OK, you crazy corporate boys and girls, it's time for that December financial dance I call the End-of-the-Year Budget Watusi. It's easy; it's fun; and it's guaranteed to improve your personal bottom line, no matter how badly it wrecks the company's future. Ready? Let's get started with three easy steps:
The T&E Shuffle: First we'll address those pesky Q4 costs by ordering your people -- at least below the VP level -- to eliminate all travel and entertainment expense in the last 30, 60 or 90 days of the year. Imagine the surprise on your customers' faces when those same reps who've pestered them all year with SOS (same old . . . stuff) presentations suddenly vanish into thin air until Jan. 2! This is so beautiful I can hardly stand it: You'll not only come in under budget, but your customers will be relieved to learn that nobody from your firm expects them to waste time filling out purchase orders in the fourth quarter! Too bad that you've used the same trick the last three years running, and that your staff has finally learned that they'd better spend the entire year's T&E by the end of September. File this memo for the next time you wonder why Q3 T&E is always over budget, and October is always your biggest sales month. What a coincidence!
The Lose-It Money Tango: Next let's dance into the corporate budget garden, where there is no sweeter or more delicate fruit than the bounty of the Lose-It Money Tree. For the uninitiated, this tree blooms only in Q4, when a year of neglect and lack of oversight suddenly reveals an unspent crop of dollars ripe for the picking, a harvest that will vanish at midnight on Dec. 31, and whose very existence will be forgotten and even denied by senior management on Jan. 2. Imagine the delight on the faces of your favorite vendors when you call them on Dec. 22 and finally OK the idiotic Blue Sky projects they've been pitching for three years -- as long as they can invoice you before the accounting department closes the books on Dec. 29. Remember, you're not just buying work you don't need, you're also guaranteeing that corporate won't cut your budget next year. Sweet!
The Last-Week-of-the-Quarter Load-In Samba: Finally, let's make the most important moves of all, the ones that will translate into dollars going to your favorite charity, aka the All-About-You Foundation: It's time to unleash -- yet again -- the Really, Really Big Q4 Sales Bonanza Promotion. The product's a dog, the customers' warehouses are full, but you still have a sales target to hit if you're going to generate any bonus moolah this year. So what do you do when nobody wants to buy? That's right: Give it away! Call it a Valued Customer Discount, offer 0% financing, beg, plead, whine -- anything it takes to get those dogs out of your inventory and into your customers'. Who cares if there's no margin? Why worry if all the SOS comes back via returns and outdated stock by the middle of next year? With any luck at all, your Budget Watusi performance in controlling T&E, launching innovative projects and meeting this year's revenue goals will be noticed by senior management and you'll get promoted to VP, with a whole new series of budgets to trip the light fantastic through.
What a company!
John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.