E-Mail as a Communication Tool

EMAIL

EMAIL

E-Mail as a Communication Tool by Joseph Tramontana

This post deals with using E-Mail as an effective communication tool. A former supervisor of mine never responded to an e-mail in the ten years I worked with him. I use to think that it was crazy. I mean we live in a technological world, and everyone uses email, right? It is a fast method of communication in a world where things need to be done yesterday. Every complex and politically sensitive issue was communicated face to face.

He may have been right in many ways. It has been proven time and time again that every E-Mail can be retrieved and once you hit the send button it is a permanent document. If you reply in writing make sure it is something you are comfortable with and you do not mind the whole world reading it, because that is what can happen.

E-Mail does have its uses though and can be a valuable tool if used appropriately. I do not recommend shutting it down totally. The best advice when someone sends you a serious E-Mail related to your work is to step back and reflect, especially if it makes you angry. If you respond immediately, more times than not you will regret it. If the e-mail is serious and time sensitive just acknowledge it. “Hey got it will get back to you.” If the issue is urgent, the ideal setting is a face to face meeting or the second best choice is a phone call.

The best use of the E-Mail process is setting up appointments or meetings with various clients. It can be a great time saver as opposed to calling everyone on the telephone. Another great use of E-Mail is to transmit business documents such as spreadsheets to various parties in preparation for meetings. Serious topics deserve serious attention and do not have a place in the E-mail chain; they need to be discussed face to face. Even more problematic is the potential to be put something in writing you will later regret and once you hit the send button you can never take it back. These are some of the best ways to use E-Mail as a communication tool.

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Communication on the Front Lines

Communication

Communication on the Front Lines.

Communication on the Front Lines by Joseph Tramontana

There needs to be strong communication on the front lines in school districts. A Chief School Administrator generally has many supervisory layers under him/her. The communication chain from the top directly to the teacher or parent can be quite long. School leadership may overly depend on a long chain of command, when it comes to the communication process. Generally communications are filtered through the principals, directors, and supervisors regarding critical issues. However, as social scientists have always taught us, the information that can become skewed before it reaches its final destination.

The goals and objectives of a school district need to clearly understood by the front line employees and the parents for success to be realized. Leaders must deeply understand the needs of front line employees and the parents. The Chief School Administrator must have direct and regular communication with the teaching staff. This way they directly know the problems of the teaching staff and the expectations of the parents. Communicating directly with the teaching staff and parents also provides critical information and in many cases reveals creative solutions to problems.

This can start by regularly attending teacher staff meetings, without the Principal present, and find out directly what is going on in the trenches instead of relying on other interpretations. The same can be said for communicating directly with parents. Regular attendance at PTA meetings, where the Superintendent can listen to questions and concerns directly from parents, is a great idea as well.

When you listen to the front line school employees and parents you empower them as well. They begin to feel they are part of the decision-making process. Communicate your goals and strategies to the parents, students and teachers. In addition, listen directly to their problems and concerns on a regular basis. Then you will be armed with the information to make meaningful change, because you developed strong communication on the front lines.

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Budget Development

Budget Development

Budget Development

Budget Development by Joseph Tramontana

The purpose of budget development is a method of earmarking resources in order to attain strategic goals. Districts should engage in budget development in order to reach their goals, control spending, and monitor cash flow. The obstacles to all of this is that it is hard to map out the future with perfect accuracy. Changing revenues and unpredictable expenses make budget development more complex and intricate. It is critical to link the allocation of expenses to district goals. How do these expenditures help with improving test scores? How will these expenditures improve our facilities or technology programs? The expense side of the budget expresses how resources will be allocated and should measure actual progress. If your goal is to improve test scores and you earmark money toward this goal it is important to measure progress. The questions that need to be asked is what is working and what is failing. The budget development process is always more effective when linked to overall strategy. This gives directors and principals a clear understanding of strategic goals and how the money is being spent. This understanding leads to greater support for goals, better coordination of strategies and ultimately stronger district performance. Districts that apply best practices realize that communication among the staff, budget committee and board members play and critical role. District leadership must take the lead in developing and communicating the district’s strategic goals and how the budget will finance them. In order to develop those goals, district leadership needs input from directors, principals, board members, teaching staff and the public. Districts that establish effective channels for communication find it easier to set challenging and achievable strategic goals.

