By Gary Cokins, Founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC
So tell me, how did your EPM system stack up against the vision I outlined in my last blog? Hopefully you’re in the “exceptional” category, but if not quite yet then maybe I’ve given you a few ideas to think over. I’m switching attention now to focus in on one area of EPM, but because it’s a big area I’m going to split this across two blogs. How many people in your organization love the annual budgeting process? Probably none. The mere mention of the name “budget” raises eyebrows and evokes cynicism. It should. That’s because the agonizing annual budget process may include:
- Obsolete Budgeting – The budget data is obsolete within weeks after it is published because of ongoing changes in the environment. Customers and competitors usually change their behavior after the budget is published, and a prudent reaction to these changes often cannot be accommodated within it. In addition, today’s budget takes an extraordinarily long time to create, sometimes the process begins six months in advance and in the time taken to finish it the organization may often be reshuffled and resized.
- Bean-Counter Budgeting – The budget is considered a fiscal exercise produced by the accountants and is disconnected from the strategy of the executive team – and from the mission-critical spending needed to implement the strategy.
- Political Budgeting – Listening to the loudest voice, caving in to the strongest political muscle and using the prior year’s budget levels as a baseline are not be ideal ways to award resources for next year’s spending.
- Over-Scrutinized Budgeting – Often the budget is revised midyear or, more frequently, with new forecast spending. Then an excess amount of attention is focused on analyzing the differences between the actual and projected expenses. These include budget-to-forecast, last-forecast-to-current-forecast, actual-to-budget, actual-to-forecast and so on. This reporting provides lifetime job security for the budget analysts in the accounting department.
- Sandbagging Budgeting – The budget numbers that roll up from lower- and mid-level managers often mislead senior executives because of sandbagging (i.e., padding) by the veteran managers who know how to play the game.
- Blow It All Budgeting – Reckless “use it or lose it” spending is standard practice for managers during the last fiscal quarter. Budgets can be an invitation to managers to spend needlessly.
- Wasteful Budgeting – Budgets do nothing to help identify waste, unused capacity, or low productivity because they are not visible from the prior year’s spending. In fact, inefficiencies in the current business processes are often “baked into” next year’s budget. Nor to budgets do not support any form of continuous improvement.
The “traditional” annual budget is ingrained in an organization, yet the effort of producing it heavily outweighs the benefits it supposedly yields. How can budgeting be reformed? Or should the budget process be abandoned altogether because it can drive behavior counter to the organization’s need to rapidly respond to changing goals? How? Because managers will view end of fiscal year fixed targets as a “contract” they need to meet when instead they should be shifting their priorities in respond to changing business conditions. If the budget is to be abandoned, then what should replace its underlying purpose?
The Evolutionary History of Budgets
Why were budgets invented? Organizations seem to go through an irreversible life cycle that leads them toward specialization and eventually to turf protection. What do we mean by this? When organizations are originally created, managing spending is fairly straightforward. With the passing of time, the number and variety of products and service lines change as well as the needs of their customers. This consequently adds to more complexity and results in more indirect expenses and overhead to manage it.
Following an organization’s initial creation, all of the workers are reasonably focused on fulfilling the needs of whatever led to its creation in the first place. Despite early attempts to maintain flexibility, organizations slowly evolve into separate functions. As the functions create their own identities and staff, they seem to become fortresses. In many of them, the work becomes the jealously guarded property of the occupants. Inside each fortress, allegiances grow, and people speak their own languages – an effective way to spot intruders and confuse communications.
With the passing of more time, organizations become internally hierarchical. This structure remains even as value generating transactions and workflows flow through and across the internal and artificial organizational boundaries. These now-accepted management hierarchies are often referred to, within the organization itself as well as in management literature, as “silos,” “stovepipes” or “smokestacks.” They influence managers to act in a self-serving ways, placing their functional needs above those of the cross-functional processes to which each function contributes. In effect, the managers place their personal needs above the needs of their co-workers and customers.
At this stage in its life, the organization becomes less sensitive to the sources of demand placed on it from the outside and to changes in customer needs. In other words, the organization begins to lose sight of its raison d’être. The functional silos compete for resources and blame one another for any of the organization’s inexplicable and continuing failures to meet the needs of its customers. Arguments emerge about the source of the organization’s inefficiencies, but they are difficult to explain.
By this evolution point, there is poor end-to-end visibility about what exactly drives what inside the organization. Some organizations eventually evolve into intransigent bureaucracies. Some functions become so embedded inside the broader organization that their work level is insensitive to changes in the number and types of external requests. Fulfilling these requests were the origin of why their function was created in the first place. Yet, they become insulated from the outside world. This is not a pleasant story, but it is a pervasive one.
In part 2 I’ll discuss the evolving role of the CFO and ways in which budgets can be reformed.
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC www.garycokins.com . He began his career in industry with a Fortune 100 company in CFO and operations roles. Then 15 years in consulting with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS (now part of HP). From 1997 until 2013 Gary was a Principal Consultant with SAS, a business analytics software vendor. His most recent books are Performance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics and Predictive Business Analytics.
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Hear Gary share some of his thoughts concerning EPM innovations and best practices at the SAP Conference for EPM in Chicago, October 13/14, 2014