Managing the budget and missing the goal?

Aw… never!

As a consultant I am frequently faced with a budget limit from my clients.

Until we discuss the real issue.

The vast majority of situations ultimately get resolved and the budget is never a real issue.


That is not to say that the budget expands! In a lot of cases the solution is less expansive than expected.


In all situation, the real issue is uncovered after a deep period of questioning

  • What do you want? A solution.
  • What do you really want? A solution fast! And cheap.
  • Why do you want this? We have a problem.
  • Why do you really want this?
    • I am already committed…
    • I will look like a fool if I don’t succeed…
    • I do not want to go back and ask for more…

Simple stuff really.

Answering honestly demands courage from a manager.

Courage to go back to the management committee and say we did not understand the problem correctly and we were about to make a mistake…


Oh well… Who am I to say to a client what is the right approach? I was recently asked just this… in no uncertain tone!

I am usually transparent (OK, OK… very frequently!!). After all I charge the big bucks for advice. If I am not perfectly honest with my clients, why do they pay me?

But, as a consultant, I am not an employee. I do not have to accept what my boss says.

In fact, I stand corrected : as an employee I SHOULD help my boss take the best decision and I should not be reluctant to fluster my boss, or be afraid of his/her tantrum upon receiving my expert answer.
Consultant, employee, colleague, friend or spouse… it should all be so easy.

But trust is the issue.

Trust, and fear…. its opposite.

Fear of hurting or displeasing the other.

Trust and vision. The heart of any association between any two persons. Or any organizations.

Why do even bother talking to each other if we do not trust each other?

As a small kid we all used to probe with WHY… repeatedly.

As an adult, a single “NO” or its equivalent will stop all of our inquiries.


Or even less. Trust me in this… Lots of adults will only “imagine” a “no” coming their way and they will simply refrain from even asking… expecting this resounding “no”… ah… imagination… quite a process.


Case in point :

The organization has a problem. A recurrent one. Customer complaints are at an all time high.

The “boss” wants a solution. A cheap one of course. “Will you do this ?” he asks his manager.

“Sure!” comes the quick reply.

We start to search for a solution…

Oh no… we first define the budget for this solution.

But, but… thinks the manager… we do not even know what the problem is… and stop himself from voicing his concern. After all, as a manager, he should already KNOW the appropriate course of action to this “problem”.

He therefore accepts the limited budget proposed and tries to fit a square solution into this very round hole, very round and very small hole.

Pfff…. Why bother saying and meaning “yes” if we are not allowed to say “no” anyway ? Ah well…

Let’s find an expert!

Ah, experts know all!!

And let’s ask him to do what the manager has in mind… i.e. the budget limit, not the end in mind.

When the expert proposes a starting solution that is different from the original manager’s idea, one of two things usually happen :

  1. OH! I had not thought about this… let’s try to fit it in our budget.
  2. Oh. This is NOT what I had in mind. It might go over budget. This is new (i.e. RISKY), I want a “traditional” (i.e. SAFE and inefficient) solution.

Unfortunately #2 is frequent.




Yeah, better something that is measurable, easy to implement and useless than something that might produce a different and unexpected result and that might prove uncertain and will require to convince lots of people…

Remember :

  • The current situation is NOT acceptable.
  • What WAS has to be altered.

Marshall Goldsmith once said  “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

And Einstein said that the problem we face today have to be faced with a different level of thinking that the one we were at when we created them.

Einstein was a genius.

He was an observer.

He also said something like : “Two things are infinite : the universe and human stupidity. But as he ended his life he was no so sure about the former.”


I do not profess to be as wise as Albert. Will never be.

That is why I ask simple questions… I need to simplify.

Questions like :

  • How much is your budget. Oh.
  • How much will this situation cost if it is not solved properly ? Much more!

Ah… most people are smart enough to see the HUGE difference in cost.

On one side is the PRICE of a proposal.

On the other is the VALUE of the same proposal.

The calculation is generally in favor of a solution… almost without consideration to the cost, which is, all thing considered, always small with respect to the non-solution.

The insight is generally enough for a manager to muster the courage necessary to go back to the board and ask for a second discussion about the real issue.

Funny… budget is rarely discussed as a limiting factor when the real issue surfaces.


I recall a meeting with a number of retirees a few years ago. One of them told me with great pride that he had worked 38 years for the same employer. He slowly climbed the ladder to become a manager. He told us that he had only two rules :

  • Take care of the clients.
  • Take care of the happiness of his employees.

In no particular order.

Then we discussed the budget. He was very proud to say that he had never went over-budget for his very complex operations. Never.

I then said : That is because you never managed a budget.

He looked stunned. “No sir, you misunderstood. I never went over-budget.”

“I know”, I replied, “but you managed your team and you had a vision. You did not think of your budget as an end per se but as a tool to accomplish your mission.”

He stopped talking. Thought for a second and agreed with a smile.


Managing the budget and missing the goal?

Managing by budget and missing the goal is unfortunately what too many managers still do.

And they usually change job every few years.

Ah well… I will go back to this organization. Once the current manager will have switched job… again.


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