9 Items New Business Managers Should Keep in Mind
Vol. 15 No. 1
Is this your first year at a private-independent school as a brand-new Business Manager? Are you feeling overwhelmed with the start of the school year? To help you get the jump on things and stay focused on your job, here are nine items to keep in mind in your first few months in your new position. (In fact, even seasoned Business Managers would do well to keep these thoughts forefront in their minds!)
1. It’s all for the kids.
While your job is, among other things, to guard the financial health of the school, you should not ignore the beneficiaries of your fiscal wariness: the students. The purpose of the school is education—you want to help make sure the school will be around to serve future generations. So, while you should be picky about debits and credits, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Coach a sport, teach a class, accompany a field trip, or just get out into the halls to meet the faculty, parents, and students. See the human side of the school.
2. Plan. Organize. Prioritize.
This is a complex job with many duties. Some days you will need to focus on the long-range items; other days it will be the nitpicky details that need attention. Have not only a day-to-day calendar of what you must accomplish, but also plan for the school year. Mark important deadlines in advance so you can set aside time to work on a project. Note when you need to be on vacation or out of the office for budget meetings. And remember that if you don’t have it all done, there’s always tomorrow.
3. Crises never fit conveniently into a schedule.
Don’t fret about what may happen at some point. Familiarize yourself with your school’s crisis management plan—or help create one if it doesn’t exist. You’ll spend less time worrying about what to do and can concentrate on taking care of the problem.
4. Establish strong lines of communication.
You and the School Head don’t have to be best friends, but you must be able to work together and support each other. At the start of your job, discuss how your position fits into the school’s hierarchy and what the Head expects from you. Know what reports the Head wants, when, and in what format. Have a regularly scheduled meeting to update him or her on Business Office concerns. You should also work on establishing ties with the Board. (You will work closely with them on the budget and any strategic or strategic financial plans.) Find out the Board’s expectations.
5. Listen. Be flexible, have patience, but be firm.
Faculty, especially, don’t understand why their requests may baffle you. Their focus is on the students. Get to know the faculty and staff —be approachable. Listen carefully to what they are asking of you, and try to find a way to work with them. Don’t automatically say no, unless you have been instructed by the Head to do so. Look for alternative ways to accommodate them if you can’t honor the initial petition. However, if the answer is, “No,” say it and stick to it. Don’t be wishy-washy about policy or bend the rules “just this once,” or you will have to bend the rules for everyone.
6. Hire qualified support staff.
Business Managers can work long hours, and if you have to double-check everything your staff does, you make your job tougher. Once you and the Head determine that you need help, establish exactly what skills your assistant needs. Ask the Head to set a salary that will attract qualified applicants. Take the time to perform a comprehensive search—don’t hire the first warm body. Your goal is to be able to delegate tasks with confidence to your support staff, reducing your role to overseer instead of doer.
7. You don’t have to know it all.
Some Business Manager job descriptions may read like a jack-of-all-trades (technology, accounting, human resources, risk management), but no one can be an expert in everything. Find key people in your school and community you can rely on for advice in your weaker areas. Continue your education with publications, workshops, and conferences.
8. Talk to other Business Managers.
Have a network of colleagues to help you with problems, provide a sounding board for ideas, and just to remind you that there’s someone else who understands your pain. The best resource for your current dilemma is someone who’s been there before.
9. Have a life!
Take vacation days, eat lunch, and try to make it home for dinner as often as possible. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be a good Business Manager.