Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tiny hoops & the budget

I am in Kalamazoo, MI in order to do a presentation this afternoon. The weather is 15 degrees (F) colder than normal and nothing phenomenal is walking distance from the hotel, so I have been hanging out indoors in an arcade/gaming area. The one game that I've been playing is an arcade basketball game, where the ball is smaller than a normal basketball and the hoop's height, etc., is different, so that making a basket is more difficult. The game tracks how many baskets are made in 60 seconds. As the person shooting the ball, I have to learn how to make a basket and I can't assume that what I would do on a normal basketball court would work.

The same is true when talking to management about the budget. You cannot assume that the reasons you would use elsewhere will work with them. Their focus is different. It may not just be on the bottom line, but on something specific that is important to them. For example, if you are talking to government officials about the budget, it is likely that they are interested in:
  • Education -- Pre-kindergarten through college (P-16)
  • Business -- Trying to increase the number of businesses in the community
  • Workforce -- Creating and retaining a high-quality workforce
  • Status -- The way their area is perceived
However, the rules of the game may not be obvious. Just like the hoops game, you may have to ask around to find our what is important or experiment. Experimenting can be counterproductive and could lead others to think that you are clueless (and perhaps you are). Once you have discerned the rules from others, you may want to experiment on the wording of the message. I wouldn't experiment in front of the decision-makers, but in front of colleagues and those who have rules memorized. Can you word the message so that your decision-makers will understand and endorse your initiative? Can they see the connection between what is important to them and what you want to do?

Unfortunately, when we pitch a project and its budget, we may get only one shot at it. That means that we need to work hard ahead of time to craft the message, test it out, and ensure that it conveys the right information. Thankfully, with the hoops game, I can always try again.

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