Brian Adesso is the director of business services for the Menasha Joint School District in Wisconsin and a certified school risk manager.
The school business office is an essential part of any well-functioning district. However, when talk of employee engagement arises, many school business leaders hear crickets.
This culture quirk is nothing new; in fact, one could argue the school business office is one of the few remaining silos in districts. But times are changing, especially at Menasha Joint School District where I work as the director of business services.
My district has removed any barriers that once existed between our business office and employees — leading to a better, more collaborative learning environment. Here are my recommendations for unlocking employee engagement from your district’s business office.
Warm up to employee tech
No, I don’t work in our district’s technology department. However, I do play an active role in the technology we offer our employees. Even in 2019, many business offices are still playing catch-up to the digital trends taking place in education. Don’t be one of them.
The more freedom and transparency you can give employees from your business office, the more engaged they will become. My first strategy is to leverage employee technology. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend choosing an online employee portal that fits your district’s needs. Our district opted for an employee access portal from Skyward, which gave our staff self-service tools to monitor when their licenses expire, estimate their checks, view their paycheck history and so much more.
Two things have happened since introducing our district to employee-centered technology. First, employees adjusted incredibly well. Our business team has received positive feedback from staff since day one about the intuitiveness of the technology and their comfort level using it. Second, our district underwent an immediate culture shift. Employees became more confident and engaged, which was the direct result of a more transparent environment. Technology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it is a starting point for accountability and independence, two ingredients necessary for engaged employees.
Step into the learning environment
Employee technology is a good first step, and if you already have some solutions in place, you are ahead of the game. But how can you expect to engage employees from the business office if you don’t have a solid understanding of what their daily life looks like in your district? Sometimes school business offices get caught up in the operational side of education, only to forget the mission they share with employees working in and around the classroom.
There is no better way to combat this than by stepping directly into the learning environment. Sure, schedules can be tricky, but within the last year I found time to share a meal at every cafeteria in our district, ride the bus with students and join multiple classrooms.
Each experience was eye-opening. When I rode the bus or ate at the cafeteria, I built a bond with many of the students. Now, when I see them around, they get excited and say hello to me, which validates the importance of what I do in the business office. Likewise, when I stepped into the classroom, I strengthened my relationships with district employees. I made it a point to listen to their feedback. What business-related processes did they enjoy? What could be improved? Needless to say, I came away with plenty of fresh ideas and newly formed relationships. I’ve even found employees are more willing to approach our business office with new ideas now that they can put a face to the name.
Getting out of your comfort zone can be difficult, but trust me — if your business office stays connected to the students and employees at the heart of education, you will see engagement fly through the roof.
Attract high-performing employees
A newly hired employee who engages regularly can be one of your district’s greatest advocates and influencers. On the other hand, a low-performer can sour district culture and ruin the hard work your team is putting in to engage other employees. Fortunately, school business offices can play a large role in attracting top talent.
You don’t even have to recruit alone. Join forces with your IT and communication departments. Encourage them to add testimonials from current high-performers on your district’s website. Work with your business office’s human resources team to be more active on social media. While you’re at it, see how both teams can work together to create a stress-free online application process that keeps prospective candidates engaged. Finally, top it all off by meeting with your team to design compensation models that will attract and retain high-performers for years to come.
By improving the recruitment, hiring and onboarding process, your business office can shape future engagement levels. Remember, a district is only as good as its best employees.
It’s time for school business leaders to join the employee engagement conversation. Advocate for new employee technology, step into the classroom, get more involved in the hiring and onboarding process — no matter what, just get involved. Your business office could be the missing puzzle piece to unlocking a culture filled with engagement and collaboration.