How do I manage on a budget?


I am a department manager at a community college and I've only recently (within four months) begun working here. I have a skeleton staff due to severe budget issues.

The staff is disheartened about the state of staffing and so on. I feel they don't support me because they are so discouraged. I don't like the feeling that my efforts are not supported. I had entirely anticipated a "different scenario" when I accepted the position and so I am also quite discouraged. Do you have any advice?

Anne, Colorado

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Charles Helliwell's Answer:

Managing on a budget is a skill that you will have to learn quickly, because it can applied to all sorts of scenarios at work and at home. Whether you are short of people, support, resources, consumables or finance, the application of your learning and experiences is one and the same.

In this situation, you're going into a Community College. By the very token that it's a Community College, should set your level of expectations accordingly.

Funding and support will always be in short supply, so start by accepting that this was the case before you started; as it would have been for your disheartened colleagues, who have been working there longer than you. Therefore, no one should be in the least bit surprised, that the recent economic downturn is going to greatly exacerbate that scenario.

What to do about it, is entirely a matter of choice for you and your colleagues. Feeling disheartened because you don't have the support you'd like and you thought you might get, is quite natural and understandable.

As a new manager, your staff and colleagues will have been looking to you to bring something different to the working environment. The fact that you haven't been able to do so is as much disheartening for you as it is for them and will quickly lead to an ever decreasing circle of disappointment and despair unless you do something different.

However, you are not in a position to change this status quo on your own and if you try to do so, you will probably fail. That means that you have to engage with the rest of the staff and pull together on a mutual and collaborative task where you are all required to make a contribution and a commitment. This can be, but doesn't have to be, work-related. However, it does have to be a multi-contributory task, requiring everyone's engagement.

For example, I recently set a team a task of cooking lunch for their colleagues in the office. The challenge was to do this with no money and no resources. They had to find someone to loan them a kitchen to do their cooking and they had to go out and persuade local shops, cafe's and restaurants to give them free food to cook. They ended up cooking three main courses and two desserts for 20-30 of their colleagues in their office. Not a bad outcome for a team who three hours earlier told me that it just couldn't be done.

The point of this experience, together with the learning and the message was that when you all pull together towards some mutually achievable goal, you can achieve a lot more than you expected with considerably less effort.

Making the most out of limited resources is always a case of getting more from less. There's actually a great sense of self-satisfaction in doing so.

Who won't have felt smug and self-satisfied at coming home with a bargain they collected from a Sale, which a week earlier they might have been paying full price for. The transaction and challenge in a workplace scenario is for you and your colleagues to find simpler and better ways of doing what you do each day and what you've taken for granted; and it's for you to encourage and promote that thinking and that behaviour.

After all, creativity and invention lurks within us all; although at work, we're rarely given the freedom and the opportunity to express it.

About our Expert

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.