COVID-19 Coverage : See how the pandemic is impacting the world of higher education.
Access the Business Officer Magazine menu by clicking or touching here.
Business Officer Magazine logo, click or touch this logo to return to the homepageClick or touch the Business Officer Magazine logo to return to the homepage.
Get back to the Business Officer Magazine homepage by clicking the logo.

Laser-Focused Leadership

May 7th, 2020

By Kirsten Hilgeford

Learn More About Offline Reading

As business officers wrestle with the impacts of COVID-19, NACUBO consultants stress that communicating the high-level essentials to board members and defining their roles and procedures are key to building confidence and remaining mission-focused.

What are some strategies for CBOs to engage with governing and advisory boards during the pandemic to ensure focus on institutional mission and a strong future?

What information should business officers be sharing with the board?

What are the productive ways to share that information?

These were some of the questions that were discussed by Joanne Yestramski and Barbara Larson, NACUBO consultants, along with Susan Whealler Johnston, NACUBO president and CEO, in a recent webcast “Communicating the Financial Outlook with Your Board.” The webcast is available on-demand as part of NACUBO’s free-to-members series Unprecedented Times: Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis.

Roles in the Right Places

Larson emphasized that, at this time, all institutional leaders must be laser focused on their distinct roles, on clear communication, and on mission. From the start, communication to the board chair and board should come from one individual, generally the president or chancellor, or a designee. Regarding roles, clarity is key:

This is also the time to reemphasize media relations procedures. Most institutions have someone in the public information officer or PIO role, and this individual should be responding to media questions, not individual board members.

Proving Expertise

By providing consistent and transparent updates to the board, Larson said, business officers can enlist the board’s understanding, support, encouragement, and patience. As committed volunteer leadership, board members want to be of service and are needed to review and approve emergency policy changes, advocate for stimulus funds from federal or state sources, and assist with fundraising.

To help you communicate purposefully and clearly with your board, Larson advised:

To best serve the institution at this critical time, board members should avoid second-guessing operational decisions.

Given demands on their time, business officers are working to protect staff and themselves from superfluous information requests. When a board member makes a request for “nice to know” information, Larson suggested first responding that “yes, staff could prepare a report,” but to also ask, “for what purpose, and how much staff time should be devoted to responding to this request?” Nine out of ten times the board member will withdraw the request. If this is happening at your institution, especially now, appeal to your president to ask the same questions of board members, reemphasizing the board’s policy role.

A focus on the institution’s mission must be front and center in all communication with the board. Business officers can achieve this by tying the institution’s mission to recommendations to the board on both short and long-term decisions. There will likely be a lot of new and revised strategic planning ahead for institutions, and business officers are uniquely experienced in analyzing trends, projecting costs, and assessing risks in scenario planning. This expertise positions them as key leaders in guiding mission-focused conversations among colleagues and the board.

Priority Items Only

Yestramski discussed prioritizing the topics business officers and other university leadership should be communicating with the board:

Communication Strategies

Yestramski emphasized the importance of being well-prepared when presenting to the board, in part by trying to anticipate what the board wants to hear and know. Additional approaches business officers should take when sharing information with the board are to:

Into the Future

Finally, looking at the future, Yestramski sees that revised strategic plans will bring many changes, including the possibility of new partnerships; changes to program delivery, accreditation, and capital plans; and even revisiting institutional mission. Yestramski encouraged business officers to have great confidence in themselves. Through collaborations and goodwill across the higher education community, institutions have facilitated the fast-paced changes that have been necessary to sustain the promise of higher education for its students.

KIRSTEN HILGEFORD is associate editor, content for Business Officer.

Related Topics