Setting goals before the budget process even begins makes it easier for budget development. Budgets which are created to support strategic goals need fewer revisions. Budget development then becomes not only faster and less costly but also far less frustrating. All districts realize that competition for resources is inevitable. Every department and division needs funding for both capital and operating expenses and most times in excess of what is actually available. This makes it immensely important for school districts to design policies and procedures in order to allocate resources in order to support district goals and needs.

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Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings by Joseph Tramontana

The benefit of productive meetings. There is nothing worse than an unorganized and unproductive meeting. This kills employee morale and is a big time waster. No one likes boring and prolonged meetings, so do not subject your staff to them. Be a friendly meeting organizer. Too many times executives will have meetings just because they feel the need to conduct them. It is time to think back and remember when you were sitting in the same “boring meeting” chair.

Before calling for a meeting ask yourself if, the issue can be handled through e-mail or perhaps even a few phone calls. Ask yourself if your support staff can handle the issue and report back their findings. Let’s be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish at the meeting and let’s not stray too far off topic. Send an agenda with a purpose and reiterate that purpose at the beginning of the meeting. Even if the meeting is scheduled for 45 minutes if you do not need the entire time then stop the meeting early. This is where time management skills are essential. Let’s face what is worse than an unproductive meeting is one that runs over its allotted time. Keep everyone focused on the purpose and topic of the meeting. Stop hour long meetings and cut them back to 45 minutes by staying on task and ending side conversations. Over the course of one month, you have saved yourself a great deal of time and energy.

Do not dominate the meeting allow and encourage input from co-workers. In addition, you will find the same people responding to your topics while others remain quiet. Encourage participation by asking direct questions, so you hear from everyone. Ask coworkers in a friendly way if they have anything to contribute to the conversation.
Productive and brief meetings that stay on topic will benefit your organization in many key ways.

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Working in Teams

Working in Teams

Working in Teams

Working in Teams Joseph Tramontana

Human beings are born to relate with each other and crave working in teams. There is an intuitive desire to work in groups. Our brains are so acclimated to relating with other humans that they handle shared victories and letdowns like physical enjoyments and discomforts. Rejection registers as a pain the same way you feel a strike to the body .Feelings of trust, association, and fitting in are important to employee performance. Working well with each other has increased employee interest, gratification, and commitment as well as performance.

Ultimately, companies would always be working together in teams but in many ways that just isn’t the case. There may be several meetings among co-workers but that does not mean they are working together in teams. There may be staff meetings with subordinates but that does not mean everyone is working together on the same project. Team building can potentially be one of the greatest predictors of employee performance, but is actually almost never practiced.

According to recent studies we should try the concept of working together at least in theory. Studies that put participants in small groups, in the beginning and were told they were working together, actually felt “togetherness.” Employees were told in a joint meeting that they would be solving a puzzle together, but they would be in separate rooms. This small distinction of being told they would be together worked longer on the project, were more accurate in their work, and improved their memory related to the task. The sense of being connected to a team also made the project much more enjoyable. All of these great positive findings was due to the fact the employees believed they were working together as a team. Apparently just the belief of working together triggers something in the brain centering on emotional feelings of camaraderie, trust and connectedness.

Leaders would be smart to organize their staff as working in teams even if it is only a belief. Let us face it there are times when it is not possible to really work in a team format. Some tasks and positions are not conducive to this. However, there can always be ways to reference the fact we are all working together and point out that the sum of the parts always make a greater whole.

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Organizational Change

Organizational Change

Organizational Change

Organizational Change by Joseph Tramontana

Organizational change management is leading an organization, team members and individuals through better future outcomes. One way is through a flatter organization where higher levels of management are reduced and combined. In simple terms, senior level managers are required to expand their skills, management and leadership. If we were using education as an example, instead of having a Director of Elementary and Secondary Education you would have one position responsible for both.A flatter organization over time will reduce costs, speed up decision making, communication and team building. A flatter organization is achieved by expanding the roles and responsibilities of senior level management. Senior staff must be made accountable along with combining higher level jobs.

