At the start of each year, THAT JOB is waiting for us. Finalizing the budget. Celebrated and feared. A process in which we hopefully and critically look to the year ahead. This January is no exception. As usual, we are already just a little too late when we start this process. But that doesn’t matter. The budget for 2023 must be defined.
At TrailBlazers, that is not the job of one director or a few managers. We discuss all important matters together. With all colleagues. Fifteen men and women. But, finalizing a budget with all colleagues and a deadline… Should we do that? YES. Certainly. Because it actually saves time. Why meeting with so many people and making decisions together saves time? Well, I’ll explain it to you.
We talk about everything
At TrailBlazers everything is openly accessible, transparent and negotiable. Because everything is transparent and because we discuss the state of affairs together every 3 months, all colleagues are up-to-date about everything. Transparency is the first step. (Although you also have transparency and transparency. What I mean by that? That’s a topic for another article). But making decisions together: how do you do that?
We start by defining our priorities and possibilities. On the TrailBlazers Day in December, we divide a fictitious budget over these target areas:
- Recruit and meet
- Learn and innovate
- Finance, reserve and invest
- Collaborate with external parties
- Organize and structurize
Then we brainstorm about what we could do to achieve our goals. It’s safe to say: we have a lot of ideas!
From goals to budget
With the information from that session in hand, Wiro and I start the puzzle called ‘the budget’. We try to accommodate all wishes. Which is a simple job if you make hard choices: “Unfortunately, not everything is possible and Wiro and I decide what the budget will ultimately be.” Yet we don’t work this way at TrailBlazers. Wiro and I make a proposal of how we think we can make as many wishes as possible a reality, including those for a collective salary increase and two individual salary increases. The percentage for the collective increase has already been indicated by our colleagues and two colleagues requested a personal increase because the balance between giving and receiving was a little bit lost. Of course, we aim to maintain a healthy balance.
The individual salary wishes are not only about money, but also about time. For example, a colleague wants more time to study, to follow a more expensive course and is willing to give up this year’s individual salary increase to do so. Another colleagues wants to invest more time in Devoxx4kids and innovation. She thinks she earns enough money and prefers to invest in time. In addition to the personal wishes to take into account, we want to reserve money and time together to focus on innovation and impact as a team. This could be organizing Devoxx4kids or programming for charity, such as developing the AED app. We also want to keep learning and go to conferences. All in all a lot of expensive things, which take up a lot of hours.
The main overarching goal? Growth. Our desire to be a healthy company, now and in the future, is number one. It goes without saying that Wiro and I cannot finance all our wishes with a realistic budget. This makes discussing the budget with the rest of the team a fun challenge.
TrailBlazers Day January 19: Setting priorities
Today we are reviewing the entire budget and our objectives for 2023 with the entire team. We look at how and whether our sub-goals fit into the budget and where we have to make choices.
The day goes by smoothly. We discuss the substantial salary increase of two colleagues and whether this can also be converted into free time. The latter automatically means that someone works fewer hours for the customer and therefore makes less turnover. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with this conversation. I had hoped for more discussion about the choices and the consequences.
Wiro and I will discuss this later. Of course, it could be that it was a lot of information for everyone and that people need a moment to think about this issue. It could also be that we have explained it very clearly. Still, I’m a little worried that I’m steering too much, giving direction or… acting as “the boss” (crap).
Yet, you can only spend money once. We would like to give everyone a 5% salary increase due to inflation. But, of course, that affects other things. In addition, there are long-term contracts of employees with customers, where we cannot simply increase the rate. So there we will have to cut costs on other things. For example, by approaching recruitment differently and doing less business with agencies to which you (oversimplified) give a sum of money in advance and then have to wait and see what you get in return. Instead, we want to organize more meet-ups. As a result, more people come directly into contact with us and may become interested. We also visit not two, but one major conference and we limit the marketing budget. Of course, we do wonder whether this does not create tension with our main goal for 2023: growth!
With this draft for a budget, our margin is slightly below 6%. The number we have always labeled as the lowest limit. During the TrailBlazers Day there is little response to lowering the margin. Wiro and I did most of the talking and our colleagues had to absorb a lot of information at once. I’m looking forward to the meeting next week.
Time to think things over
After the weekend, I feel the first jitters and some questions arising… Do we have enough people and subjects to organize meet-ups? I decide to post my question on Slack. Apparently, the weekend has given more people time to think. There is a colleague who also feels some tension with the requested individual salary increase and the generic 5% salary increase, which brings us below the 6% margin. I can’t wait to discuss this all on Thursday.
TrailBlazers Dag January 26: Making decisions
This follow-up TrailBlazers Day is going great. Beforehand, I did have some nerves. How do we deal with all the wishes and the necessary resources? Now is the time for making decisions.
First, we go through all the objectives again and ask for consent. Of course there are some concerns. In particular about how we can achieve growth in the number of colleagues without using so-called subscription recruiters and less presence at conferences, etc. We discuss these concerns and explain solutions. Other concerns relate to the organization of meet-ups and knowledge meetings. We see this as important, because sharing knowledge is one of our goals and we want to introduce people (including interested potential colleagues) to TrailBlazers through these meet-ups. After a good talk about this we decided that it will be specifically determined on the next TrailBlazers Day who will work on which goal. This way, we want to ensure that we actually achieve them.
Now that we know what we want to achieve, we think about how we are going to pay for it. In other words: the budget! This is quite an exciting one, especially due to the wishes for salary increases and the agreement not to fall below the 6% margin.
We discuss the individual salary requests first. Everyone sees and thinks that these salary increases are justified and granted. However, there are some critical questions about how we can finance this in combination with the other increases and wishes. Isn’t one at the expense of the other? We are considering setting the desired margin to 5.6% once, so that this year all wishes and objectives that were agreed upon can also be financed. Of course, we do not want this to lead to an undesirable financial aftermath and more risk in the coming years. The fact that colleagues who express this concern are also allowed to object to the 2024 budget was reassuring. Finally, it helps that we have built up a healthy bank account in recent years.
The budget has been approved, with an adjusted margin! The increase of 5% salary costs will be divided over the entire team as an increase. Two colleagues receive a nice individual increase, which they can convert into matters that are important to them. For example: more time to study, more time to innovate, etc.
Growth is and remains the most important goal. We want more colleagues, share more knowledge, more customers, more impact and continue to make the world a little more beautiful. Pretty ambitious, if I do say so myself. And we are proud of that.
So, why does it save time to determine the goals and budget together? The answer is this: Everyone can share his or her wishes and is given the space to think about their future, assignments, salary and impact on the world. Now that everyone is on the same page, we can go full steam ahead this year!
Do you also want to have a say in your professional future, assignments, salary or make a positive impact on this world? Just give me a call, send an email or come by for a coffee!