The front of your car has just dropped into a huge pothole, ruining your right front wheel and who knows what else. You're jarred by the impact — and angry. Not only will you be delayed in getting to
your destination, but you face a sizeable repair bill. With a sinking feeling, you think about how often you have been out to eat this month, the expensive coat you just bought, and now this... Can your monthly budget cover a hefty car repair expense? Do you even have a personal budget? If
you do, you would know whether your expected income will meet your expected expenses. You might even have an emergency fund to handle unexpected events like — hitting potholes!
If you have a budget, you have asked yourself questions such as, "How much do I spend on groceries each month? On transportation? On entertainment?" To forecast what you will spend, you look at what you have spent on a category in the past. And equally important, you look ahead at your goals: Do you want to go on vacation? Take a class at the local university? Maybe it's time to replace that old car that will cost you so much to repair?
As a manager, you follow the same steps to build a budget for your group. The stakes can be high at work, since your success — and that of your group — may depend on your ability to create and stick
to a budget.
Your budget is the financial blueprint, or action plan, for your group. It translates strategic plans into
measurable expenditures and anticipated returns over a period of time.
Let's focus on those words for a moment: Strategic plans. Measurable expenditures. Anticipated returns. Assume you have a strategic plan with the objective of increasing net profits by 10% in the coming year. You have a choice of tactics to reach your goal. For example, you might introduce new services, hire new salespeople, and/or cut fixed costs. The tactics you choose require measurable expenditures of resources — money, people, time to reengineer processes, and other costs. Finally, your anticipated return involves making sales assumptions and forecasting revenues. This represents the kernel of an action plan and budget for a group — the plan, the expenditures required to execute
the plan, and the expected returns.
But budgeting and planning is usually far more complex — and should include contingency planning
and looking beyond a narrow financial focus . For example, what if a key supplier goes out of
business? Or your star performer takes another job? Will you be prepared? No budget is complete without a contingency plan.
Contingency planning is all about risks, and you frame risks as "what-if" scenarios. "What if
something happens? What would I need to do in response?" You can't cover all contingencies. But if a likely event would have a significant impact on your business, you may want to include an expenditure in your budget to protect your group — and the business as a whole. Perhaps you choose
to invest in training members of your group so they can be ready to step into the shoes of a departing star performer.
Of course, allocating resources for one purpose means something else does not get funding. No organization has an unlimited budget. There are always tradeoffs. The challenge in budgeting is to make the right tradeoffs.
A balanced scorecard can help you make such tradeoffs and look beyond a narrow financial focus. Using a balanced scorecard, you consider the items to include in your budget from four interrelated
Innovation and improvement
A budget obviously presents the financial perspective — expenses, revenues, and return. But what
about your customers , the second perspective? Are they satisfied? What are you doing to keep them loyal? Does your budget cover these investments?
To keep customers satisfied, you need to consider the third perspective of the balanced scorecard —
the internal perspective — that is, your organization. In what ways should your company excel? That question leads directly to the fourth perspective — innovation and improvement. What investments
are necessary to maintain the company's edge over its competitors?
Here's an example that shows the importance of considering other perspectives. Think about a company with one very successful product. Revenue is pouring in, and the stock is soaring. The company's financial picture is great. But the company fails to consider the fourth perspective of the
balanced scorecard — innovation . It does not invest to prepare for the technological revolution around the corner. When that revolution comes, revenues from the company's now-outdated product plummet. And because it ignored innovation, the company goes out of business within the year. To prepare for the future — as well as to get today's work done — you build an action plan into your
budget that shows the expenditures you will make, along with your anticipated revenue and return. You also ensure that those expenditures cover any contingencies and the perspectives of the balanced scorecard. You invest in keeping your customers satisfied. You invest in developing high-quality internal processes. And you invest in innovation to keep ahead of the competition. And once you have covered all these bases, you have invested in your future.