Strategic Facility Planning Report: Part 3

By Tim Springer and Steve Lockwood
Published in the December 2002 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

“Space, the final frontier…”

Unlike the excitement with which James T. Kirk first uttered this phrase, today this sentiment unfortunately seems to be the approach many organizations take when confronting facility planningas a space issue—as a way to reduce the costs associated with the last remaining, essentially untouched, seemingly bloated, line item on the budget. Yet, viewing facilities as costs and reducing space as the answer misses the fact that space is only one of many characteristics of facilities and workplaces. Indeed, it is the combination of all characteristics that have an impact on the people, processes, and the profits of an organization.

Many attempts at strategic facility planning fail because there is no attempt to show impact or measure outcomes. It is the responsibility of the facilities professional to provide upper management with relevant information regarding the impact of facilities on the organization and the importance of effective strategic facility planning to insure the best, most positive results.

The Impact Of Facilities

Everybody has to work somewhere. That seems like a simple enough premise. But as the great architect Mies van der Rohe once observed, “God is in the details.” The degree to which the facility supports the workers, work behaviors, and organizational goals determines the impact—and it does have one—on its organization; the question is whether that impact is positive or negative, and how (or even whether) one can tell.

For those who question the impact of place on behavior, try this brief mental exercise. First of all, consider those public places that elicit certain feelings or behaviors: a place of worship; a favorite sports stadium; the “Wall” of the Vietnam Memorial. Now consider the characteristics of more “generic” places like playgrounds, kitchens, or libraries. Each of these places is composed of many elements that contribute to how well they serve their purposes. The best examples possess an unobtrusive synergy of elements that imbue them with properties going far beyond the mere physical characteristics of the place.

The same holds true of workplaces. Facilities and workplaces that are best examples of their kind exhibit properties that support work behaviors, reinforce culture, improve performance, and help those who work there achieve the goals of the organization.

In very rare instances these places evolve, and with luck and serendipity they manage to exist. However, as has been shown in previous articles in this series, effective workplaces and facilities that have a significant positive impact can be planned and developed.

Why Ask Why?

“We do things, but we do not know why we do them.” This quote from Albert Einstein has always seemed apropos to the workplace and the changes organizations make to their facilities. Unfortunately, too often things are done without understanding why or considering their potential impact.

Another scientific genius, Sir Isaac Newton proposed “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” For purposes of facilities planning and management, this law should be paraphrased to read: “For every facilities decision and action there is a measurable and significant reaction or impact on the organization.” The issue is whether the impact is positive or negative.

From simple actions to complex systems, facilities professionals can impact their organizations through the decisions they make or recommend and the actions that are taken (or avoided). It is important to know there are repercussions and impacts associated with inaction as well as action.

Potential outcomes of facilities decisions and actions carry either or both positive or negative impact. Thus, expressions of impact should reflect both benefits and liabilities. The most obvious areas on which decision and action regarding facility and workplace have impact are cost reduction and cost avoidance.

The first article in this series showed one example where actions taken to reduce costs had associated impact, including increased expenditures in order to cut costs. However, the decision and resulting inaction had the long-term impact of costing more to catch up on maintenance. In the intervening timeframe, image, identity, worker performance, and recruiting and retention suffered. So, as this example illustrates, there is a cost for doing nothing.

Measuring Impact

Measures of impact extend far beyond traditional cost based expressions. The potential areas of facility impact range from human resources, worker performance, technology, and culture, to finance, space, and time. Facilities can influence and impact each of these areas in distinct ways—and the expressions of impact can be equally unique. The challenge for facilities professionals is to identify appropriate measures and assess the impact of their decisions and actions in terms of those metrics.

From these examples, facility professionals can see the range of settings and array of measures with which to show impact on workplace and facilities.

This article, taken in concert with the two preceding articles in the series, provides the justification, process, measures, and tools of strategic facilities planning.

The goal is to show facilities professionals the importance of aligning and linking the significant assets of an organization’s facilities and workplaces with the business goals and outcomes. The power of the approach and the significance of the impact demonstrate the importance of facilities and facilities professionals to overall business success.

As former principal/partner of Foresight Assocates, Springer is president and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. and frequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affecting organizations, work, and workplaces. For other columns from Springer, visit his Web site.