CIO Careers: The Budget Problem

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 08-08-2011 Print


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No sane IT leader wants to go and ask for budget to address some problem area in, say, the inventory management system that was supposedly complete 10 months ago. What are you going to say? "I just realized my credibility is pretty weak because of the user dissatisfaction in this area and I want to go and fix it." Right. That will go over well.

Besides, you know that there is no way you are going to get budget in this economic climate, even if you could dress up your budget request in the right language. You're also taking a huge risk just by opening up Pandora's complaint box and airing what your user community is saying about the project you've been championing.

The budget hurdle may be one of the biggest you need to surmount on your journey toward building influence in your organization. I often hear CIOs ask: "How can I, without a whole lot of discretionary budget to shore up my credibility and build influence?"

This is, of course, a valid question and one that is of particular importance these days when there is so much pressure on IT budgets. Even if you happen to be among the lucky few who don't have a credibility problem with your user community, you are still likely operating with a very tight budget. And while you may not need to shore up your credibility in the operational systems arena, you are likely wondering, "How can I possibly build influence without the budget to deliver cool new 'stuff' to my users?"

So it seems like this whole pursuit of influence is a non-starter unless you have a whole lot of discretionary budget, right? Wrong. In fact, what I have found over the years is exactly the opposite. That the absence of a big budget to do new projects (of whatever nature) has often proved to be the greatest catalyst for influence building for IT leaders. I'll explain why and how you might consider applying these lessons for yourself.

Re-examining scarcity

Budget dollars are the scarce commodity and the ultimate measure of value in a corporation. Therefore, conventional wisdom goes something like this: High-dollar projects = big and important; low-dollar projects = small but important; no dollars = zero importance. Is that really the case? Are budget dollars the ultimate scarce commodity and the arbiter of value? I think not. There is something that is in much shorter supply than money for nearly all IT leaders, and that is time.

Think about it for a moment. How often do you go home at night wishing you had a few extra hours in the day to invest in dealing with a particularly difficult issue? You don't wish for more money because you know that in many cases money won't solve the problem. What you want is more time. In most cases, the greatest issues facing you and your team need more time and attention than they've been getting, and from the right people. This is more valuable in the long run than throwing money or software or consultants at a problem.

When you have no budget available (for whatever it might be that you want to do) you are forced to ask the ultimate priority-setting question: "Where, in the business, can I apply my efforts, energies and TIME to best leverage our existing investments and to make them really pay off for our enterprise?" And, in no sphere, is this question more relevant and important than in building influence.

If, indeed, you have a major credibility gap with a particular user community, then allocate the time to meaningfully engage with that community in search of a solution. Don't immediately assume that the only answer to the problem lies in doing a new project to repair the ills of an old project.

When you apply your close-in attention and creativity, combined with the creativity of your colleagues, you are likely to produce together a better and more collaborative solution than had you gone it alone in the conventional IT project manner. Best of all, that personal and positive engagement will build the influence you were after in the first place.

Bottom Line

As you set off on the path to greater influence with your peers, stakeholders and boss, don't be concerned that you don't have enough budget to do all the things you want. On the contrary, it's probably the best thing that could happen.

In place of a financial budget, start instead with a time budget. Allocate time, focus and attention to the areas and activities you think are most important. You will be very surprised by two things that you discover in the process:

  1. It will shine a bright light on what you think is really important and likely cause some reprioritization of your time.
  2. Once you start applying yourself personally to the areas of greatest importance to building your influence, it will likely trigger a positive cascade of events faster and more effectively than any IT project ever could.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforITleaders.com


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