Beyond Facility Management: Taking The Satellite View

By Stacey Meyer
From the March 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Today’s facility managers need to be acutely aware of the impact of their work on the viability and strength of their host organizations. Well beyond maintaining neatly kept grounds, clean and functioning buildings, and good labor relations, facilities professionals are now-more than ever-charged with supporting and furthering the goals of both their department and the organization as a whole.

“Facility management today takes on a systematic, comprehensive, and much broader and more diverse role,” says Christopher Ahoy, associate vice president, facilities planning and management at Iowa State University. “Technology, budgeting, and funding concerns are critical. Establishing a vision for the future which facilitates the day to day management of the enterprise includes strategic planning; listening to the voice of the customer; internal and external community relations; this all falls within the facilities management role.”

Focusing On Customers

A customer focus for all of a facilities professional’s constituencies begins with encouraging each employee to be a good ambassador, starting with new employee orientation to inculcate the philosophy and expectations of the organization. Ahoy promotes core values that increase the department’s equity and worth to the organization. “For example, when our employees are asked for directions, they are expected to go out of their way to walk new students or visitors to where they want to go or stop our lawn mowers as a courtesy to those passing by.”

Ahoy also says, “We have set up Web pages and e-mail for requests for services. Every process and point of contact is examined and designed to reduce expenses and increase customer satisfaction. Providing better products and services cheaper and faster is the norm.”

Mo Hollman, associate senior vice president, facilities management at University of Southern California, frames his role as educator. “There’s been a definite shift in the mindset from seeing ourselves as the ‘fix-it’ guys to professional managers. In every interaction, it is our responsibility to raise consciousness by continuously educating the wider community as to who we are and what we do.”

Gary Matthews, assistant vice chancellor, auxiliary and plant services, University of California, San Diego, agrees: “The facilities department has shifted from ‘back of house’ to user focused. We should think of ourselves as stewards of the facility, always keeping the future in mind.”

For example, looking forward in his strategic planning, Matthews is in the process of implementing a wireless network in lieu of fiber optics. “You constantly have to be aware of what’s out there to be ahead of the curve, and you must deploy your resources accordingly to deliver valuable services and value to your community.”

The Greater Good

Facilities management’s 360° view of its environment widens the scope of its activities beyond order taking. With a regional medical research center on an ever expanding campus, Matthews is involved in interpreting what scientists need for their laboratories, dealing with energy commodity traders, anticipating emerging technologies, and securing intellectual property, among other issues. “We are, in essence, operating a small city. And we have to operate with a satellite view to build, maintain, and plan with excellence.”

A vastly broadened facility outlook serves its organization well. Sophisticated, superb facility management, resulting in high levels of customer satisfaction, supports its organizational partners in their tasks. Well designed, maintained, and secured buildings and grounds (and all that goes into achieving them) promote donor support, encourage recruitment and community relations, generate administrative support for the department, and free faculty and students to concentrate on their roles.

Communication Is Key

None of this happens without mastering another task charged to the facility manager: communication. Hollman points out that it is important to keep channels open with senior management. “Find ways to communicate proactively what you are doing that contributes to the bottom line and thus promotes your cause,” he advises.

For example, Hollman actively pursues opportunities to talk about his department in meetings and through distribution of the department’s newsletter to the administrative staff; he presents guest lectures on energy, conservation, and recycling topics to students; he works with off-campus community groups on home repair events for the poor and elderly in the surrounding neighborhood; he seeks out articles and interviews by student, faculty and alumni publications; and he has developed sound relationships with the safety and development offices. The latter has paid off in channeling handsome donations from alumni for campus renovations.

A recent long-range campus consolidation of the energy systems-which resulted in a $1 million rebate-was featured in the campus and local press. “It’s a matter of establishing creditability-the perception of facility management as a well-run, trustworthy, and effective business.”

By the same token, it is also a worthy reflection of the facility manager’s leadership. One of the most valuable assets a facility manager can acquire and develop-among the numerous other skills the position demands-is the ability to communicate goals and to marshal consensus and support towards achieving them.

The collaborative nature of most organizations requires these skills. Gathering support through personal relationships, networking, creative approaches, and good old fashioned public relations distinguishes the facility department as innovative and forward-thinking. These qualities, along with solid, demonstrated contributions to the bottom line, need to be brought to the attention of senior management in as many ways as possible.

Building relationships and keeping in constant touch with the “partners” throughout the organization and community is the hallmark of an effective leader. “Each one of us has to be out there, tirelessly preaching and outreaching to get where we want to be,” says Hollman.

Meyer is vice president at Pasadena, CA-based Gary Kaplan & Associates.