The choice of a budgeting approach varies from industry to industry and from company to company. Budgeting methods include activity-based budgeting, zero-based budgeting, performance-based-budgeting, etc. all modern budgeting methods link budget variances with management performances. Companies using a bottom-up or participative budgeting approach require managers to take part in the budgeting process. These budgetary approaches call for active inputs from operational managers that create a window of budgetary slacking. Typically manager and staff always want to set budget that is easily to achieve in order to get performance bonus. Thus, if there is an increase level of participation from lower level staff to manager or the company uses the participative budgeting approach, there would the possibility of creating a budgetary slack.

Similarly to point 2 above, shareholders should also evaluate the performance measurement metrics beyond ratios and percentage figures. It will enable them to identify true causes of performance for both positive and negative impacts. A budgetary slack may be caused due to lack of past financial data, guesswork in budget planning may lead to a budgetary slack later. An artificial adjustment in budget preparation that results in cushion in budgets that can increase the actual performance in comparison to the original budget.

Managers tend to be more conservative when creating budgets under such circumstances. This is particularly common when creating a budget for an entirely new product line, where there is no historical record of possible results to rely upon. Such a practice will portray the business as struggling and may force high-performing employees to jump ship to stronger competitors.

In the long run, this creates minimal performance, and the company’s growth stagnates. Budgetary slack is specially created when a manager’s performance is directly linked with incentives. It can be conclusively stated that budgetary slack has both positive and negative connotations attached with it, depending on how it is used. Budgetary slack for selfish reasons is unethical and a way to prevent managers from doing this is to appoint professionally competent managers. Similarly, it may be appropriate to overstate expenditures if a new product line is being launched. The management may not have a clear estimate of how much budget should be allocated for the launch of a new product.

  1. Rohan has also worked at Evercore, where he also spent time in private equity advisory.
  2. For instance, if we look at the example quoted above, by underestimating the revenue target by $100,000 the manager has reduced the monthly sales target by almost $8333, thus making it easier to achieve a lower target.
  3. Typically, manager tends to set budget for the lower revenue so that it is easily to achieve.
  4. Budgetary slack can be effectively incorporated ethically if the management is competitive.

If the employees are unable to achieve that target, they will be motivated to attempt the challenge again in the next financial period. The lower-level managers may take advantage of the information asymmetry to advance their self-interest without the knowledge of the top management. They can set budgetary slack easy-to-achieve revenue targets so that they can be seen to be working hard by the management, even when they are guaranteed to outperform the previous year’s results. On the other hand, if the department purposefully underestimates revenue to mislead top-level management, it can be unethical.

Budgetary Slack Motivations

For instance, underestimated sales figures are much easier to hit and could result in bonuses for the department that exceeds the estimated numbers. This is a common practice in many companies that defeats the purpose of the budgeting process. A true budget must be honest and hold management accountable to the overall financial goals of the company. Many times lower-level management and subordinates don’t want to be upheld to these strict standards and budgetary restrictions.

Budgetary slack is the practice of overestimating the expenses and/or underestimating the projected revenues when preparing a budget statement for the next financial period. It is a cushion created by management or lower-level managers to prepare budget estimates that will not be hard to achieve. However, this encourages employees to create a budgetary slack that allows them easily achievable targets so that they can be rewarded in every financial period. Removing any link between performance, bonuses, and the budget can reduce the motivation to cheat the system and benefit from a performance-based reward. Uncertainty surrounds markets around the globe, and business environments are unstable.

What Does Budgetary Slack Mean?

Thus the downside of budgetary slack is that it may make an organization inefficient and wasteful, thereby losing a competitive edge. Such leadership will eventually manifest itself in the stock price of the company, and among the rank-and-file there will be a growing concern that their company is losing competitiveness. Star employees may choose to leave for a stronger competitor, which would place the company at a further disadvantage. This lack of financial data as well as other critical information from the lower level to departmental level manager would create the information asymmetry. Managers are enticed to create slack when they want to be rewarded for exceptional performance. It could also be created to withstand uncertainties of the volatile business environment.

