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Business Risk & Critical Role Management in Schools

People in cubicles

Though commonly not being acknowledged as a business, schools are in fact a business with significant assets and income and are large employers. However, they are not like any commercial business, rather operating within a unique sector and a closed environment.

Within schools there frequently is a cultural gap between teaching and non-teaching roles as for the most part there is no natural link between the roles and responsibilities of teaching staff to that of school administrators.

The Business Manager – Critical to successful schools

The most senior non-teaching role within a school is generally the Business Manager, a role that is both broad and deep. They are often responsible for:

  • Administration
  • Finance
  • Payroll
  • Human Resources
  • Facilities
  • Maintenance
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing
  • Canteen
  • Uniform shop

In addition to these operational duties, Company Secretary, Strategic and Leadership responsibilities are regularly required by the role.

The role of Business Manager can also be isolating. This can be because of a combination of the natural segregation of duties and objectives with the teaching fraternity, the role often having no peers within the organisation and the uniqueness of the responsibilities both in the school and compared to other industry sectors. Also, for some, their Principal’s expertise does not extend to the non-teaching side of the school, creating further sole responsibility that requires trust and a successful working relationship to ensure both succeed.

Due to the scope of the role, there is limited opportunity to create a backup role with the complete required skill set or produce comprehensive procedures for the role of Business Manager, therefore the resignation from this role sees not only the loss of a critical resource in the school, but additionally the loss of unique knowledge and experience of both the individual school and, more macro, the school sector. The exit of the Business Manager is a high risk for the school.

Gone? The risks

In addition to the typical career changes in most industries, why do Business Managers move on?
Sometimes it is due to the incumbent not being aware of the level of stress and responsibility that comes with the role. Often, compared to roles with similar titles in other businesses, the number of tasks, the unique reporting requirements and broad and varied scope of the Business Manager role is not fully appreciated at the outset.  Also, the school business requires a continual interaction and relationship management with parents and the school community, which some incumbents have little or no experience of. Employees in the Business Manager role find out quickly that the role is complex, comes with a high workload and problems can appear from multiple directions, sometimes all at once.

Therefore, the loss of a Business Manager can put a school back by several months, or if they were a long-term employee, a year or more. Even if the incumbent to the role is an experienced Business Manager, it will take time to understand the specific school with its unique staff, culture, systems and community.  The effect is not just on business activities either; due to the range of responsibility of the role and the substantial influence on a school that the role has, the change can be far reaching by influencing leadership styles, strategic outlook, stability of both teaching and non-teaching teams, Governance and the implementation of educational building and system projects.

If the Business Manager is a long-term employee, the risk of ‘departure’ is not just a permanent resignation either. The Long Service Leave employment provisions means that a significant period of absence from school is very likely and which could affect the school in a very similar style to a permanent loss. It is therefore extremely important that Leadership maintain good communication with their Business Manager and their team regarding Long Service Leave plans and contingencies.

In addition to the above reasons and retirement, none of this takes into account either the additional risk of unexpected and unplanned absences like illness, injury or worse!

Where a school employs a Business Manager who has yet to have school experience, there is definitely a required and unique learning curve. For example, schools use specific software to manage the school. Without school experience they will not have experience using the software or being able to support team members who also interact with the system. Then there are the issues around Government Funding and specific Reporting requirements. There is also the matter of dealing with parents who owe fees. The commercial business norms simply do not apply.

Staff – Who is looking after them?

Despite the number of employees, not all schools have a Human Resource Manager and those who do often use an ex-Teacher whose focus is naturally teaching roles. Typically, therefore, management of Human Resource becomes the responsibility of the Business Manager, often in conjunction with the Principal.

When the recruitment of new administration staff is required, albeit some senior roles can be outsourced to employment agencies, it is once more the Business Manager who takes responsibility for the process. This process, more than any other business functions in the school, requires a unique skill-set and high level of diligence to effectively deal with policy, employment awards, people management etc.

The fulfilment of the Human Resource role by the Business Manager further highlights the risk of the most senior operational position leaving the school. The operational need, the instrument for its replacement and the resource to manage the disruption, have all ‘left the building’ in the Business Manager vacating! An extremely high risk for the efficient running of the school.

Outsourcing and Virtual Business Managers

Though roles that report to the Business Manager and the effective use of systems can certainly limit the problems if they were to leave. All finance, administration and payroll roles can write procedures, design automation and systems to their key tasks and have fellow employees trained in backing up the core tasks of a role. But depending on the complexity of the individual school, its unique processes, the personalities and skills of its operational team etc. there is only so much adequate contingency that can be planned in advance. There is always a substantial level of risk that remains with the potential of the Business Manager not being there.

Cole School Experts services fits into a school in a variety of ways.

Locum services – We can place a skilled school experienced Business Manager into a business manager role for the period from the Business Manager resigning and leaving until the new Business Manager begins in the role.

Cole School Experts can also provide other school skilled resources to cover other roles within the school. This mainly occurs where there is longer term leave taken by an employee be that annual, long service or maternity leave.

Virtual services – Some of services can be outsourced to us, for example payroll, accounts receivable or accounts payable. We also can provide school experienced accountants. The school is not just getting an individual but all other resources of Cole School Experts as required either simply to support the employee taking on the role or to provide additional resources if required. For some schools, Cole School Experts outsources the entire finance department, often virtually and long term.

A reasonable amount of Cole School Experts’ work is project based. We can start a project at short notice and will complete the projects within the project timeframes agreed. If space or location is an issue, we can work offsite and link to the school’s network from our office.

Virtual Bursar services and the support of our team significantly reduces the Business and Human Resource risk in your school. Join our community and be supported by Cole School Experts.