This approach will boost the amount of collaboration, support, and buy-in that will benefit you not just during the remainder of the budgeting process, but also throughout the year as you execute the plan.

Everyone’s favorite season is finally here and I hope you are as excited as I am. I hope you are enjoying every minute and truly making the most of it. I’m not talking fall, pumpkin lattes, and sweaters… I’m referring to budget and planning season.  

OK, so most leaders face this season with some combination of dread, fear, and loathing – and I can completely relate. It usually starts out well, buoyed by a sense of optimism and excitement about the future. But it erodes during weeks of frustrating discussions and complex negotiations that culminate in an uninspiring plan. By the time the final budget emerges, it is not always clear if the plan will deliver on the strategic priorities and move the business forward in any meaningful way. When finally shared with the organization, it receives a lackluster reception and teams struggle to see how their work will make a difference for the business. But what if we could rewrite the story, crafting plans that excite and energize, deliver real performance benefits, and drive meaningful change? While not always easy, approaching the budgeting process with a few mental shifts may make a material difference for you and your teams. 

Purpose first – and always

Rather than getting caught up in lists of activities, variances from last year’s budget, and competing priorities, take a deep breath and reground yourself on what really matters most. 

Realign your compass on your North Star: your organization’s purpose, values and strategy, and the role your organization will play in delivering on it. Let it become the driving force that motivates, inspires, and guides your plan. Don’t lose sight of this as you craft (and defend) your plan as it will not only ensure you are focused on the most critical priorities but also ensure that you (and others) will more easily connect to the meaning and purpose of your work.

In addition, stay grounded in a vision of a future that is better than today and connects to something greater. This will make it easier to overcome the inevitable organizational inertia and resistance to change as you execute your plans.

Co-create your future

Rather than going it alone in an isolated room, engage your team and your peers in planning your coming year. Together, consider the most important way in which you can deliver on the purpose, mission, and values. What opportunities are there to better deliver on them? What is of most value to your customers (and employees)? Once you’ve considered these questions, think through  what your part of the organization might do in the next few years that would have the greatest impact on this. What are the few most significant things that you should tackle next year? And what are the few critical ways in which you can measure your progress and results? You may be surprised at the ideas that might emerge.

This approach will also  boost the amount of collaboration, support, and buy-in that will benefit you not just during the remainder of the budgeting process, but also throughout the year as you execute the plan. Research confirms that people value what they create more highly and with more loyalty than if they did not create it, independent of all other factors (termed the “IKEA effect” for the value people place when building their own furniture). 

Communicate and build community

Once you have clarified what you will (and won’t) be doing in the coming year, widen your circle of influence and get others on board. Translate your plan into the multiple languages of the organization, financial plans and budgets, product road maps, project plans, etc., so that you can easily communicate and engage with every part of the organization. Don’t do it because it’s required (although it may be), do it because it will enable you to inspire others and clearly articulate how critical what you are doing is to the organization, why it matters, how it might affect them, and how they can help. 

Be agile

For everyone who has ever submitted a budget, you will know the frustration of death by a thousand small cuts. You will find initiatives changed, allocations reduced, and resources shifted. If you lean into this instead of away from it, you will not only navigate this with much less stress and frustration, but you will emerge with a stronger and better plan than you started with. View this as an iterative, agile approach – one that will require you to go from your proposal (your initial prototype) to your final version.  

This process is inherently messy, but if you take a learning mentality – one of experimentation and flexibility – and remain grounded on your North Star, you can use this process to generate new and innovative ways to move your business forward. So put on your sweater, grab a pumpkin latte, and get ready to make budget season your favorite too!


Melissa Norcross

Melissa Norcross

Co-Founder and Chief Strategist

As a former Chief Strategy Officer and veteran operations and strategy consultant for firms including McKinsey & Company, Melissa’s work spans industries and the globe. Melissa has worked with organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to non-profits as well as private-equity funded turn-arounds. Melissa facilitates peer networks of senior executives in the digital and technology space through Collaborative Gain’s Councils. Melissa holds a BS in Engineering from MIT, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a Ph.D. in Values-Driven Leadership, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Sustainability from Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership.

Learn more about Melissa here.

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