Factors to consider are how fast the flattening of the organization should occur. The best approach is a well thought out plan. Of course, you would not want to combine positions in fields that are totally unrelated. In the example above you certainly could combine two educationally related positions. Certainly the philosophy of managing from the center and implementing a flatter structure could happen immediately. The other factors to consider is implementation. Is the process going to occur throughout the organization or just in certain areas? How much input will employees have in the process?

Flattening or delayering an organization will not be immediately popular with the employees. Therefore, it is recommended to solicit employee feedback, emphasize team building, and the cross-functional aspects. The process itself is full of potential landmines. Managers and subordinates will have to perform more work with no additional compensation. Monitoring employee performance will be extremely crucial. Organizational Change Management aligns and integrates teams and manages employee change through feed back and measurable performance.

Joseph Tramontana School Business Administrator

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Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting by Joseph Tramontana

Financial forecasting involves quantitatively projecting changes in future operations while analyzing the impact of trends and economic data. Current and historical data are used to estimate changes that may dramatically affect a school district’s ability to meet its goals. This is an important part of the planning process.Financial forecasting is important for several reasons.

Forecasting facility related issues, by quantifying future costs, is essential for both short term and long term planning. At some point if these issues are not addressed in the budget cycle they will eventually force a district into making emergency decisions. Forecasting can also identify trends that bring issues to the forefront that must be analyzed and evaluated during the budget process. Is revenue going down or is it stable? Are we containing salary and benefit costs or are they increasing by double digits? Finally, forecasts provide insights into important issues allowing administrators to be proactive instead of reactive. Forecasting is particularly important in setting a baseline during the budget process. Projecting student enrollment is critical in determining the costs of educational programming. Critical revenues such property taxes, surplus funds, and salary related expenses give a school district a baseline to begin building their budget. Salary and benefits are legal commitments that cannot be ignored.

Budget forecasting is an ongoing process and a critical part of budget development. Forecasting creates a model for reasonable assumptions to be made during the budget process. Projecting student enrollment, tax revenues, fund balance, salary and benefit increases are key elements in establishing a baseline for school districts. In addition, forecasting provides financial impact analysis that can be combined into the development of the budget. Current budgetary decisions should be evaluated for their long-term impact.

A variety of financial and related data are used for budget forecasting during the budget development process. These forecasts include, but are not limited to:

Enrollment – How does student enrollment impact state aid, class size, and future construction projects? Is their adequate space or too much?

Revenue – This really comes down to property taxes, state aid, and fund balance. A projection of three to five years is always a good idea.

General Fund Expenses – Salaries, contracts and benefits compromise close to ~80% of the budget. The projections of potential retirements, contracts and benefit trends should also be projected out three to five years.

Capital Costs – A long term facility plan and comprehensive maintenance plan are mandatory in all districts. What are the expenses to maintain school buildings and what capital projects need to be considered?

In preparing forecasting models, basic assumptions need to be made. These include levels of state and federal funding, inflation rates, class sizes, and surplus levels, etc. Historical data is used from a variety of sources to aid in the development of these assumptions.

Joseph Tramontana School Business Administrator

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Negotiations and Handshakes

Handshakes and Negotiations

Negotiations and Handshakes

Negotiations and Handshakes by Joseph Tramontana

When they require higher stakes, negotiations require a lot of detailed prep work by each party. Consider the recent negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Just before the controversial talks began; the U.S. President and Iranian President had one subject on the program. The one subject was organizing a handshake (1). Folks make presumptions about each other’s intentions based upon first impressions. This is the time it takes to form opinion’s regarding likeability, integrity, and capability.

Handshakes and eye contact display positive first impressions. In one research study, a firm handshake was positively linked to extraversion and psychological expressiveness and detrimentally related to shyness and neuroticism. Another study discovered that people that have a firm handshake and make eye contact receive greater job performance and interview ratings. Throughout many cultures, shaking hands at the beginning and end of a negotiating session communicates a need to interact and get to settlement (1).

In one study, carried out at Harvard’s and the University of Chicago; pairs of executives were asked to bargain a hypothetical real estate property deal. The execs had to negotiate one topic; the price of the land. One one-half of the executives was provided particular instructions to shake hands, and the other half were given no guidance. The bottom line is the side that was asked to shake hands bargained a much better win-win scenario as compared to those that did not (1).

