SUBMITTED BY Jeff Haller

Too often businesses are stuck in a short-term thinking model. Putting out fires, ramping up sales, reacting to a competitor, etc. Some companies make time to go through a strategic planning process just once per year. That’s certainly better than no strategic planning time, but the experts at the Harvard Business School believe that strategic planning needs to be an ongoing, year-round process that brings your team together and contributes to the improved financial health of your business. They recommend the following practices to improve your team’s strategic thinking skills.  

Ask Strategic Questions 

This tactic seems so simple. And yet, when your AP team meets, how often do you take time to ask questions about strategy or strategic process improvements you all could make? Most likely, your meeting time is spent addressing pressing issues, reporting on projects in progress, and looking ahead to tasks on the horizon. But by simply carving out some time to ask strategic questions, your group can make 2022 a year of accelerated growth and unprecedented success. According to the Harvard Business School, asking strategic questions “allows you to exercise your planning skills, become adept at spotting opportunities, and develop a more strategic mindset.”  

When thinking about strategy, related to AP and finance, your questions could relate to a broad spectrum of issues, including challenges, opportunities, or ambiguities your team faces. For example, you could discuss the process improvement strategy and the many opportunities that could be taken advantage of by moving to Accounts Payable Invoice Automation (APIA). You could discuss strategies related to dominating a competitor through innovative technology, or perhaps, how you can structure your finance team to optimize workflow.  

A few strategic questions related to AP and finance include: What’s the direction for innovation for our AP team? Where will the organization's growth and savings come from in the next five years? 

Observe and Reflect 

Once your team starts asking strategic questions, you need to be prepared to start answering strategically. The best answers come from observing and reflecting on your current situation, using accurate data and analytics to guide your path forward.  

If you haven’t invested in APIA yet, you are left answering many of these strategic questions without key information. You are guiding strategy in the dark. AP automation will give you improved oversight of your outstanding invoices and will also allow you to see where improvements in your workflow need to happen. A lack of visibility in your financials can keep your business from accurately planning and prevent you from addressing outstanding invoices in the short term.  

Instead of blindly making decisions regarding cash flow for your business, you need to gather as much information as possible to use when crafting strategies. DataServ’s AP automation solution provides up-to-the-minute dashboards full of financial information that can be sorted and filtered to answer specific questions about AP and AR. You don’t need to make strategic decisions in the dark anymore. 

Consider Opposing Ideas 

Once your team has landed on a strategy that you believe will improve businesses going forward, the Harvard Business School recommends your team begin to question your assumptions and put your hypothesis through rigorous testing. By doing so, they believe, “you can ensure you’re not overlooking another possibility.” 

One way to question your assumptions as a group is to make it a practice to have someone act as a devil’s advocate with your ideas. That way you all can preemptively identify weaknesses in your arguments and prepare to defend your strategy when others ask questions. To start, try asking your group if you should consider a unique perspective. Perhaps there’s another possibility you may have overlooked? By strategizing with a devil’s advocate, you also sharpen the logic skills you need to communicate and execute your strategy.  

DataServ’s tailored accounts payable invoice automation reduces costs, mitigates fraud, streamlines processes, and frees up your staff to work on the strategic thinking and planning that will allow your business to thrive. Make step one of your strategic planning the investment in APIA technology. 

Contact us today to learn more about how our APIA solutions can improve your business. 

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