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It is easy to predict the future when it is business as usual. However, if your business environment is suddenly impacted by something like the coronavirus, a delayed product launch or an unplanned acquisition, your corporate budget may become obsolete very quickly.

How Do I Know it is Time To Replace the Budget with a Forecast?

Sometimes unexpected events happen and it is clear the company’s actual performance is moving so far above or below the annual budget that it no longer provides value in the following ways: 

  • A cost control tool
  • A target for employee compensation plans
  • A detailed financial break-down of corporate strategic goals
  • A financial plan for various corporate initiatives

There are many signs that you need to create a budget reforecast because it is becoming obsolete due to unexpected events, such as:

  • Management comments why a revenue or expense budget variance is occurring
  • Complaints from sales teams that their targets are too high due to XYZ event
  • Lack of budget ownership from department heads

In addition, you will start hearing from executives that the budget column in the financial statements is “useless” or that the budget target figure in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is no longer valuable. 

Some organizations have a predefined monthly, quarterly or semi-annual reforecasting process, and when the unexpected happens, they simply take this into account next time they reforecast. These companies often have budgeting and forecasting software such as Solver, Adaptive Insight or Planful to speed up and automate the time and effort it takes to create budgets and forecasts.

Other organizations’ forecasting techniques only include a single annual budget version as a baseline, and for these companies a “forced” reforecast due to unexpected events might involve a lot more arms and legs and interruptions to people’s work schedules.  

What to do When the Corporate Budget Becomes Obsolete?

Companies generally do one of the following when their budgets become obsolete: 

  1. Do nothing and live with the undocumented comments and questions until next year’s budget is launched
  2. Leave the budget as is and use report comments to explain big budget variances (see sample screenshot below).
  3. Reforecast the rest of the year and replace the now defunct budget with the new forecast

Most companies enter their corporate forecasts at a higher level than the annual budget, and often it is only done at the Profit & Loss account level and sometimes also for Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.

In most cases, smaller organizations with well organized, home-grown Excel models can forecast in their spreadsheet and then re-import the forecast into their ERP system or third-party reporting tool. In mid-sized and larger organizations even forecasts at the GL account level may require a lot of work due to requirements to do this by division or department. These companies either have more human resources available to perform the work or they use a budgeting tool to automate it.

Picture1

How to Reforecast Your Budget?

Whether your forecasting requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or your company is using a modern budgeting tool, there are ways to avoid the painfully slow bottom-up data entry process. The problem with the latter is that the new forecast may already be old by the time you are done. In these cases, the unexpected event that led to the reforecast could have changed again, leading you to start all over.

Budgeting and forecasting software automation typically means that your input model is highly formula driven. For example, your forecast model can rapidly calculate all the required entries automatically such as % Revenue Increase, Target Net Income, Reduction/Increase in Headcount, etc. This functionality has many names such as:

  • Top-down planning
  • Driver-based modelling
  • Break-back modelling (see sample screenshot below)
  • What-if analysis

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Regardless of what you call it and the type of planning tool you use, an automated reforecasting model can create an entire forecast in minutes or hours versus days or weeks with manual methods. 

 An automated model also allows you to create multiple scenarios. For example, armed with a “Best Case”, “Worst Case” or “Likely” forecast scenarios, you can be prepared for unexpected events without rushing to reforecast. Instead, you replace the “Likely” budget version with the already created “Best Case” or “Worst Case” scenario and you are done. 

If the situation calls for a brand new scenario, you adjust the drivers in the automated model and it will recalculate and store the underlying account-level forecast transactions.  

When your company has the right tools and plans ready for a budget reforecast they will be prepared for a virus outbreak, stock market crash or exciting acquisition of a competitor. Planning ahead will reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s finance team.

Payroll Forecast

Forecasting is always an essential part of any business, and the workforce is typically the largest expense. 

Workforce planning includes salaries, commissions, benefits, taxes, retirement, and much more.  On average, workforce expenses comprises over 30% of gross sales, but it can be over 50% depending on the industry.  Workforce forecasting should always be the top priority for any organization.  Our guide will cover many alignments with strategies, access to data, and best practices on workforce planning and forecasting.

How to Develop a Strategic Plan for Workforce Forecasting

There are many questions to ask prior to starting any type of forecasting, and workforce-related items are often some of the most central questions.  Companies will not be able to forecast reductions, increases, or changes accurately for the workforce without a strategic plan. Data varies, but the estimation is that approximately 90% of all organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully.  

There are many reasons for the failure and it includes lack of communication, not linking strategy to planning, top down approach only, and failed implementation strategy.  Ensure that the organization has a clear strategy and communicate it clearly to the company that there is a well-defined execution path.  

