Professional Development: Analyzing Facilities Leadership

By Tony Stack
Published in the May 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

At a recent event sponsored by APPA (formerly the Association of Physical Plant Administrators), members of the academic segment of the facilities management (FM) profession were asked to identify the major current and future challenges they face. The top six were:

  1. Improving accountability;
  2. Planning for workforce change;
  3. Integrating sustainability into total operations;
  4. Implementing total cost of ownership practices;
  5. Making facilities a strategic partner with leadership; and
  6. Leading change.

Traditionally, facilities departments have had to rely on a complex array of home grown tools which don’t (or can’t) integrate with other campus systems. A number of institutions develop their own systems, which (unfortunately) break down over time due to complex integration issues, lack of a dedicated staff, budget cuts, and loss of expertise (through natural attrition). Worse off are the universities which have spent hundreds of thousands (or even millions of dollars) on integrated workplace management systems (IWMS), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), or computer aided facility management solutions (CAFM) only to find that in order to provide meaningful results, they have had to incur additional resource costs to make the integration viable.

Facilities departments must respond to increased demands for accountability with information that demonstrates how well they are managing institutional resources. The growing demand for increased accountability has affected facilities departments as much as, if not more than, other operating areas.

Facilities represent a significant portion of every budget. Access to pertinent, real time information by decision makers and leaders is an essential premise to accountability. So when assessing the level and status of accountability measures, facility professionals should consider the following:

  • Is it possible to demonstrate the performance of the campus portfolio?
  • Is it possible to determine the value of facilities and determine total costs of ownership (TCO), functional (and actual) life cycles, and the department’s contribution to reducing the costs of the former and increasing the value of the latter?
  • Can facilities clearly articulate the department’s successes in deploying accountability measures?

The major issue with this challenge is that facilities departments need to work closely with other administrative functions to understand the very real demographic changes they face. In this context, facility managers (fms)—although not demographers by trade—must understand how shifts within their cities, states, and regions can impact the need for educational services. By understanding these trends, fms can generate more realistic capital plans and maintenance strategies based upon what they have and what they will need.

As they plan for workforce change, fms should ask the following questions:

  1. What demographic changes are expected in your city, state, and region?
  2. What are the demographics of your current workforce?
  3. What are your future service requirements and core functions?
  4. What are the gaps between what you have and what you will need?
  5. Do you have the right mix of resources in terms of personnel and technology?
  6. What strategic options are/are not available to you?

Access to a fully integrated information source is critical to defining a facilities management solution. Technology that integrates with GIS/market mapping software, financial, and human resource databases will allow fms to develop multiple, time based scenarios from which costs and risks can be assessed. This will also allow departments to enact long-term strategic plans, thus minimizing loss of capital and other resources due to knee jerk reactions to demographic shifts. Those managers who are early adopters of this technology can be agents of change within the larger community.

Like it or not, the sustainability movement is here to stay. Even students and parents, who traditionally chose universities based on programs, cost, and prestige factors are now looking at how universities are addressing sustainability—from green purchasing to eco-friendly dorms and classrooms.

Consequently, fms must make sustainability central to all decisions; otherwise, their stewardship over facility infrastructure will come into question. Harder to do is to set goals and time frames so stakeholders will know when (and how) the department has succeeded. Finally, fms need to determine the players and their level of involvement.

Sustainability is an accountability issue. Fms must take on leadership roles and be taken seriously in that position. Strategies that can be enacted include:

  • Custodial services. Are green products being used?
  • Waste management. Can recycling programs be extended and expanded? Are there innovative ways to recycle materials into new construction?
  • Purchasing policies. Do recycled or recyclable materials have preference in the inventory system? Can the system even track green purchasing?
  • Construction. How committed to LEED is the facilities department? Is it possible to demonstrate how the department is using green technology and green construction methodologies?

Along with accountability, TCO and sustainability go hand in hand. Stakeholders need to know fms are making the best decisions in light of all available information and that those decisions have the required return on investment (ROI).

