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Jul 14, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

When I first started my career in HR on the corporate side of the fence, I was always very concerned about my budget.

I spent a long time making sure I developed a good budget and I worked even harder to stay on or under budget.

Ultimately, it was the biggest waste of time I ever spent as an HR professional.

What I learned over the years was that budgets are important, but succeeding at your functional area is a lot more important!

No one cared if I came in 7 percent under budget, but I had critical positions open for way too long, and projects were behind or failed as a result. No one cared that I came in under salary budget if our turnover increased. No one cared that I didn’t use all of my HR technology budget if they continued to be frustrated with processes that caused them more work.

A lesson in strategic spending

I didn’t learn this until I spent so much money I thought I was going to be fired, and ended up getting praised instead!

I was working on a project to open up 40 pharmacies in a year. That meant we had to find a lot of pharmacists.shutterstock_118132585

For those in that game, you know finding 80 or so pharmacists isn’t something you just go post on CareerBuilder. We had to market. We had to go to a ton of schools. We had to “buy” some folks with sign-on bonuses, relocation bonuses, tuition guarantees. Whatever it took!

I was so far over my budget I took on this thought process: “Well, I might as well fill them all; I’ll be fired next year at budget time!

Going overboard, getting rewarded

So, I did. I got a sourcing company to help me. I got my team on the road. We threw parties on campuses for new pharmacy grads. We killed it!

In my year-end budget meeting, the VP of Pharmacy congratulated me and my team. We were over our budget by almost a half a million dollars, but the one factor I didn’t know (which I should have) was each pharmacy that we didn’t open cost the company about $ 3 million. My overage was peanuts!

There are times to save money in HR. Anything you can give back at the end of the year will always be appreciated. I learned, though, that being over for the right reasons is looked upon as almost more strategic than the times I gave money back.

I faced more questions giving money back, then spending more than I had. Executives wanted to know why I didn’t spend all the money I had in my technology budget. Were we going to fall behind? What my plans were in the future? Etc, etc, etc. Not spending my budget to get better was looked at as a sign that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Budgets are meant to make things better

I learned that no one is going to remember how much I saved if I’m not making my function better. Staying status quo isn’t a good answer.

They gave me money for a reason, and it was up to me to use that money to make us better. Giving it back just showed them I wasn’t strategic enough to find great ways to use those resources.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.