Access to Data for Workforce Planning

The ability to access accurate and timely data for analysis is a necessity.  The data must be accessible in order to build workforce demand forecasting models. There can be a lot of data and below is an example of some of the data by employee by month that would be beneficial in creating a model:

  • Salary
  • Commissions
  • Bonuses
  • Promotions
  • Taxes
  • Benefits
  • New Hires
  • Title
  • Terminations
  • Overtime
  • Headcount by Position
  • Hours Worked
  • Benefit Eligibility

The first question to ask is whether you can access the data.  Determine where the data is coming from and create a process to integrate the data so there is a seamless process monthly or quarterly depending on how often forecasting happens.  

Spot check the data to ensure that the data is accurate as workforce accounts for over 30% of expenses, so a small variance can have a large impact.  For example, if a benefit comprised 1% of gross revenue of $100 Million and the assumption was off by 50%, then the variance would be approximately $500,000 for a single benefit.  This is a substantial variance for just one benefit, which can affect decision-making.   

Generally, workforce demand forecasting models are the most complex templates that organizations have.  The more accurate the data is, then the less complex the models need to be and many of the assumptions go away.  A model allows for enabling quick and accurate decision-making for managers and executives around changes that may need to happen.  They can quickly create multiple what-if scenarios that provide the foundation for the best decision making possible.

How to Forecast Change in the Workforce

There are many ways to go through planning for changes in the workforce.  First, as stated above, set a strategy to provide everyone using the model the clarity to make decisions that meet the strategic plans.  

If management expects production to increase by 50% in manufacturing, then typically there would need to be an increase in workforce or a plan about using more robotics, which may decrease workforce to meet the demand.  However, without this information, the accuracy of the plan will not be accurate.

Decide whether to use a top-down, a bottom-up, or a hybrid of the two approaches.  A top-down approach is when senior management determines the plan and pushes it down to the rest of the company.  A bottom-up approach is when line managers plan and then it rolls up to a consolidated plan.  A hybrid is using both methods and then comparing as different versions. 

Executives can provide a top-down version as a guideline for the managers.  The key to a top-down approach is a model that provides quick what-if scenarios based on adding new hires, modifying benefits, or terminating a percentage of the workforce as an example.

The bottom-up approach typically has two methods and uses the approach that best fits your organization.  One way is to forecast at the employee level.  Managers would go in and enter in new hires, possibly terminations, raises, overtime, and any benefits that a manager would have information on.  This method is very accurate but may have flaws if there is a lot of turnover.  The second method is to plan by headcount by position.  This method would list a job title and how much headcount along with an average salary.  This is not as accurate as it uses an average salary, but works for large organizations that have many people in similar positions. 

Finally, it is important to understand how the organization has been in the past regarding their workforce.  Ask questions such as the following:

  • Is the organization good at hiring or firing?
  • Does it hire too early or too late?
  • Does it usually run a very lean organization or does it get too large?
  • Do certain departments get more budget than other departments?

Understanding this information is vital as it should be included in the plan.

 

The image below offers an example of a partial forecast form where a user can enter a goal, make changes, and see real time changes.

Payroll Forecast

Workforce Forecast – Reporting Process

Reporting is the last step and this comes down to two main parts.  

First, have reports to determine the variances of the workforce forecast against the actual by department.  Next, analyze and document the variances.  Determine if the variances were due to assumptions being incorrect and then modify the model so that it can be more accurate going forward.  If the variances are due to changes in decisions, then document it so that it can be accessible in the future, in case questions come up.

Second, determine the workforce metrics that are important for the organization.  Below are some metrics that may be useful:

  • Revenue/Employee: tracks productivity of the organization over time.
  • Employee Turnover: number of terminations divided by average number of employees.  Note modify to separate out voluntary and involuntary terminations.
  • Benefits Cost/Employee: determine trend by dividing all benefits by employee.  A variation is dividing this by total payroll.
  • Overtime Percentage: overtime divided by total payroll.
  • Time Since Last Promotion: average time in months since last promotion.  This can signify an issue if many top employees are leaving.
  • Time to Hire: the number of days it takes from posting a position to signing the offer letter on average.
  • Engagement: use a survey to ask questions of employees annually and compare over time.

 

This dashboard example is provided by Microsoft shows visual workforce analysis – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/sample-human-resources. 

Solver offers an array of workforce demand forecasting models to help set you up for success. You can review some examples in the images below.

Human Resources Dashboard

Contact Solver to Learn More about Workforce Forecasting 

Workforce forecasting is an imperative function for all organizations and it all starts with a good strategic plan. After that is complete and communicated, then provide data access and create models that can enable world-class decisions. Finally, analyze the reports, review the metrics, and make changes based on the analysis.

Our team at Solver can help set you up for workforce planning and forecasting success. Contact our team today or request a demo for more information about our corporate performance management tools.