Other People's Money

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I try to write about three times per week. Most of it is pretty good and will probably help you grow your business. If it doesn't, then I probably can't help you.

You can use a traditional RSS Feedreader with this fancy-dancy link. I think this approach is harder but if you want to do it the hard way, who am I to say otherwise?

You can use a traditional RSS Feedreader with this fancy-dancy link. I think this approach is harder but if you want to do it the hard way, who am I to say otherwise?

posted this on Monday, December 5, 2011 at about 10am.
Woodrow Wilson

A number of years ago I worked for Canon USA as Color Systems Specialist. I would travel all over the Western United States teaching our resellers how to use our systems and how to understand color theory.

Our team had about 20 people on it and there was another team of about equal size that handled the software side of things for Canon. Our team was asked to help with a large training event they conducted at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World. We decided to go a day early and have a color systems’ team meeting.

I was asked, as the only one on the team that really understood design software, to teach the other Color Systems Specialists some basics in Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. I spent a fair amount of time creating a day long training that would highlight the most important parts of those three pieces of software.

We ended up starting our meeting a little late that day we were meant to be together and then ended up knocking off quite a bit early. I had about 30 minutes to go through a full day of training (yeah, it didn’t work out so well). At the conclusion of the day, we found out that our team’s services to support the large training event weren’t needed at all. (I have always wondered if we were actually invited or if our department just wanted to try and rain on their parade).

Half our team was sent home early that week. In fact, there were a number of people from our team that stayed so they could all go to Universal Florida together.

I did some rough math based on the cost it was for me to be there. This week ended up costing Canon USA somewhere in the neighborhood of $125,000. A week that really didn’t accomplish anything to further the business. This cost doesn’t take into consideration the opportunity costs associated with the time lost.

Now, some eight years later, I still think back on that one week and I am amazed by it. I think of all the examples working for Canon USA and there were examples after examples of spending money that didn’t need to be spent. In fact, when I go to conferences, it’s obvious other companies do the same.

I finally realized it really comes down to one commonality. That commonality is that when you are spending someone else’s money, you really don’t care how much something costs.

I know that I am far more careful with funds that are my own. I am less careful when someone else is paying the bill.

It happens in business all the time but at least with business, we find that someone is ultimately held accountable so much of the spending is curtailed. When times are good, the accountability is less because the profits are enough to offset the losses. When times are tough, businesses will buckle down and trim the fat. (Unless they are too big to fail.)

I am confident that this is one of the key problems with have in government today. Hearing stories of how much is spent on toilet seats, hammers and other small items is alarming. When we hear how is spent on travel and entertainment, we start to wonder why government officials have such a charmed life.

This problem in Washington (and other governments local) comes down to the same issue… that is other people’s money. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are liberal, conservative, capitalist or socialist, the problem is the same.

When we are not held accountable to the money we spend, we spend it very freely. When it’s our own money, we are held accountable because we can no longer buy food or can’t make the mortgage payment. When it’s someone else’s money, it’s harder to be held accountable. In a corporation, it’s a little easier because at least there are shareholders that, at some point, will cry foul. In government, it’s much harder because the waste is much farther removed from the shareholders (the people who pay taxes).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I know what a solution to the problem is. But, this much I do know, we probably should figure out a more effective way of holding people more accountable to the money they spend when it’s our money and not theirs.

Maybe the first step is holding ourselves to higher standards.

(The image at the top is the Cover illustration of Harper's Weekly, November 29, 1913 by James Montgomery Flagg)

Corey Smith and his wife are the proud parents of five wonderful children and live in Meridian, Idaho. He is the president of Tribute Media, a Meridian based Web Consulting firm.

He is the author of two books, "Do It Right: A CEO's Guide to Web Strategy" and "Tweet It Right: A CEO's Guide to Twitter." You can learn more about his books here.

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