Negotiations are difficult and controversial. There are high stakes and emotions involved. It is important to recognize how important human emotions are in the entire process.

(1) “To Negotiate Effectively, First Shake Hands – Francesca Gino …” N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014 .

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills Critical for Success by Joseph Tramontana

There are many leadership skills which are critical for success. How many times do we review these skills and integrate them into our daily life? We can all use some practice and this list is a great start.

Delegate

The first step is to identify the strengths of your team and know how to capitalize on them. Communicate with your team and find out what their capabilities are and what they actually enjoy doing. Matching up skills with preferences leads to a happy employee and successful team member. Do not get in the habit of micro managing. Delegate appropriate tasks so you can focus on the big picture and your most important functions.

Communication

Clear communication with your team is vital to success. Your plans and vision may be clear to you, but is it clear to your staff? When was the last time you had a deep conversation to make sure they really understand? Pay close attention to their body language to make sure they really understand.

Humor and Confidence

You may lose a major account or your building may have a flood. If your in business long enough, unpleasant events are bound to happen. However, if you panic your team may quickly become upset and discouraged. Stay calm, cool and collected and keep smiling. This attitude will become contagious and will get you through rough periods. There may be days where your future is uncertain and your plans have changed. This is a fact with any organization, so the critical thing is not to panic. A leader’s job is to solve difficult problems while maintaining morale.

Commitment and Intuition

If you expect your team to produce quality work than you must lead by example. Let your team see you work right alongside them, even if the task is unpleasant. Show that hard word is being done on every level and this will inspire and motivate the rest of your co-workers. If you decide to set up a time to socialize with your staff, stick with it. Commitment shows through on every level.

Decisions are not always so straight forward. There are times when you must make important decisions quickly. This is where your creativity and intuition will prove to be critical. During these times it is important to think outside the box and to choose the best option. Trust your intuition and instinct, because the world is filled with uncertainty and risk. There are times when you will lead a team through uncharted waters and there are no maps to show you what to do. When the unexpected occurs, your team will look to you for guidance.

Recognize

Everyone may not want to admit it, but on some level they want and need to be appreciated. Make sure you personally take the time to recognize employees that work hard and are doing a great job. The recognition can be formal or you can just stop by their cubicle and personally have a few kind words. It is amazing how little time can go so far.

Take some time to reflect on these leadership skills and integrate them into your daily routine.

Business Administrator Joseph Tramontana

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Government Fund Accounting

Government Accounting

Government Accounting

Government Fund Accounting Principles by Joseph Tramontana

Government Fund accounting always begins with basic principles. Formal governmental accounting started in 1934 and was formerly established as the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) in 1984. The GASB functions under the guidance of the Financial Accounting Foundation. The GASB is the primary accounting financial reporting standard for all local governmental bodies. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reaffirmed the GASB’s authority by designating the GASB as the body to establish financial accounting principles for local governmental entities.

There are twelve basic principles of accounting applicable to local governments, but today we will start with the first two.

Principle 1 Accounting and Reporting Capabilities

A governmental accounting system must make it possible both: (a) to present fairly and with fully disclose the financial position and results of financial operations of the funds and account groups of the governmental unit in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles; and (b) to determine and demonstrate compliance with finance related legal and contractual provisions.

Principle 2 Fund Accounting Systems

Governmental accounting systems should be organized and operated on a fund basis. A fund is defined as a fiscal and accounting entity with a self balancing set of accounts, recording cash and other financial resources, together with all related liabilities and residual balances. To put it simply each fund must be in balance. If you have cash coming in, which is an asset, there must be a corresponding liability that balances out. If the expenditure is less then the remainder is called “Fund Balance.” Assets = Liabilities + Fund Balance. In many ways this form of accounting provides greater detail than private sector methods. All local government budgets are all based on Fund Accounting Principles.

Fund financial statements should be used to report additional and detailed information about the primary government, included its blended component units. The largest fund by far is the government’s general fund where you will find salaries and benefits and all major governmental operations.

Joseph Tramontana Hamilton New Jersey

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