Return to Targets


  • In the private sector, budgets are managers’ short term targets for income, expenditure, profitability and growth in the coming year

  • Most budgets cover expected costly resource needs and contingencies for extra capacity – they rarely mention customer satisfaction, employee motivation or corporate knowledge levels

  • In the public sector, most budgets cover output volumes – e.g. healthcare episodes, fire incidents or crimes reported – but not quality and service levels expected – their focus is on input resources needed, not outcomes wanted by the public such as less fires and far less crime

  • And there’s little pressure for public sector managers to reduce costs – this has bred a widespread culture of ‘use it or lose it’ – any manager who spends less than his budget in one year can expect to have it reduced for the next year – hence, there’s little incentive for them to try and do more for the public with less

  • Professor C N Parkinson expanded on this: “Government bureaucracies usually find ways to spend pretty much whatever money comes in – they don’t build their budgets from the ground up – they discover the level of expenditure they can finance without breaking too much sweat and then work backwards to justify that level as essential to meet needs”

  • Whatever the sector, budgets are usually set using last year’s results ‘plus a little’, making them not too difficult to achieve – they’re rarely ‘stretching’

  • And, if and when managers achieve their budget, many don’t try to do any better or, if they do, they don’t let it show in their results – their budget becomes an upper limit on their efforts – they ‘hide’ any surplus to give them a flying start for the following year

  • Managers know they’ll be congratulated for ‘meeting budget’, thus helping their promotion prospects, so there’s little incentive for them to do better

  • In addition, budgets can also lock in waste

  • If last year’s performance included a 30% waste of resources say, and this year’s budget is calculated simply by adding a percentage, then this will not only perpetuate such waste but add to it!

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