Bob Dole, in presenting his proposed budget cuts, supposedly said, “I’m not betting the farm. I’m betting the country!”

Who wrote this? Dole isn’t betting the country, nor should he. We’re in pretty good shape in these parts, bucko, and you only bet the country if it’s on the verge of collapse. Otherwise the downside risk vastly outweighs the upside gain.

I’m not going to debate budgets, deficits, or tax policy, tempting as that may be. Form your own opinion and vote accordingly. Election-year nonsense sounds pretty similar to management nonsense, though, and management nonsense is my stock and trade.

Ever hear an executive talk about betting the company on a new strategy? I have. I figured it was a bunch of hooey intended to energize the troops, so I ignored it. Betting the company only makes sense for companies in untenable situations.

Any number of executives also say they want to encourage risk-taking among their employees. Encouraging risk is faddish right now, but unless your corporate leadership is sincere in wanting you to bet some of the corporate coffers, you can usually ignore this as just more ManagementSpeak.

How can you tell? Here are some telltale signs:

1. The capital spending approval process. Who approves it? What does it get approved for? And most significantly, does your company impose a fixed annual limit, or just a rough guideline?

Capital, if you’re not familiar with the concept, is money companies invest, as opposed to operating expenses, which are costs of doing business. When companies impose a fixed capital spending limit they’re far more likely to allocate that money to safe, cost-reducing investments than on riskier, revenue-enhancing ones. Companies looking to enhance revenue won’t let a pre-set budget limit get in the way of profits.

Companies that are tight with capital rarely encourage real risk-taking. It’s too … well, risky.

2. Non-managerial employees have no spending authority. Here’s a great message: we want you to take risks, but we don’t trust you with a twenty-five buck spending decision.

One of the great moments of my management career was when I delegated the whole budgeting process to each work team reporting to me. I was free! The scary part: the team was far tighter with a buck than I ever was, and they complained every time I sent out a purchase order without asking them first.

3. People have to “take responsibility for their decisions.” Well of course they should, and yes, people who do dumb things should be help accountable for having done them – if those actions really were dumb, irresponsible, or otherwise wrong-headed.

The phrase in question too-often ends up as a euphemism for fixing blame and punishing failure. Want to eliminate risk in your organization? Find someone who stuck his or her neck out and give them a poor performance appraisal because, with perfect 20/20 hindsight, you can see they made the wrong call.

Word will get around.

4. Promotions go to people who “get along well with others.” You want to promote risk-taking in your organization? Then promote risk-takers, so they have more influence over your organization.

Don’t make the mistake of promoting people just because they take risks. You don’t want gamblers running your company. Promote them for the character and judgment they’ve shown by taking a risk and being right (but don’t punish them for being wrong, unless it’s clear they made an avoidable mistake).

Remember the second rule of management, “Form follows function”? Here’s a perfect example. If you want to encourage risk-taking in your organization (and don’t gripe about your company leadership until you’re sure your own house is in order) make sure your social systems reinforce and reward it.

People will take risks if their expected reward from success greatly exceeds their personal risk from failure. As my grandmother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.”

How come my grandmother was so much smarter than so many corporate executives?

The Internet is:

a) A vehicle for completely transforming society.

b) A source of useful information.

c) A new venue for marketing and commerce.

d) On the verge of collapse.

e) Excedrin headache #3.

I’m guessing most readers of this column would choose “e”. That’s too bad, because the Internet can be a great route out of the corporate slums for all of us in Information Systems.

Aren’t you tired of being viewed as a Money Pit? Focus on reducing costs and increasing productivity and that’s where you’ll stay. Like it or not, lots of companies see us as a necessary evil – money they’d rather avoid spending but are stuck with, like payments on a failing car.

No, you want to hook up with Marketing. That’s where the fun is, because that’s where revenue comes from. Revenue gets respect. Revenue gets glamour. Revenue gets … funding!

Right now, companies see the Internet as an intriguing marketing opportunity. Embrace it and get on board. If you need help, this is a great opportunity to flog my new book, Selling on the ‘Net, (National Textbook Company) due out mid-September, co-authored with my friend, father and great guru of direct marketing, Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Marketing has three basic goals: acquiring new customers, reducing customer defections, and increasing volume with current customers. While you’re lunching with your new marketing-director friend hearing details of your company’s plans for accomplishing these goals, point out that while the Internet has a lot of sizzle, several other technologies have much more potential. “What might those be?” he or she is sure to ask.

I’m glad you asked. Of a long list, here are four.

Data Warehousing: Here’s the perfect platform for a killer marketing database. You can use it strategically, to understand who buys what – information you can use for corporate planning.

You can also use this database for tactical marketing. What you know about each current customer’s recent buying habits helps you create tailored offerings to more effectively increase per-customer volume. You can use the same information for targeted marketing to non-customers, selling each one products and services popular with demographically and psychographically similar current customers.

Electronic Mail: Yes, plain, ordinary e-mail can become a powerful marketing weapon, and no, you don’t have to become a spammer. Do you have a customer newsletter? Offer it to customers via e-mail as an alternative to paper. Just set up a list server and make it easy for customers and prospects to subscribe.

Correspondence with subscribers isn’t spamming, it’s service – they’ve already expressed interest. Send them customer satisfaction surveys by e-mail. Use them as informal focus groups for refining ideas about new products and services. Use your imagination. E-mail, because of its immediacy and informality, cements customer relationships far better than any paper alternative.

Computer Telephone Integration (CTI): Here’s a wonderful technology. It has huge potential, but no logical internal sponsor until you came along. Add screen-pop to your call center (that is, automatically display customer records before transferring calls to call center agents). Add intelligent call transfer, where transferring a customer call from one employee to another also transfers the computer screens.

Add data-directed call routing, where information about a caller in your databases (or data warehouse) determines who should receive the call.

The secret to successful CTI: every customer contact must enhance the relationship. Every customer service interaction becomes a (soft) cross-selling opportunity and every sales interaction becomes a customer service opportunity.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): EDI, the electronic exchange of formal documents like purchase orders and invoices, has never lived up to its potential due to the extraordinary difficulty of converting EDI transmissions into database updates. Turn this to your advantage: customers who successfully exchange EDI transaction sets with you are unlikely to leave you for a competitor – it will cost them too much.

There are other customer-facing technologies, too. Let someone else maintain the accounts payable system. In this Olympic year, go for the gold.