As your school’s CFO or Business Manager, you of course deal primarily with numbers. As such, it’s easy to overlook the importance of how you approach and communicate with team members from other departments. But that communication is imperative to your ability to put together a solid and realistic budget.
Whether you’re gathering information to make decisions and forecasts, or you’re explaining the meaning behind your data sets, effective communication is a key part of everything you do.
That’s why we at Harris School Solutions have put together this list of five helpful tips for you, as your school’s CFO or Business Manager, to improve the way you communicate in order to put together a more accurate budget.
1. Collaborate closely.
If you try to work a budget without the proper input from the right people, you’re setting yourself up for problems down the road. Instead, get in front of the departments listed on your budget so that you can get a bird’s-eye view of the entire operation. If you don’t have a handle on the big picture, your budget could end up getting pulled apart in different directions, which will leave you scrambling later in the year.
It also helps to make sure everyone is working with the same information and data. Get financial accounting software that integrates across departments so that everyone is on the same page. Even better if the numbers stay updated in real time because if you start with even slightly inaccurate data, you could end up worlds apart from one department to the next as far as proposals and decision making.
2. Reach out early in your budgeting process.
This one is fairly straightforward, but also very important. It’s your job to focus on the future, even if others are inclined to think more of the present. That means it may take a little more time and effort on your part to get the information about future plans that you need.
For this reason, it’s important to leave everyone enough time to go back and forth in order to get all the insight and details you need.
When speaking with people in other departments, start the conversation by getting a feel for what’s happening now. That will get the wheels turning. Then, ask what plans are being considered to further those current programs. Make it a real conversation by approaching people where they are in their thought processes so that you can make sure you’re up to date on plans coming down the pike. That will allow you to appropriate funds within the budget accordingly.
3. Manage expectations by leveraging personal insight.
Once you have all the information, use your past experience with each of the individuals with whom you’ve spoken to make an important determination: how likely is each department to be a little overly optimistic? The better the chances that a department has overestimated their potential success or underestimated the potential for falling short, the more conservative you need to be in response in order to limit the amount of cuts you’ll be forced to make down the road.
While you may want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, keep in mind that you’re the school’s CFO, so the “buck,” quite literally “stops with you.” Use your past experiences in communicating with individual stakeholders, make appropriate assessments, and manage expectations because if something goes wrong, you’ll be the one left to answer for it.
4. Focus on the school’s goal (not just your own).
Your role is to ensure the financial health of the Education institution for which you work. But you need to embrace the larger picture, too: financial health, while perhaps one of the most critical aspects in achieving your school’s mission, is not the mission itself. It’s a crucial means to accomplishing the goal, but the goal itself is to provide outstanding education.
So, if you keep that in mind, then when you approach stakeholders to discuss finances, you’ll be more prone to expressing your needs in terms of the larger picture. It’s easy to underestimate the effect this can have on improving teamwork and communication, but remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all human, and if you approach a person the right way and put your thoughts and ideas into terms they can appreciate, you’re more likely to achieve success together.
5. Keep an open mind while discussing proposed “intangibles” — it could pay off.
Continuing on the previous point about the school’s goal of educating students, give at least some consideration to the intangible assets proposed by other departments when putting together your budget. Granted, money doesn’t grow on trees and you need to plan carefully and realistically, but allocating money to the right new projects — even those that don’t show an immediate and tangible return — could bring in cash in the long term from sources you may not have considered.
Take Human Resources, for example. If they come up with an idea to improve workplace satisfaction, your school may be better able to attract top teachers who know how to innovate. That could get the community excited about new projects those teachers implement (not necessarily costly programs, but even just new methods of teaching and learning). By building excitement, you could gain a very tangible advantage when it comes to grants, fundraisers, and other sources of supplemental funding.
Incorporating these five tips into your processes will help your Finance team to operate more effectively. You’ll be better prepared to set a sound budget, which will help to ensure that your school is financially healthy and, in turn, can achieve its aim of providing a better education to its students.
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