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If your organization’s fiscal calendar works like many others, you’re right in the middle of the busiest time of the year. It’s budget season!

While you’re reviewing past expenditures and making projections for 2011, don’t forget to factor in one of the most crucial aspects of the budget process: Convincing your chief financial officer to back your HR budget proposal.

Too many HR professionals march confidently into the CFO’s office expecting instant approval, only to slump out shortly after with a rejection instead.

Truth is, budgeting is a frustrating process that HR pros sometimes flub by making ineffective presentations and failing to understand CFOs and what they do. Improve your chances of securing CFO support by using the following information to improve your presentations.

The CFO mindset

First, understand the following about CFOs: About 54% of CFOs focus heavily on business development, while just 49% are closely involved in HR, according to Karl Ahlrichs, vice president of ExpertSpeaks, a Carmel, Ind.-based HR, management and communications consultancy.

For better or worse, that tells you where their priorities lie.

CFOs are under intense pressure to cut costs and ensure compliance with numerous government regulations. They tend to be independent and value accountability, according to Ahlrichs. Plus, they often lack the interpersonal skills that HR pros favor.

That can make negotiations literally a matter of dollars and cents. CFOs respond better to data than to appeals to “do the right thing.” Connect with CFOs by making short, concise and direct presentations.

When you enter the CFO’s office, Ahlrichs advised during a presentation at the 2010 annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management, structure your presentation like this:


Express concern about the bottom line.

When pitching your compensation and benefits budget, try this opener: “It’s a terrible time to be wasting money on bad business practices. My experience indicates we may be doing just that.” That sets the stage for the new approach you want to pursue.


Position your project as a cost-saving solution to a business problem. Cite case studies or examples that illustrate how similar projects cut costs or improved productivity at another organization.

Suggest that the organization initially launch a pilot of the proposed project, focusing on an area that most needs improvement and is easiest to influence. Include projected return on investment.

Cite a few potential drawbacks. That enhances your credibility, Ahlrichs counseled.


Assure the CFO that you will measure results and provide regular reports on progress. Summarize the benefits of the project using relevant business terms such as earnings, ROI, revenue, capital expenses, stakeholders, interest and human capital.

Cite any “hidden” money you may have found in the budget to help finance the project, Ahlrichs said.

Bottom line: Structuring your budget presentation like this doesn’t guarantee a swift and painless sign-off. However, by communicating that you understand your organization’s operating environment and the fiscal pressures it faces, you can increase the odds that the CFO will back your proposal as a legitimate business solution.

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