I remember my first budget submission as a GM like it was yesterday. After a month of careful analysis and discussion with everyone involved, my CFO and I landed on a number that was both difficult but attainable. Some stretch but nothing crazy. I was proud of the discipline the team had applied to the exercise. After a full day presentation to the CEO, he thanked us for our effort and said he'd get back to us once the other units had rolled up. Three days later he called and took my number up by 20 percent. I saluted and went on to miss my number by 15 percent -- the last six months of which I was ritually tortured by a group of corporate finance executives. So what do I want to tell you as many of you march through the 2012 budget process?
Never, never accept a target you don't see a path to. And I don't mean that a reasonable "plug" is unacceptable, I mean a number you can't -- under any scenario -- see happening. Too many executives choose probable death tomorrow over certain death today. Trust me, in the end, you and your people lose by taking a bad number. And in the end, whoever is forcing an unrealistic number down your throat is better off knowing the reality. They have a choice: either fire you and try and find someone who says they can hit the number or back off and adjust the target. The readjustment is what happens nine times out of 10. Better to stand up early and stand firm.