Here are some tips for a successful transition as Chief Financial Officer or Finance Director
The first 90 days on the job as Chief Financial Officer or Finance Director of a school district are critical. It has even been said that this 90-day entry period will determine your performance, longevity and contribution to the district. With so much at stake, here are some tips for a successful launch.
Gather information. The message here is: Research, Research, Research! It’s surprising how much you will find out about the district just by doing some basic research. If you haven’t already, spend some time on the district website, absorbing general information about the makeup and structure of the Board, the Superintendent and other key district personnel, and the roles of other critical stakeholders. Checking out Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are a good way to find out what people are saying. Look at the district’s vision and mission statement and think about whether and how these are being advanced.
You will likely receive fact sheets and financial information as part of your onboarding. Familiarize yourself with financial information about the district, including audit results, the annual budget, sources of funding and fund balance. Complete an in depth analysis of the district’s revenue sources including property taxes, state funding, federal grants, private donations, corporate funding and other sources. This evaluation will come in handy when completing forecasts and planning for the future.
Get to know the people and processes. There are many common elements to the position of CFO or Finance Director, but every district has its way of operating. Early on, make sure you understand the way your district wants things done.
The Board sets the tone for every district, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the individuals who make up the Board as well as the way the Board functions. Start with Board profiles, but take a look back at recent recorded Board meetings to get a feel for Board dynamics.
In your first meetings with the Superintendent, you will have the opportunity to explain how you plan to contribute to the district and how you will structure your approach to your new role. You should also be prepared to explain how you will execute your plan to show progress.
If possible, initiate one-on-one meetings with the individuals who hired you to understand why you were selected for the position, and what they would consider a success if, in a year, they were to reflect on the finance department. Ask about the biggest challenges you are likely to face in your role or that may be on the horizon. This is a great opportunity for you to see the inner workings of the district, build relationships, and capture information that you wouldn’t be able to gain otherwise!
Ask yourself: Who in the finance department will I interact with frequently? Who will report directly to me? Get to know your team members: their personalities and preferences. As you become acquainted with others in your department, you will be able to adapt the perspective and expectations that you bring to the position.
Don’t forget to meet with your auditors. Among other things, they can provide insight on risk areas that have been identified, areas with weaker controls, and areas that they have found misstatements below their trivial materiality threshold.
Make sure you have the right tools. Without the right technology, your ability to accomplish the goals the district has set for you may be limited. Make sure there is an understanding of the tools and equipment you need to be successful. Finance tools that allow you to be efficient will help you increase the return on the finance department’s efforts for the district. Data analysis tools can also be beneficial to provide recommendations to the district that are data-backed or data-driven.
Identify strengths and weaknesses. Now that you have reviewed all of this information, you should be able to identify key themes that will be focus areas for your work. Try to identify any inconsistencies that may need clarification. Using this information, you can begin to set your own goals for success in this new role.
As you progress, don’t be afraid to ask questions and raise concerns about issues that may arise. In your finance role, you have the opportunity to contribute to the success of your district every day you are on the job.