School business managers need to be agile, focused and have clear goals in mind if they are to successfully tackle the multitude of challenges they now face, says Hayley Dunn, finance director at Codsall Multi-Academy Trust in Staffordshire
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Go back to the noughties and the life of a school business manager – rare as they were at the time – was quite different from today.
Academisation was limited to a few hundred schools and the vast majority of these still maintained a close and dependent relationship with their local authorities, which provided most of the business services they needed.
Fast forward to 2018 and we all know that the picture is very different. Business managers are now, more so than ever, key figures in schools, especially with so many having taken on academy status and forming multi-academy trusts which enjoy what are, arguably, unprecedented levels of autonomy.
The funding climate is tough, and not getting any better any time soon. The need to cut costs and ensure that existing budgets are spent as efficiently as possible are now major concerns for the school business professional.
Changing times require SBMs to develop professional characteristics to meet the challenges they face. My colleague, Val Andrew, a business leadership specialist for ASCL, summed it up perfectly when she coined the AGILE acronym. To paraphrase Val’s acronym, AGILE means being adaptable, authoritative and accessible, grounded and goal-oriented, innovative, listening and efficient. Like Val, I think agility is the key professional trait we business managers need to develop today.
So how do you develop this crucial agility? Having clear goals in mind is the best starting point. I’d urge you to be very specific about what it is you want to achieve and ensure that it is something that will make a difference to your school, academy or MAT. You should then put very specific actions in place for how you are going to achieve this goal.
For example, if you need to look at more income generation, find out what courses are available on aspects – such as successful bid writing – that will help you do that, for example, the Level 4 Diploma. Look at other schools and MATs to see what they are doing in that area – I know of one school in Birmingham which lets out its buildings every Saturday to a French language school.
Establishing your focus
Of course, establishing this focus in the midst of working days as frantically busy as ours can be a big ask, but we have to do it. Using a simple prioritisation method is a good start; I know many SBMs who have, in the past, been caught in the trap of being ruled by their email inbox; whatever email came in would set their priorities.
It doesn’t have to be like that. By using a system such as the Covey Quadrant you can impose control and set priorities according to their importance, sorting tasks into one of four categories: important and urgent, important and not urgent, urgent but unimportant and not urgent and unimportant. You can then see that emergencies and important deadlines fall into the first category, planning and preparation into the second. Reacting to interruptions, distractions and other calls falls into category three while trivia and time wasting can be consigned to the fourth.
For me, using these easy steps to impose some focus and control on the role are the first steps on the way to embracing that agile approach, giving you a framework and a focus that will enable you to meet challenges – such as seemingly depleting budgets and policy changes – with energy, clear thinking and resolve.