Watching the last two episodes of the new series of British Top Gear show left me feeling more than a bit bored.  I probably wont bother with the next episode.

A successful format now largely unchanged for years except for the ever growing weighting towards expensive and dramatic “set piece” reportages which became their trademark following the last revamp of the show.   Last week a redux “race” from the UK to Milan, which mainly served to remind one that by car and public transport both trips are mind numbingly dull.  Last night Kia rugby on the pitch at Twickenham, which lets be honest after 90 seconds only the marketing team from Kia can have been enjoying.

The Top Gear team face just the same challenges as any successful business.  Stick with more and more of the same successful formula, or take the risk of change before the customer goes elsewhere because they have become bored.  Of course businesses need strong and innovative or even visionary leadership if they are to avoid this trap, and not having an excessive focus on short term results in order to make the investments and take the risks helps too.

The finance function also has an important part in supporting this process by making sure that planning and budgeting cycles don’t get too caught up in the numbers game before the business has considered what it needs to do to remain compelling and competitive with its customers.  The planning cycle then becomes the quantification, triage and arbitrage of these opportunities overlaid on the existing business development.  The budgeting cycle should be the nearer term implications of delivering the plan.

In large corporations there are whole strategic planning departments working on this.  In small private companies the leader often has a vision and drives the business towards it, sometimes irrespective of its success.  There is a large middle ground where the budget and plan are just a numbers game.  Is your company one of those?  What can you do to influence that?