Why is Budgetary Slack dangerous?

In such a case, departmental-level managers may be able to access private information about resource requirements, employee productivity, and expenditures which the senior management may not be privy to. Budgetary slack can be avoided by employing certain measures that should have a long-lasting positive effect on a company. The first step would be in allowing only a small number of managers to draft the budget. Too many managers working on a budget may introduce lax measures that would be easier for them to meet targets. Having a small group of trusted, motivated managers working on a budget will allow for a challenging budget, hopefully spurring employees to work harder. For example, if the department is estimated to make $100,000 in sales for the year, the department management might only estimate making $80,000 in sales.

Budgetary slack can be effectively incorporated ethically if the management is competitive. However, there are also instances where the managers may feel more inclined to introduce budgetary slack for more selfish reasons. Therefore it can be understood that in a condition of uncertainty where there is no clarity about the correct targets that need to be set, incorporating budgetary slack into the budget can be a way to set realistic targets. For instance, the financial manager of a company tasked with preparing the master budget for the organization may decide to understate the revenue target from $1 million to $900,000, thereby understating revenue by $100,000. Rather than communicate honestly about the projected revenues and expenses of their departments, they pad their numbers to give them breathing room and circumvent the boundaries of a tight budget.

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In response, the managers believed involving the middle and lower levels in the process would be more beneficial. This approach creates a more flexible budget and accurately reflects revenues and expenses. The process of associating the budget with the lower managers is known as bottom-up or participative budgeting. As the managers perform supervisory roles, they know what is achievable and what resources are required. They would, therefore, present a high budget for expenses while low-balling the expected revenues target at a level that is easily attainable. This would make it easy for them to beat the set targets in every period and enjoy the promised rewards, salary hikes, and job promotions.

The best way to avoid is to install a management team with integrity. They may also reduce expenses such as research, development, and administrative costs. Due to this, the business growth becomes stagnant, impacting the company’s sales and overall stability. Similarly, a manager may develop a conservative budget while introducing a new product. By employing both these techniques, managers can deflate the budget and showcase extraordinary performance. When divisional managers are free to create their budgets, they can set them to maximize their benefits.

For example, if a manager is confident that the raw material prices would increase considerably, they could budget a higher expense due to inflation. Mr. Arora is an experienced private equity investment professional, with experience working across multiple markets. Rohan has a focus in particular on consumer and business services transactions and operational growth. Rohan has also worked at Evercore, where he also spent time in private equity advisory. When the management becomes easy-going, they are not likely to strive for hard work and take on challenges, which is important for keeping efficiency levels up. Having said that, budgetary slack can be used positively as well and it certainly does have its uses, which  we shall look upon in further detail.

They should also look at the past data or trend as well as consider both internal and external environment affecting the business. Top management should evaluate the budget proposals in detail, comparing with industry standards to identify any slacks. This includes the definition, causes, the Repercussion of budgetary slack and how to control budgetary slack.

The conflict of managers planning for their performance and appraisals and shareholders’ value creation isn’t new. A budget slacking approach in operations and productions will eventually lead to decreased revenues and lower profits. Budgetary slack interferes with proper corporate performance, because employees only have an incentive to meet their budget goals, which are set quite low. When there is budgetary slack for multiple consecutive years, a company may find that its overall performance has declined in comparison to that of more aggressive competitors who use stretch goals. Thus, budgetary slack can have a long-term negative impact on the profitability and competitive positioning of a business. Information asymmetry occurs when one party possesses more information about the subject than the other.

When too many managers are allowed to contribute to the budget model, they may allow too much slack as a way of downplaying their company’s expectations. This will allow too much wastage since the employees lack the motivation to be productive when the targets are easily achievable. For example, if a senior manager’s bonus is tied to meeting certain budget targets, then adjusting the budget for a more favorable outcome would be incentivized. Managers putting a budget together could low-ball revenue projections, pump up estimated expense items, or both, to produce numbers that will not be hard to beat for the year.

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