FM Frequency: From the Outside Looking In

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the March 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Recently, I read an article suggesting that managers should periodically evaluate their operations and teams as if they were candidates for their own job. In other words, how would our hypothetical replacement assess our operations? That seems like wise advice! This month’s FM Frequency conducts such an evaluation for an imaginary facility manager (fm); we’ll call him Mr. X.

Let’s imagine that this afternoon, Mr. X gets hit by a bus and “shuffles off this mortal coil.”

Wait a second. That’s a terrible way to begin any story. Let’s try again.

Suppose this afternoon, Mr. X receives an urgent e-mail from a recently deposed “finance minister” of a third world nation offering half of the country’s gold and oil reserves in exchange for Mr. X’s confidential cooperation and assistance. Being a greedy (I mean, global) citizen, Mr. X promptly offers his banking information and pledges complete confidentiality. Mr. X then receives further instructions and immediately hops a flight to the other side of the planet.

Columnist disclaimer: The FM Frequency author, TFM management, and the magazine’s advertisers strongly discourage sharing personal or corporate financial information with anyone who has poor grammar, especially if he refers to himself as “finance minister” and requests an “urgent reply” (unless he conducts your performance review or reports directly to the president of your organization).

Now let’s assume that a temporary fm (we’ll call her Ms. Y) is immediately retained by the organization to assume all facility management (FM) responsibilities in Mr. X’s absence. What would Ms. Y expect to learn on her first day? Her first week? What would she hope to accomplish in her first 60 days if Mr. X didn’t return or the assignment were to become permanent?

If we’re to evaluate Mr. X’s organization through the eyes of an outsider, let’s jump in Ms. Y’s shoes and review a few entries from her diary.

End of Day 1

Dear Diary,

I started a temporary fm gig today and was completely overwhelmed! It was like drinking from a fire hose. I’m impressed that Mr. X and so many of his staff members have worked here for more than 10 years. It must be a nice place to work.

I spent the morning getting to know the facilities team, meeting key suppliers, and reviewing the status of several projects. We spent the afternoon touring the building and meeting department heads.

Everyone seemed so friendly. This is going to be great!

This is a “tobacco free” campus. I’m glad I quit smoking last week.

I wonder what happened to Mr. X and when he’ll be back…

End of Week 1

Dear Diary,

There’s still no word from Mr. X, although I’ve learned a little more about his sudden departure. I hope he’s not in any danger. This could be a “temp to perm” opportunity after all, although I’m not 100% sure this is the right place for me.

The organization is impressive, and the building is well used, but there is a lot of deferred maintenance. The roof is old and porous, the HVAC system should be in the Smithsonian Institution, the fm files are in complete disarray, key suppliers don’t seem responsive, and department heads are expressing concern about staff growth and lingering facilities projects.

I think what concerns me most is that Mr. X’s staff members have very little enthusiasm and seem quite complacent with the status quo. I don’t think any of them have had training in years, and one of them has a terrible attitude. When I asked if anyone ever attended an International Facility Management Association (IFMA) meeting, they laughed and thought I was talking about a 12-step program!

This morning, the CEO asked me to prepare an update for the next board meeting on the facilities department’s business continuity plans. When I asked members of the fm team about it, they looked at me like I had two heads! I think I picked the wrong time to quit smoking. Where are you Mr. X?!

After 60 Days

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe I survived the first two months! The building architect,engineers, and our furniture supplier helped us compile a decent set of architectural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and modular furniture as-built drawings. My new best friend in accounting helped me obtain budget vs. actual spending reports for the past five years. I created a list of our top 10 vendors (by dollar volume) and scheduled account review meetings with each one. The human resources manager gave me a five year staffing history for each department and head count projections for the next 18 months.

I’ve engaged the landlord in preliminary conversations about expansion opportunities. We’ve hired roofing and HVAC consultants to survey the building and offer recommendations with repair and replacement budgets. The fm team is starting to show new signs of life and actually took the initiative to develop a basic emergency response plan. Several even attended their first IFMA meeting! I think the guy with the bad attitude appreciates the changes underway and is improving each day.

Unfortunately, I’m back to a pack of smokes per day, but kicking that habit (again) is on my “to do” list, especially since I have to hide in a janitorial closet to smoke. I feel like a criminal!

Speaking of criminals, Mr. X finally called. The State Department has him in custody, and he’s facing 10 to 15 years for conspiracy, money laundering, and fraud. I have a meeting with human resources tomorrow; I think they’re going to offer me a permanent position, and I’m excited about the opportunity!

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.