`This week was the deadline for the completion of my 2010 department budget, just one of many submissions required by our bean-counting division at this time of year.
This round of departmental budgeting is known as the “first cut” and, as Rod Stewart would confirm, it is always the deepest. Following this will be many more predictable rounds of sparring and negotiation before this year’s numbers are agreed.
Budgeting in corporate life is something of a sport, where department heads compete against each other for the right to spend shareholders’ money. Our friends in finance do their best to referee a fair contest, but reserve the right to change the rules of the game in extra time as they seek to close the gap between the contenders’ bottom-up fantasy forecasts and their own top-down solutions.
“The ‘first cut’, as Rod Stewart would confirm, is always the deepest”
On the subject of finance, I found myself sitting next to a retired finance director of a publicly listed company at an industry dinner this week. He took great pleasure in reminding me that the legal responsibility of a company is to make a profit. Fairly obvious, one might think, but I fear the very sight of the title “marketing director” on my name badge prompted great suspicion in his mind.
After another glass of wine, I decided to share my budgeting woes and challenge his views of the world. An hour later we agreed to disagree that the boards of plcs were not particularly driven by delivering stellar financial results for their shareholders but in fact were primarily motivated by the need to deliver certainty.
Analysts reward CEOs for delivering what they say they will deliver, even if those results are mediocre. In turn, senior management are paid handsomely for delivering the status quo. Our skill as managers is all about the elimination of any surprises, good or bad. Certainty is king.
The unspectacular is deemed spectacular and the smartest corporate players understand this. I am sure we all sometimes look bemused when some of our less talented peers make it to the very top. The answer is simple; they may deliver very little, but can be relied on to do so.
On that rather depressing note, I have a budget to write. I shall pitch for way more than I need and then look like a hero when I agree to live off a smaller amount. Which is a win (sort of).