Politics Gamesmanship

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  1. the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules
  2. the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective (Source:www.m-w.com/dictionary/gamesmanship)

Gamesmanship is counterproductive to the planning/budgeting process as it seeks to optimize a portion of the organization under an individual's control at the expense of the overall organization. It is often justified as protecting what must really be done despite the demands of the overall organization. Gamesmanship is the antithesis of visibility and communication.

Viewpoint A


Politics and gamesmanship can be found in both the budget process owners as well as the managers executing the process. This prevalence has lead to additional controls meant to expose these activities and complicates the process for all parties involved. more...

Viewpoint B


The association between an organization's Strategic Plan and the Budget and Plan process can be impacted by politics and gamesmanship. Establishing benchmarks and milestones can expose detrimental activities and help limit politics and gamesmanship. more...

Viewpoint C



Recommendations, Benchmarks, Resources, Implications

Viewpoint A

Frequently, budgets serve as a vehicle for delivering policy mandates and dictating organizational direction. Consequently, many individuals involved in developing budgets and handling financial information around budget decision-making processes are very careful to protect information that may influence budget decisions a certain way. A more cynical view would even contend that many budget officers or managers in the field subvert efforts to make the budget picture transparent and clear to those charged with making key budget decisions. Many of the performance management-related endeavors that are becoming more prevalent today in the public and private sectors are a direct attempt to minimize attempts at obfuscation by vested parties and to make gamesmanship in the budgeting realm less pervasive and less effective.

As a result of performance management initiatives, organizations are becoming more adept at establishing correlations between inputs and expected outputs to better inform budget decisions. Even more evolved organizations can forecast expected outcomes as a result of planned dollar inputs. While performance management concepts such as Activity-Based Costing and Budget and Performance Integration are providing more information to the key players making budget decisions, at the end of the day, politics or ‘political will’ ultimately drives budget decision-making processes.

This notion that budget decision-makers sometimes disregard performance information when making final budget decisions can be disheartening to budget officers or employees carrying out operations in the field. Certainly, it takes time to gather performance information, track the relationships between inputs and outputs, and package this information to justify budget requests. In the case of the Federal government, there is a mandate that performance information be used to better inform officials that make final budget decisions. Nevertheless, the best business cases for articulating expected results or linking budget proposals to an organization’s strategic plan may ultimately be ignored if a specific budget proposal is not deemed politically viable.

The irony is that the mandate for budget officers and program managers to strive towards transparency and accountability – in effect, to reduce the impact of gamesmanship – can lead key officials responsible for ultimately determining budgets to engage in gamesmanship themselves. This often happens when performance information is ignored or recast because it does not align with what might be politically viable for a given organization. (dz)

Viewpoint B

The type of budget system adopted by a business organization can be reflected by the type of planning. Whatever the focus is in the budget comes out in the business planning; typically the more significant the budgeting element is the more pronounced the element is in the business plan as it is supported by processes and people. Budget decisions directly impact management approaches, control, and resource allocations; determining what elements are important to a business and which elements can afford to be overlooked.

A clear plan should reflect a clear budget. A company that establishes their needs, resources, scope, and expectations with major goals and milestones in their plan should ideally have an equally clear budget that directly ties back and is accounted for in the plan. Politics and gamesmanship changes this association.

In relation to planning and budgeting, politics and gamesmanship refers to the typically informal, unofficial, and under-the-radar actions taken to influence other individuals or organizations, gain control, and or achieve targeted objectives. Often times, such deals are made out of the board rooms and formal decision making process, possibly leading to almost Machiavellian efforts to sway opinions and gain control. It is important to note that not all political efforts are bad. A certain amount of “political savvy” is a desirable trait in business; allowing managers and executives to identify circles/axis of control, chart the political landscape, and pin-point influencers that can either support or hamper certain initiatives. Some politics and gamesmanship, if played correctly, can result in more successful campaigns and agendas; however this chicanery practice has no business in budgets and planning.

In 1986 the Coldwater-Nicholas Act was passed by Congress, establishing increased accountability for Defense spending. This act supported planning and resourcing efforts of joint war fighting capabilities through empowerment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; which then encouraged more transparent resource priority setting planning, budgeting and decision making. This act set the trend for more accountable budgeting and planning across the entire federal government, a business practice that was typically associated only with the private sector

It is managements’ responsibility to develop a broader base of political legitimacy to underpin business operations in the private and public sector. To limit politics and gamesmanship managers must remove bias and eliminate game playing through various business standards and tools. One method to diffuse the presence and influence of politics and gamesmanship is by creating historically based benchmarks, baseline comparisons to:

  • Generate statistically significant and accurate forecasts
  • Compare statistical forecasts to locate realistic budget expectations
  • Illustrate trends graphically for executive “big picture”
  • Detect gaps in performance goals and projected performance
  • Share realistic and traceable business performance expectations for employees, management, leadership and stakeholders.

This practice in conjunction with other efforts of accountable budgeting and planning, should help limit detrimental politics and gamesmanship. (cm)

Viewpoint C

In the race for resources during the planning and budgeting process, operational metrics and strong business case analysis should provide the foundation for justifying the need for resources. Many companies require business case analysis to "win" budget approval, but after the approval process, many companies fail to actively track and review the business case to ensure the return on investment or savings which initially sold the plan. Business cases should be considered more important after the budget approval process and should be consistently reviewed. (nf)


  • Management is responsible to develop a broad base of political legitimacy to underpin business operations.
  • Managers must remove bias and eliminate game playing through various business standards and tools to limit politics and gamesmanship. Historically based benchmarks diffuse the presence and influence of politics and gamesmanship.
  • Actively track and review the business case to ensure the return on investment or savings which initially sold the plan.
  • Base incentives on meeting company level targets as opposed to individual or cost center budget targets.


  • Your input is welcome here.


  • Your input is welcome here.


(1) You are judged based on your budget (2) What is “too much” (3) How design system to avoid games (4) Game playing may be desirable (5) What is “Game Playing” (6) No clear visibility on customer affordability (7) It impacts clear decisions being made (8) Gamesmanship is fun for the power junkie (9) Compensation tied to budget is an incentive to gamesmanship (10) Lack of communication is blamed on games (11) When hiding is a source of power it is a bad game (12) I lost. Therefore it was a result of politics or gamesmanship (13) Gamesmanship is a 2nd or 3rd order impact (14) Best story gets resources (15) Restricts the number of players (16) Causes more reviews before getting to result (17) Distracts from the real issues (18) Could cause unrealistic targets (19) Budgeting is about the game, not the budget (20) Game Playing is bad (21) Something of value is displaced by game playing (22) Participants are not being honest (23) Budget games depend on a convincing story in the absence of complete facts (24) A good story trumps facts (25) Gamesmanship Drives strategy Plus or Minus (26) Too much game playing

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