Making the most of your budget in a cost-constrained environment

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The first quarter of 2009 is complete and what a rocky road it has been for us all.  How did you fare over the first 90 days of the new year?  What went well? What didn’t?  The end of the first quarter provides a time for reflection – and realignment – in order to ensure our programs remained focused and on track.

But, what if more things DIDN’T go well than did?  What if you were forced to shift priorities and resources to carry out a large reduction in force?  What if the corporation’s need for cash prompted a cross-functional 10-percent-across-the-board “contribution” to meet commitments to corporate?

All of us are feeling the economy’s pinch in one way or another.  Getting the most out of every nickel in our cost-constrained budgets is critical.

So, what are some ways to get the most out of that poor, beleaguered budget? Here are four ideas for your consideration:

Employee Action Teams. You’ve certainly heard it from us before, but employee action teams can be a key resource when things get lean.  You’ve likely heard the saying that many hands make light work?  Employee Action Teams represent your in-house, expert consultants that can improve your business in a variety of ways.  It is important that their work be grounded in data – whether it comes from a recent all-employee survey or an in-house improvement study.  If you’re new to implementing and managing Action Teams, we recommend that a third-party facilitator – someone with no “skin in the game” – help start and guide the effort.This ensures that the Action Teams’ efforts begin with the strength that only an objective look can provide.

Overhead concerns? Think executive walk-arounds rather than all-hands.  Let’s face it, pulling your work force together for a monthly or quarterly meeting with your senior leadership team is costly in terms of overhead and lost productivity.  A structured executive walk-around program can help mitigate the impact on overhead and provide a host of benefits to the organization. The key word in the previous sentence is structured.  Don’t be attracted by the thought of an executive walk-around program because is seems easy – and cheap.  In reality, when done properly, managing by walking around (MBWA) is not an easy task.  It is important to have focused messages and a process for accountability.  Otherwise, you have a team of well-compensated execs running amok at your site with no common message and no reason to ensure that their walk-around gets done.  We also recommend that a walk-around not be a stand-alone tool, but rather part of a comprehensive 2-way communications process.  Done correctly, walk-arounds can be a very efficient and effective delivery method.  Done poorly, they are a waste of everyone’s time and erode credibility.  If you don’t have a comprehensive, closed-loop communications process that also provides you actionable feedback, our Dulye & Co. experts can get you started with processes that will build relationships and boost results.

Leaders, be concise.  Before typing a single word on a memo or email, ask yourself: What is the ONE THING that you want people to learn?  Or take action on?  Start with the end in mind and build your message from there.  Cut out any business-speak (a scholarly discussion of EBITDA – Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization – is one of our favorite message muddlers…ditch it!) and tell people what it is that you want them to know.  If you’re the business leader, discuss the message with your staff to get their input and ideas.  Finally, consider whether it is a message that people will want in writing or not.  Rather than a hard-copy memo or the efficient (but dreaded) email, consider whether a broadcast voicemail will get better results.

Gather data.  Finally, times like these mean that priorities at your business will shift – more than likely a few times during the year.  Data provides you with the means to defend your programs when the priority competition begins.  Programs that have data and can easily demonstrate a return on investment have a much better chance of surviving the lean times that those that “feel” right.  Every business leader wants a return on investment – after all, he or she has a boss or a board that must be answered to.  Our communications programs have a built-in mechanism to easily gather and process data from the front lines.  Once you have the data, it’s important that you are able to share it in a manner that’s digestible.  We turn data around rapidly and package it for ease of use on two fronts: understanding results right away and understanding what to do next.  Compelling others with your data is one of the main reasons to collect data in the first place.  Don’t skimp on this important element of your program. 

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