Written by Crystal Lee
Imagine deciding to climb Mount Everest. This 29,000-foot journey is not only difficult, it is dangerous. This is why even the most experienced mountaineer will employ the expert services of a mountain Sherpa. The role of a Sherpa in a mountain climbing expedition is akin to the role of the CFO – and the finance team at large – in an Integrated Business Planning process (IBP). Think about it. What’s the role of the Sherpa? First and foremost, they’re responsible for the safety of the climbing team. No one knows the mountain like the Sherpa. Likewise, no one knows the fiscal reality of a business to the extent of the CFO.
In each instance the Sherpa and the CFO have an impeccable grasp of their surroundings. The entire camp, and the entire business, depends on it. But a group mountain climbing expedition is ultimately not solely the Sherpa’s journey, just like an IBP is a company-wide enterprise, not just the plan or ambitions of the CFO. This is why both the Sherpa and the CFO need to listen to their fellow team members as well as they listen to their surroundings. Sherpas and CFOs both need to know how much they can expect from each member of their team. If they are not aware of this critical information, their expertise of the surrounding area will be in vain.
And yet, a Sherpa with full knowledge of the mountain and a total understanding of his climber is useless if he is unable to communicate his expertise to the mountaineer. In the same vein, a CFO who is as a valued member of the Integrated Business Planning process will have a wealth of valuable insights for any organization. But those insights only matter to the degree the CFO can effectively share and communicate them.
Most importantly, the Sherpa is always climbing the same mountain as those whom they guide. Often in my consulting journey I run across companies without IBP that have competing plans; one financial and one operational. This process understandably creates all sorts of havoc. An IBP process drives one common plan, so the Sherpa is always climbing the same mountain as the mountaineer. This mutual journey up the mountain between the Sherpa and the climber mirrors the partnership between finance and operational leadership within a company.
Just like any mountaineer has the good sense to communicate with and depend on a Sherpa, so too businesses will get more from their IBP process when they bring the finance team into the fold – and not leave them hiking up their own mountain all alone.