Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)
Maintaining Our Standards
- By Michael G. Steger
- May 1st, 2016
Recently my social media news feeds were filled with a story
about a speech given to attendees of
the 1996 American Baseball Coaches Association
convention. The speaker was retired
legendary college baseball coach John Scolinos.
Coach Scolinos came to the podium with a full-sized
baseball home plate dangling around his
neck and to the snickers and wonder of his audience.
Coach Scolinos delivered his address without once mentioning
the adornment of the home plate. Finally, he closed by asking the
audience the size of an official baseball home plate
in each of the baseball leagues from Babe Ruth up
to Major League Baseball. The answers trickled in
at 17 inches. He confirmed that, and then asked
what happens when a pitcher cannot consistently
throw over home plate. He is sent to the minor
leagues, that’s what. Baseball does not conform
to this player and widen the plate to 18 inches, 20
inches or whichever necessary size to allow him to
throw strikes to accommodate his lack of skill. There are other great
messages contained within Scolinos’ closing remarks and I recommend
taking a moment to search out and read the full story, it is as
pertinent today as it was 20 years ago.
What does this have to do with maintenance or facilities management? Everything! Read on.
The Slippery Slope
All too often we find ourselves quick to bend a rule or change a
standard in order to accommodate someone. We must remember
that while the relationship we maintain with our customer and our
employees is a synergistic one, ultimately what is best for the business
— in our case, our schools — must take priority.
Who among us hasn’t been worn down by the squeaky-wheel faculty
member that simply cannot survive another day teaching in a
73°F classroom? We take the path of least resistance and change the
space temperature set point to 71°F in order to “oil the squeak.” We
do this even though we know that the 73°F standard was not set arbitrarily,
but through years of research and following other facilities
trends based in fact that the campus standard is both comfortable
and helps conserve energy. Once we give in to one, we start down
the slope and perhaps allow more. Then what? Utility bills begin to
climb and we are left trying to account for the increases.
How about policies that relate to professional accountability?
Practices rooted in how our employees look and act are beginning
to erode in many ways. I have struggled for years with employee
use of cell phones on the job. When most personnel policies were
written, cell phones didn’t exist, or weren’t as ubiquitous as they
are today. Instead of widening the plate to accommodate employees
who can’t seem to function without a phone in their hand or up
to their head, we need to remind the pitcher (the employee) that
these are the rules and all are to follow them.
I know this can be a touchy subject, but personal appearance is
similar in context to the cell phone. Most likely when policies were
written, full-sleeve arm or neck tattoos, gauges in
earlobes and facial piercings may not have been in
vogue. Sure, every generation has their group on
the cutting edge… did employers of old become
concerned and alter policy when men stopped
wearing suspenders, or grew sideburns, cut their
hair in a mullet or started wearing powder-blue
leisure suits? Given that thought, employers must
continually consider what is acceptable in their
place of business and have their employees conform to the policy of
the day; it is not the other way around.
Standards Exist for a Reason
How about our many other facilities’ operational standards?
We should resist the urge to lower standards on anything that
would be negatively affected by the reduction of those standards.
This could be anything from the aforementioned temperature
set point, the number of times we perform a particular service or
how we perform a particular service, to the quality of the parts
and supplies we purchase in order to maintain our campuses, and
many, many more examples.
Essentially, it is not in the best interest of our departments
or our schools to widen the plate. It is in our best interest is to
manage our departments, and to train and equip our personnel
in such a manner that makes the proverbial “throwing over the
17-inch home plate” easy to do time and again. Maintaining high
standards and holding ourselves and those under our leadership
accountable will help keep us from needing to widen the plate.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.