We talk a lot about the importance of budgeting and its central place in an organization’s finances. The budget is the hub of the wheel, reconciling the force of the forecasts with the reality of the events as they happen on the ground.
A client recently flew me to Venice, Italy to join their staff retreat. The reason for my presence was twofold:
- To deepen my own understanding of their programs and strengthen my ties to their staff. In effect, fortifying our insourced bookkeeping model.
- So that I can give a budgeting workshop to the entire staff.
This client decided that it wasn’t enough for program directors to submit budgets once a year, it wasn’t even enough that they have to submit detailed forecasts weeks in advance of each program event, and it wasn’t enough for management to understand the life cycle of the forecast-to-budget-to-actual-and-back-to-forecast; they wanted to pull back the curtain on the process and have everyone see the whole picture.
This client wanted all the staff to understand the consequences of every forecast they make, of every spending decision they request. They should understand what happens when they overbudget just to give themselves “a little wiggle room”. They should understand what happens when they don’t report their expenses on time.
So it was that I found myself in Venice this June, walking those ancient streets, avoiding falling into open canals, eating at wonderful little outdoor cafes. What a beautiful and interesting city!
The purpose of employee retreats is to allow staff to step back from the daily hustle and bustle of work and size itself up objectively, to ask itself: are we accomplishing our mission? Are we even on track, or are we far afield?
This is the perfect venue for an insourced bookkeeper to learn the intricacies of a client’s mission. Here, where they go beyond repeating the mission statement. Here, where they pick apart the mission statement and evaluate each program against it. Here, where staff share their struggles with delivering their programs. Here, where new plans are brought up and debated. This is the pulse of the organization and the insourced bookkeeper always has their finger on the pulse of the organization.
On the third day of retreating, after lunch of pasta with pesto and scallops, everyone was feeling full and comfortable. No one was looking forward to a lecture on accounting, I got up to deliver my workshop. Within 60 seconds everyone was sitting up and paying attention.
My philosophy in teaching comes from my teachers who taught too damn much. I believe one shouldn’t stuff the students with too much information, rather, you should lay it out and make them work for it. Using a combination of funny slides that have no connection to budgeting and real-life examples from situations in their organization, I had everyone in turns laughing and learning.
After the presentation was over and compliments had been served all around, I went off to a side with those who had gotten more laughs than learning and filled them in with more technical detail on some of the concepts.
I would have been satisfied to come home from Venice with that one accomplishment under my belt. Although the budgeting workshop would have satisfied the “staff” part, but I also wanted a taste of the “retreat” portion.
So early the next morning I took a bus from Venice to the mainland, rented a beautiful BMW R1200GS and rode up to the Alps for the day. I’ll just drop these photos here to make you jealous of all the budgeting we talked about: