Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

HR: A Facilities Swamp?

Am I an effective human resources manager? How many of us feel fully comfortable in that mystifying world? It is probably more likely that most of what we think we know evolved through inadvertent on-the-job training, numerous moments and decisions we later regretted, even with continual training, administered by HR professionals who frequently are inexperienced in “managing” FM employees.

I remember all of the times we went through sexual harassment training. Also every occurrence where an employee, seemingly anywhere in our organization, made a comment, gesture or innuendo to someone of the opposite (or same) gender who deemed that action as unsolicited and undesirable, and had previously said so. I remember those among us (who may not have displayed inappropriate behavior themselves) sighing an editorial comment like, “Geez, do we have to go through that again?” To which we received the response that, yes, as supervisors and managers, we did get the pleasure of going through that again. The assumption, and the point, is that as creatures of habit, most of us have tendency to fall back into our old habits, good or bad. The other point is that some of us, innocently but out of genuine ignorance, may say or do things that we believe to be completely harmless.

Identifying Bias

Let’s switch directions here, and ask each of us to take an “honesty” quiz. Assume we have a vacant position for which we are seeking qualified candidates. This position requires a significant amount of exposure to our customers and stakeholders. After having diligently followed all the corporate rules and regulations for posting a vacant position of this type, we have arrived at the stage when we can start interviewing a small number of finalists. We congratulate ourselves in having arrived at this short list with the expert and unbiased help contributed by our central Human Resources representative. We schedule face-to-face appointments with the finalists. We ask the same questions of each of the candidates, with only slight variations in the follow-up questions. We are generally impressed by the quality of the finalist pool, but there are two who clearly rate higher than the others. The trouble is that we can’t help but rate the two of them perfectly equal. Now, here comes the rub. One of the candidates is significantly more “pleasing to the eye” than the other. The question you have to answer to yourself is: which one do you hire? The more attractive (a subjective assessment at best), or do you go out of your way to extend an offer to the other candidate, if for no other reason but to demonstrate to everyone watching that you intentionally chose not to be swayed by qualities not directly related to the job?

I discussed this dilemma with a small group of my students. The unofficial result was that both the men and the women in this group admitted that they would probably be inclined to hire the more attractive person. What would you do?

Can You Justify Your Decisions?

Here’s another switch: dealing with a reduction in force. If you are not in a union shop this can be challenging and tricky situation. Unless your institution has a clear policy on such actions (which it should!), and unless you have excellent performance evaluations and documentations on file, you may hit some painful speed bumps. Let’s assume that you operate under a requirement to base your decisions on longevity in the current position (not anywhere else at the institution). Assume you have two equally qualified incumbents. Their respective track records regarding performance and skill levels are identical. However, one has a blemish on her record in terms of a felony conviction many years ago (of which you were aware when you hired her), and the other one is squeaky clean. Which one do you choose? That’s a tough one, right? The magnitude of your eventual decision is even more burdensome when you realize that the “survivors,” the employees not selected, likely will also be judging the wisdom and impartiality of your decision.

The truth of the matter is that the alligators in that swamp are getting bigger, and more ferocious. The swamp is also getting deeper. Every decision you make, or resist making, is going to picked apart and has the potential of being challenged. Every rule you are perceived of violating can end up making you a new best friend to your institution’s legal counsel. Clearly, it is increasingly important for everyone on your management team to be well versed (trained) in all aspects of human resources management.

“Human Resources Management” sounds impersonal, yet we should remember that this resource is about people, and every one has needs, expectations and life experiences. As I said before, our business is about people, and how we choose to lead them. Or not.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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