Lessons from Harrisburg School District: How to Create Strategic Clarity

The Harrisburg School District recently named Gene Veno as its Chief Recovery Officer and new Chief Financial Officer. The school district hopes that the new appointment will help save the system over $62 million in the coming months. Aside from following the strategic vision that spans 60 months, Veno and the board have ratified a $6.4 million loan from state funds meant to help struggling schools. This loan is interest free.

Instead of giving the everyday financial duties to Debra Miller, the district’s business manager, these responsibilities will now belong to Veno. To fill this new CFO position, the district reviewed over 8 candidates, and Veno’s experience and expertise in law, school auditing, and finance made her a prime candidate. While Veno acknowledges that the school district is heading in the right direction, she stresses that the recovery won’t be easy.

As part of this plan for fiscal recovery, district officials also approved two separate legal settlements. The costs remain unknown at this time.

How to Create Strategic Clarity

Aside from her expertise and impressive resume of experience, one of the main reasons Gene Veno was hired as the district’s new CFO is because of her ability to turn strategic ambiguity into clarity. Of course, the district wanted to pursue fiscal recovery, but only Veno could go beyond generalizations and create a clear strategy of how this daunting goal could be accomplished.

Likewise, CFOs must understand that they’re not just for finance anymore, but are also partially responsible for the greater company strategy. To accomplish this, CFOs can’t simply be looking backwards to analyze financial growth, projections, and trends. They must also actively identify current value from potential acquisitions and investments.

To create strategic clarity, a CFO must:

  • Define. The strategy defined by the financial department must be in line with the core vision of the organization. Similar to the 60-month plan that the Harrisburg School District will follow, CFOs should define the specific details of a financial strategy.
  • Communicate. Do employees, other executives, and members of the board agree with the strategy that has been defined?
  • Implement. CFOs must remember that implementing a strategy isn’t simply initiating a new set of rules. Rather, a new strategy may require new skill sets across the organization. Preparation for implementation is key.
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