Advice for New Business Managers
Vol. 14 No. 1
September is the month of beginnings. It’s the start of a new school year, a new volume of The Source, and—perhaps—your first year at a private-independent school as a brand-new Business Manager. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry. We’ve made a list of the important things you should accomplish in your first few months at your new position. So congratulations, good luck, and read up on this advice for new Business Managers.
Know your timelines for paperwork and audits.
What’s an internal deadline, and what’s a regulatory end-date that absolutely must be met? Once you’ve collected all the important dates on one calendar, you can start to prioritize your work.
Learn your predecessor's organizational system.
It probably looks about as organized as a rat’s nest at the moment, but there’s a method to the madness. Before you throw your hands up in despair and begin implementing a new organization scheme, stop and learn the old one first. For now, you need to know what you have, where it is, and what you may be missing. If you change it now, you might not find everything you need.
Read all handbooks.
This includes the faculty/employee handbook, as well as the student handbook. Knowing the baseline of policies that have been established—and to which your school holds itself accountable—will be vital for ensuring that your school is “up to code” when it comes to potential legal issues (e.g., anti-discrimination policies, hiring and firing procedures, and established “paper trails). If you don’t have a handbook, make creating one a top priority.
Meet your lawyers, fellow administrators, and insurance brokers.
These people are your allies and your resources as you become established in your position. Use them wisely, and let them show you the “lay of the land” to save you stumbling over unforeseen cultural potholes.
Let us take a moment to emphasize your relationship with your brokers in particular. It's usually better to work with the brokers the school already has, over bringing in the brokers you worked with at a previous position. These people will understand the insurance needs of your new school better than an outsider would, and it might breed resentment in those who are currently established. There's always time to change to someone new after you've thoroughly vetted the current broker and found him/her wanting.
Go over your school’s benefit packages with a fine-toothed comb.
Health insurance, in particular, should be mission-appropriate for your school. Are the offered care options in line with the school's philosophy? Are the packages built specifically for private-independent school employees, who work in very different ways than their corporate cousins? If not, it might be time to consider something more suitable.
But benefits cover more than health insurance and 401ks. For private schools, benefits often include greater professional development budgets than in the private sector and tuition reimbursement. For the latter, you should consider suggesting to the School Head that the school “grandfathers out” such a program; in the meantime, you need to know how such arrangements are “paid for” from the school’s budget. Which brings us to…
Gain an accurate financial picture of your institution.
You should know where money is coming in, as well as where it’s leaving. Revenue is both “hard” income (i.e., tuition and fees your school charges its students) and “soft” income (i.e., donations). This requires cooperation from your Development Office to give you an accurate and realistic picture of the school’s annual fund and capital campaigns.
Money also leaves the school through traditional routes like supplies or professional development, but in distinctly private-independent school related expenses, like tuition reimbursement and financial aid programs. The latter in particular should be examined to ensure that this "expense" is always used in a mission-appropriate way.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 1 Advice for New School Heads
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 13 No. 1 Advice for New Division Heads
The Source for Development Directors Vol. 14 No. 1 Advice for New Development Directors
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 14 No. 1 Advice for New Admission Officers
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 1 The School Head-Business Manager Partnership
I&P Vol. 26 No. 2 What the Head Must Know About the Business Manager's Work Environment
I&P Vol. 29 No. 5 Auditing Your Business Office Operations