More and Bigger Europe –Part 2 – It is MORE…

English: Various Euro bills.
Image via Wikipedia

We pick up from the introductory article by expanding on the issue of MORE Europe, which we did not cover in enough depth.

More Europe

It is without a shadow of doubt that belonging to an enlarged common market has huge beneficial advantages to all its participants.

However, the question of the Cost / Benefit analysis dynamics is never really explored in more detail. Perhaps it is easier to focus on just one or the other of the two interlinked dynamics, but for it to be a balanced appraisal; we need to focus on the interactions of both COST and BENEFITS.

And when the leaders of Europe cannot tell anymore what the difference is between a COST and a BENEFIT of being in a single currency Eurozone, then what chance do the rest of us have? Is our COST the misplaced belief that leaders will make decisions in our best interest that will BENEFIT us in the long run?

But if the COST is the lesson of Moral Hazard, why have they not learnt yet that working towards an orderly default is better than raiding the futures of millions of current and future taxpayers in Europe. The COST of an uncompetitive and stagnating Europe (which has been brewing and developing for a few decades now), is that we have lost the ‘child like’ curiosity of inventing and innovating our why towards sustainable economic development and growth.

Rather than embrace the opportunity to learn from the younger cultural of the Eastern European and Baltic States integration onto Europe, we are in danger of smothering their youthful exuberance with a bureaucratic Welfare State super-state, with a healthy dose of Welfare and Debt dependency for decades to come.

Countries using the Euro de jure Countries and...
Image via Wikipedia

No-one is saying that the transition will be painless, but it seems that most leaders in Europe have forgotten to keep an eye on both the COST and BENEFIT dynamics. Except for the brave decision made by David Cameron on Friday morning.

English: David Cameron's picture on the 10 Dow...
Image via Wikipedia

Veto the madness and risk what some call isolation, but we here at theMarketSoul call the grasp for our economic sanity.

We can still be part of a common market and then there is still a Common Wealth to leverage, should both the EU and the USA decide to marginalise Britain on the international stage, as some commentators are fearing.

Maybe a true third balancing force and alliance will help us move out of the doldrums of the CRISES of 2008 – 2011 (and quite possibly beyond).

theMarketSoul ©2011

Risk-Based Change Management

Introduction

Cost cutting has been a priority in the private sector, ever since the financial credit quake started in 2008, yet the words currently are ‘austerity measures’ and budget cuts in the public sector.

Most of the cost cutting in organisations has been along the tactical and operational lines and we believe that in the ‘age of austerity’ we are within, revisiting cost cutting from a more strategic perspective would add significant value to both the private and public sector organisation alike.

Budgeting
Budgeting (Photo credit: RambergMediaImages)

A Zero Based Approach

Within most organisations budgeting and budget setting is an incremental affair.  It is very much focused on a business as usual mentality and the status quo is rarely questioned or scrutinised with any level of depth and rigour, as long as the financial plan delivers the numbers senior managers anticipate and the investor community expects.

Yet this is exactly the kind of ‘tyranny of the status quo’ that has destroyed a significant proportion of value in organisations over the past two years.

A zero based approach addresses some of the short comings associated with incremental budgeting and financial planning.  It is by no means a perfect replacement for incremental budgeting, it cannot address all the strategic issues and it is fraught with its own pitfalls, yet we assert that a focus on some recent lessons learnt in organisations that have implemented cost cutting via a zero based approach can add value to our clients budgeting and financial planning systems.

Zero-based budgeting can be summarised as the process of preparing financial plans from a change perspective, normally building the financial plan from scratch (the zero base), viewing the process as if the organisation has not delivered the particular service of product in focus before.

Some of the lessons learnt are briefly listed below:

  • Many versus few – Instructions and the interpretation thereof by individual users

    Journal of Human Capital
    Journal of Human Capital (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Focus on the Full Time Equivalents (FTEs)  and people cost early in the process
    • Check Payroll Data integrity
    • Understand thoroughly the organisational restructuring issues (get Human Resources understanding the financial budgeting language early in the process)
    • Ensure a distinction between building a Business Case versus Budgeting
    • Confidentiality (how, who, what and staff and managerial morale implications)
  • Education process and ensuring skills, knowledge and information convergence to ensure the budget is delivered as a value added ‘conversation’
  • Appreciation of management style versus timetable for budget delivery
  • Over communicate (more information is better than more or inadequate assumptions)
  • Concentrate on the budget story (strategy and changes) and ‘hang’ the budget numbers on the end of the storyline (Making the budgeting process less ‘threatening’ to budget owners)

These lessons can be separated into two distinctive themes, namely the Human Capital dimension and the Systems issues.

Themes to be aware of

As far as the Human Capital dimension is concerned the major lesson is to ensure that both the budget holders and prepares are fully cognisant and understand the language of both budgeting and what the inherent risks and concerns around a zero-based approach is.

Key issues and risk are around work stream teams from different disciplines (HR, Finance, Operations, IT and marketing) not always having a common language and frame of references for similar linguistic terms and phrases.  Ensure that potential for misunderstanding the objectives and delivery mechanisms are addressed early in the Zero Based Budgeting approach.

Foster a culture of empathy within the management ranks and never underestimate the emotional impact that getting rid of people can have on both the managers having to make the tough calls and both the staff being called upon to leave and the staff morale of the people earmarked to remain behind and deliver the business as usual processes.

As far as the Systems issues are concerned, ensure that enough time and preparation goes into the planning and delivery of the Zero Based Budgeting mechanisms and tools, as you will be running a process that has not been utilised and thoroughly tried and tested under operational conditions before.  There are risks in the following areas to be aware of:

  • Data integrity
  • Spreadsheet modelling and calculation errors
  • Documentation and the support services (handling budget holder queries and concerns)
  • Skills and knowledge of the budget holders and preparers might be limited
A diagram showing the flow of knowledge in the...
A diagram showing the flow of knowledge in the Financial Planning Profession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conclusion

As was suggested in the Lessons Learnt listing above, over communicate with managers, budget holders and preparers and staff.  Ensuring that adequate information is made available in comprehensible and non-technical language is the key to success.  Too often we have seen ‘lazy’ and shortcut assumptions being made, when a little bit of extra effort, ‘digging’ and asking the right people with the operational knowledge the right questions would ensure a more robust and rigorous budget.

Finally, ensure that both the process and outcomes are well documented and articulated as they serve as your shield and defence when the reality does not turn out as the best laid financial plan might have anticipated.

We view Zero Based Budgeting as a risk-based change management tool that assists and informs the senior managers in any organisation of the opportunities and risks inherent in designing and building innovative change processes to help add value to the organisation’s overall performance.

At theMarketSoul ©1999 – 2011 we have practitioners available who can assist you on a consultancy basis to operationalise the full 360 degree Financial Management practices most organisations require in order to ensure that they remain competitive, profitable and continue to create value.