets to rolling forecasts, allowing them to adjust their targets and resource allocation in response to changing environmental circumstances. This flexibility makes businesses more agile and responsive, seizing emerging opportunities and reduce risks. It also aligns with modern management trends emphasising adaptability, customer-centricity, and employee empowerment. It encourages organisations to focus on value creation instead of extreme focus on cost reduction. This concept also supports long-term plans, shifting the focus from short-term financial targets to sustainable growth and performance.

Notwithstanding the challenges associated with budgeting or financial planning, its relevance in driving sustainable business growth in the highly technological new world cannot be overemphasised. However, to unlock its potential of ensuring sustainable business growth into the future, a shift from the traditional form of budgeting is required for Beyond Budgeting.

The implementation of the Beyond Budgeting concept would also require a significant shift in organisational culture and mindset, changes in processes, systems, and leadership practices to achieve the desired impact. Additionally, to minimise possible disruptions to achieving the overarching organisational objectives, a comprehensive change management plan is required, as implementation may face resistance from employees and management accustomed to the traditional practices. Thus, a comprehensive assessment and proper planning for a smooth transition is required.

Nai is the Head, Finance, Business and Commercial Banking, and Client Solutions, Stanbic Bank Ghana

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