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How to Fail at Annual Budgeting

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randy miller how to fail at budgeting

An annual budget creates a roadmap to success—at least that is what has been drilled into every business owner. But there is a big difference between having a budget and building success. And here are four ways you can fail at annual budgeting. 

1. Your annual budget is not in sync with your strategic plan

Annual budgets have a short-term focus. This creates an intrinsic focus on “making the numbers each month.” This is especially true when bonuses and incentives are tied to quarterly or annual targets. The fallout is that managers become reluctant to spend money on initiatives or opportunities that are not in the budget or have a multi-year timeframe. 

2. Your budget becomes obsolete within months

Business conditions change—the last two years illustrated this in dramatic fashion. Even outside of those years, businesses endure changing conditions on a regular basis. Opportunities arise, major customers leave, suppliers disappear or are bought out and new owners change terms. Despite these changes, internally people are still trying to achieve the outdated numbers. As the business world becomes more dynamic, the static annual budget diverges from reality more and more.

3. Annual budgets don’t really motivate the right behavior

Depending on the perceived role of the annual budget, the behavior of different departments can function more for preservation than success. Managers may ask for larger budgets than needed. They want to make sure they don’t get penalized the next year with a smaller allocation. Others may lowball targets to make their performance look better. As mentioned above, this is a larger risk when incentives are tied to budget measurements. Innovation is avoided and the result is that the company is looking to the past instead of the future. (In the military this is defined as fighting the last battle instead of the next one.)

4. Your budget gets ignored

Often the biggest reason for failure is that once the budget is finalized, the binder is put on the shelf, and that is the last time anyone thinks about it until the next year’s process starts.  For managers, the long-term success of the company is out of mind, replaced by “what results can I show this week or month”.

Building an annual budget that includes these traps will almost certainly guarantee that your budget will not help your business succeed. Talk to your accountant or team about ways to avoid these traps. Open communication can help you navigate away from what has been drilled into every business owner.

Read more about Randy Miller here.

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As a Consulting CFO, Randy Miller works with privately held companies to build better organizations for sustained growth, or to maximize value for a full or partial sale. He specializes in strategic planning, organizational development and accounting/finance/human resources management services for businesses. His passion is working with Owners/ CEOs/Presidents to maximize enterprise value by sharing his knowledge gained from working with start-ups, growth companies, and turnarounds for over thirty-five years. Visit RMM Accounting.