A typical CFO oversees budget, accounting and financial reporting, but may also have other functions within his or her span of control, including procurement, grants administration, human resources, physical infrastructure and often IT.
How do you make the most of the influence you hold?
The modern-day school district Chief Financial Officer performs responsibilities far beyond finance. A typical CFO oversees budget, accounting and financial reporting, but may also have other functions within his or her span of control, including procurement, grants administration, human resources, physical infrastructure and often IT.
If you are leading the CFO office during times of change or crisis — a major debt issuance, changes in executive leadership, political upheaval, a revenue downturn or even a global pandemic — the job becomes more complicated. More importantly, your sphere of influence expands. Yours is a demanding role full of tough decisions. And it can certainly be lonely at the top.
How do you make the most of your opportunities? What are the levers of influence, the tools that make you more effective and the strategies for deploying your best people in the most critical positions?
A Framework for Effective Performance
One burgeoning trend is for CFOs to look outside the organization for expertise and assistance – not only for executive coaching, but also to create tools and frameworks to deploy in the organization to enhance performance. We have found some common needs:
- Budgeting Tools: The annual budget on its face is a planning document, but it is also a political document, a resource allocation strategy, a priority list, and a financial record. The CFO must maintain and develop a responsible budget while satisfying multiple constituencies.
- Vendor Negotiation: School districts rely on mutliple vendors. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are getting the best value for your money. As changes are made to your funding, operations and delivery of services, these will in turn run downstream to your vendors. The key is that vendor relationships must be mutually beneficial to be effective; if you squeeze too hard the value will disappear.
- Efficiency Measures/Performance Indicators: Is your district operating efficiently and delivering services effectively? How do you know (and relative to what)? Researching best practices, benchmarking operational success and creating key performance indicators can provide new insights to improve your operations.
- Assessments: Your district may need a fresh perspective from an outside party. Carefully executed organizational and IT assessments can help you identify breakdowns and facilitate breakthroughs.
- Succession Planning: Short-term business disruptions often re-arrange personnel assignments and give managers insights into the staff members who are adaptable to change and prepared for larger roles and assignments. But in the longer term, at each level of the organization – all the way up to the CFO’s office – have you identified employees who can be promoted into higher positions of authority and replace their current supervisors? In addition, do you have employees with the individual traits and skills necessary for your future success?
- Due Diligence/Valuation: Not all districts engage in transactions that require deliberate due diligence or complex valuations. But when they do—a land sale or acquisition, market lease, expansion of a physical plant—having the right expertise on your side is essential to prudent financial stewardship.
- Solution Roadmaps: Everyone knows when a technology application is doing more harm than good. But then what? Replacement or upgrade plans can be time-consuming, complicated, and often do not lead to the right solution. Creating a solution roadmap, outside of presumed assumptions and cultural biases, can be the difference between contentment and frustration.
- Data Analytics: Across responsibilities, practical analysis of data can inform good decision-making. In many school districts, the “tyranny of data” buries users under thousands of pages that provide no useful information. Mining your current data for what is insightful and essential and then presenting that information in a dashboard or control panel format can help you take back control over the arduous process of finding the right information at the right time.
It is a challenge for any CFO to balance day-to-day responsibilities with the strategic issues that determine their district’s long-term success. Whether you find support internally or turn to an outside party, it’s important to mobilize resources to address your thorniest problems, achieve your district’s goals and keep your focus on the bottom line: student success.