In the higher education arena, this goes even further. The TCO must be able to demonstrate that fms have made the right decision from financial and stakeholder perspectives. This means fms are now being tasked with assigning costs to non-traditional TCO components such as image, usage, etc.

While traditional TCO models can cope with the numbers, fms need tools that allow them to quantify these components in order to make the right decisions. One method of quantifying subjective costs is to rank and weigh the importance of the nontraditional items based on user perception. This requires upfront discussion and agreement as to what is perceived as a real value add and what is seen as a wish. To determine this, fms should ask the following questions:

  • How does the department define TCO? Is there consensus of all staff members? Is that consensus carried through in policies and procedures?
  • How can fms achieve institutional alignment on the need for TCO?
  • Do internal customers understand the concept and the need for TCO? How can they be educated, if necessary?
  • Are facilities design standards based on TCO? A TCO philosophy is essential in the planning phase.
  • How are intangibles measured in the TCO equation?
  • How are TCO and sustainability being related?

Fms need to demonstrate their value and the value of facilities to get a seat at the highest tables of decision making within their institutions. Fms must elevate themselves from the basement to the boardroom.

FM departments can contribute valuable information to discussions of campus planning, facilities usage, sustainability, and operations. However, despite professional achievements in recent years, many fms are still not able to leverage their knowledge at boardroom levels.

Getting an invitation to the dance is a long-term process and will take some years for fms to achieve. Given that facilities operations are generally second only to HR and can have one of the largest impacts on both budgets and cost savings, managers need to strive harder for this level of engagement and recognition by top executives.

One of the best ways to raise the profile of FM and increase its value to the organization as a whole is to demonstrate tangible results that support the mission, vision, and strategy of the institution. This makes it essential for the facilities department’s strategic vision and plan to align with the institutional strategic plan.

Unfortunately, many strategic plans are created in isolation from other facts and rely on long held assumptions about how facilities have always operated. This attitude toward strategic planning puts facilities at odds with institutional leadership, which is why fms often don’t get a seat at the table.

Being able to demonstrate value relies heavily on the ability to craft and implement a defensible strategy based on real time data and realistic scenario models. A well maintained and supported IWMS program offers fms the ability to derive any number of metrics from the available data, benchmark these metrics to industry averages and desired future states, and craft strategies which close gaps. While access to (and use of) this information is vital, the final analysis about what path to pursue rests with the fm.

Campus leadership will judge the strategic value of fms by their ability to enact a strategy that aligns with institutional goals and objectives. The closer these two align, the quicker fms will get invited to join the higher level discussions.

The ultimate reason for demonstrating a high level of value and acceptance within the institution is so that fms will be recognized as leaders of change.

Change is inevitable. Shifting demographics mean that expectations change, economics change, and knowledge changes. Facility leaders need to determine whether they are going to manage change or lead it. Having the right tools is only part of the solution.

Leaders must have the wisdom to act purposefully on the knowledge that grows out of information and data. Managers who consistently demonstrate this characteristic will be sought after as leaders of change.
Fms who wonder if they make the grade in terms of leadership should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do I understand the fundamental difference between management and leadership in regard to change?
  • Do I have managers or leaders working for me? Can a manager become a leader?
  • What have I done to understand how people are going to respond to change? Will I manage their expectations? Or will you lead them through change?
  • How well do I understand the drivers of change in my institution?
  • How will I assess and measure change outcomes and successes?
  • Do I know what the unintended consequences of change could be? Can I develop alternate strategies and contingency plans?

While it is impossible to predict the future with certainty, it is certain that the demographics of the professional world will change and that accountability for reaction to that change will increase. With the right tools, information and data, and wisdom, today’s fms can begin to explore the implication of these trends and start to prepare their institutions for what will come. Institutions that adopt change as a mantra and quickly adapt to it will become the institutions that survive the future.

Stack is the senior manager of Higher Education for Braintree, MA-based Planon, Inc. Stack has worked with facilities leaders around the world to develop business processes that position facilities groups as change leaders.

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