By Anthony Maddox
So you’re just getting in to the office and settling down to get that urgent report finished up. Minutes later, a knock is heard at the door and you hear that familiar phrase, “Hey boss, are you busy? We have a problem.” What is it now: the chiller, electrical panel, roof leak? Your staff is running around and you think to yourself, “Why do we put up with this old equipment, they have the money, just buy a new one!” Or how about that dreaded call in the middle of the night about the air conditioning breaking down, a pipe bursting or that Noah’s ark was spotted in the parking lot after a heavy rain. We all have this in some shape or form. You know what I’m talking about: yes, Deferred Maintenance!
Now you have pricing for all the needed repairs and you’re ready to approach upper management. You proposed a replacement cost of $20,000, then they ask, “Does it have to be replaced or can it be patched?” You reluctantly state that you can patch the part for $5,000 and they gladly take that option. You beat your head on the wall thinking, not another band aid! It’s as old as my grandparents, don’t they understand how bad it is, and they should see all the work orders for this equipment! We’re all faced with the disconnect between facilities professionals and upper management, but how do we bridge that gap? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here are a few pointers on ways to improve that vital working relationship.
Keep a folder on current quotes and bids for major issues and projects just in case the company has additional funds at the end of the fiscal year. You can always look for tax incentives, special grants or a more unconventional approach such as performance contracting to encourage the company to invest in facilities capital renewal.
Most facilities departments land under Finance or a higher level cabinet position that knows little or nothing about maintenance and operations. If you find yourself in this position, ask for a special meeting with them and a few cabinet members and give a “Maintenance 101” presentation. Include current/past staff levels, the age and expected lifespan of critical equipment, organizational expansions such as building acquisitions or increasing the number of employees, and the growing number of work orders. These things can help upper management understand that facilities has not grown with the company and that older buildings require more resources just to keep things operational. Always remember to talk in dollars and cents, and also percentages. How much is the original lighting system costing the company versus new LEDs or what is the percentage of other departments’ growth versus facilities?
Remember you are the facilities expert for the company and the champion for the department. Your boss may be an accountant or a generalist and may not understand your environment, but do you understand theirs? Many facility managers shy away from Finance or other aspects of the company because they are not comfortable with numbers or just too busy with their department and current work responsibilities. Many times, the facilities department becomes isolated, but as president Lyndon Johnson stated, “We can no longer sit by and see our strength—military, moral, or economic— decimated by delay, defeat, or retreat.” No this is not war, but facilities professionals must try to find different strategies to let upper management know our needs and concerns. Whether it’s learning to understand the global picture of your company or going back to school to study finance and other business topics or maybe gaining a shared governance with other departments to make the goals of the facilities department intrinsic to the company’s goals, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to find a way to get the resources your department so desperately needs!
Good luck and never give up!