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Why your budget request will cause you to fail

Budget request

You know she is asking for what she really wants!

Budget request

Ever put together a budget request for a special project? When you are working on a project that requires employee hours or financial resources, is your budget request on point? One of the most common career mistakes a person can make is not asking for enough. As the VP of Operations or VP of HR in prior companies, I have heard 100’s of budget requests over the years. There are a couple of pitfalls when it comes to asking for resources. Not having your business pitch prepared and not asking for enough. Today we cover the latter.

Is your budget request enough to ensure your successful completion?

The dilemma 

Your project needs $10,000.00. You know your manager is going to pop their lid when they hear your budget request so you ask for $7,000.00.  I get it. If you ask for $10,000.00, you will hear at least the following:

  • Are you fricking kidding? This little project isn’t going to cost $10K. 
  • We just went through the budgeting process? Why didn’t you include this in your annual budget request?
  • I can’t take this upstairs. You know we are trying to do more with less? Take this back and cut this budget request. 

You are smart so you anticipate

In your mind, you can hear your manager’s response to your $10K request while you are typing up your one-page proposal. We hear the ranting and the insinuation that your economics are wrong or you are wasting company money. So what do we do? We cut our budget request from $10,000.00 to a budget request of $7,000.00.  It doesn’t sound like much a cut. $3,000. Three grand, $3k. After all, what can you really do with $3K?  Not much.

In your initial proposal, all of your line items added up to $10,000.00. As we think about presenting it in person, we chicken out. We assume our proposal is ludicrous. So we cut the budget request on a couple of line items and we come up with a new budget request of $8,000.00. Then we go through it one more time and come up with a tally of $7,000.00.  We feel really good about asking for $7,000.00 and in our minds, feel like we just saved the company $3,000.00.

You go into your boss’s office and pitch your idea. Eyes are narrowed as they glance over the proposal. Questions are asked and answered. Silence hangs in the room. Your boss looks up and says “Looks good, I can get you your budget. Great job. Looking forward to your updates.” Budget request approved. You leave the office relieved, happy, and excited. Your project is going to get off the ground. 

Why you got your budget

Your budget was approved because you appeared to be confident in your number. You weren’t squirming or appearing nervous.  You were confident in your request because in your mind it was low. The more important question is, are you going to be confident in what you can accomplish. In the immortal words of Matt Damon in Rounders,

“Listen, if you can’t figure out who the sucker is at the table in the first 30 minutes, it is probably you. 

You get 50% of the way through the project and realize you are going to run out of resources. You realize that your original estimate of $10,000.00 was much more on track. Now you are haunted:

  • How did they expect me to get this done right with only $7,000.00?
  • In order to complete this project, I am going to have to cut corners. (But because we are halfway done with the project and only have a few thousand dollars left, the rest of the project is really getting the short end of the stick.) 

In the end, you get the project done. You also realize the end result isn’t close to your original vision. You could have done a lot better if you had received the proper resources. In many cases, we are just happy if we can finish our project. In some cases, we literally wasted the companies money because the project needs to be re-booted.

Budgeting lesson

If you are putting a project plan the request for resources will go one of a few ways:

  1. Ask for the amount you need to be successful and receive it ($10k). Whether it is money, time, or people hours, ask for what you need. 
  2. Ask for the amount you think you will receive($7K) when you know it will cost more ($10K): AKA, the amount that will leave your project incomplete or poorly done. (In the end a reflection of your skills and leave your career in the slow lane at best.)
  3. Ask for what you think you will need to be successful. When your manager pushes back we can reply, “Yes, you are right, we can do this for less” (AKA, Career limiting move)
  4. Ask for what you think you will need to be successful ($10K). When your manager pushes back and wants to give you less ($7K), stick to your guns and explain what can be accomplished with $7K. Accept $7K with your reset expectations about what to expect.   

Senior people have learned to ask for what it takes to be successful

Asking for anything less is career suicide. It doesn’t mean I am asking for Ferrari money when I only need Acura money. I put together a list of resources to be successful. My research and budgeting process should prove out my request. I don’t trim the numbers if I think I am going to get push back. Intestinal fortitude. Professional courage people!

  • If I ask for $10K and accomplish the project for $10K, no one is going to say or think anything negative. I asked for resources and I delivered.
  • If I know the project requires $10K and I ask for $7K, this is on me. When my project comes up short or fails, my boss has every right to say, “You told me you could get the job done for $7K and it is incomplete. You wasted the company resources.” We look and feel like the dumb ass.
  • If I ask for $10K and my manager says I only get $7K, this is a very different story. I simply explain what I can accomplish for $7K. I explain I will not finish the project for $7k. If I don’t quite get the project finished, this shortsightedness is on the manager who declined me. 

No one can say to me, “You should have known better, you should have asked for $10K”

The most important lesson here is that we need to explain what we think we can accomplish with $7k. We shouldn’t just cave into our irate manager and act like we are happy to receive the $7K. Acting happy will condition our manager to low ball us every time we ask for resources. 

Believe in your requests, stick by your guns and explain that results will fall short with less budget.


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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