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Business Budgets at the Department Level

If you're thinking about taking a job as a manager there are two questions that will help you quickly understand if you are really going to be managing, or just "leading":

  • Do I have the ability to hire & fire people on my team within the scope of approved positions? (There are times when hiring freezes are in place, what you're looking for is whether you have to get someone else to say ok or not)
  • Do I have spending authority and a budget to work against? (Again, there may be times when there is a spending freeze, what you want to know is whether you can buy donuts without asking/arguing)

It's the latter question that gets interesting. Most managers are reluctant to delegate spending authority. Somehow spending real dollars seems much riskier than hiring you as a manager or letting you select employees that probably average $100k a year in overall cost. If you don't currently have real spending authority you probably go through something like a few times a year:

You: Hey boss, I want to send my guy Steve Jones to the How To Be a More Exciting Writer class. It's a four day class and will cost about $2500 with travel.

Boss: Why can't he just read the book?

You: Boss, we've been over this before, when you're early in the learning curve in person training is far more effective, then books make sense as a supplement.

Boss: Couldn't we find a class that doesn't quire travel?

You:........................blah blah

Boss: Well, ok, we'll do it this time.

It's like trying to get money from your parents every Friday. Far better to have that conversation once for the year and then spend as needed. It saves everyone a lot of time and energy, it also gives you a way to tell your team 'hey, this is what I have to work with", and it makes you try to get the most bang for your buck.

Of course your paranoid boss worries that you'll somehow waste it. We're not talking about fraud (which can always happen without appropriate checks and balances), but the idea that you'll send people to Java courses when all you do is .Net. Part of getting a budget is assigning dollars to categories; it's fine to budget $50 a month for breakfast treats and reassures all above that you won't be spending $1k a month on catered breakfasts.

It's not just about pain avoidance either, it's about making you a steward of the companies resources. Many years ago I was arguing for funds to build an IT book library at my employer. After many (many!) conversations by boss was about to secure permission for me to order 8 books. Yes, we went big! I ordered 8 brand new books, but suggested that if we did it again perhaps a better plan would be to give me $250 instead of 8 books. Why? With a limit of 8 books I just bought the first 8 that I wanted. With a dollar limit I could actually get a lot more books by shopping used books, trading some of my time (on a break mind you) to end up with perhaps 14 books instead of 8.

You'll see many companies do a spending spree at end of year, the "use it or lose it" approach which I despise. I understand holding back some rainy day money, but too often I see that rainy day money spent on stuff that would have delivered a lot more value if purchased 6 months earlier, or effectively delivered no value but was "fun" to do. Being responsible here is harder, but if you want to be good - learn the hard lessons. GIve the money back even if some other schmo turns about and wastes it. Just don't be the schmo that didn't care to set a quarterly reminder to spend money allocated on various resources.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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