The Things I've Learned 2009

I love how each year I pick up on a few new nuances in regard to how I live, manage, and operate. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  I would hazard a guess that each and every one of us has learned some very valuable and “interesting” stuff this past year: the crazier the economy gets, the more crazy stuff I learn! This is my little contribution, and I would really enjoy hearing from you on the things you’ve learned over the course of the past year; that way I can learn even more from others in the trenches.

My biggest surprise/teachable moment of the year was: Never assume you have anyone figured out! Just as soon as you announce to someone else that you have so-and-so figured out, they will change direction and you’ll be left scratching your head, wondering how you could have so misread them! I always felt I was pretty good at reading people. However, this year I failed at it more than once. It is always better to leave a little room for the changes in direction those around you may take so that you’ll not be caught flat-footed if their shift involves you or your department in some way.

The more things change the more they stay the same.
There really isn’t much more to add to that, is there? We see recurring themes all the time, and while the tempest blowing around us looks a lot like change, it really may only be the same old thing, just packaged differently. I believe the lesson here is: don’t be fooled by the new packaging. Inspect the contents of the package before changing course. (Writer’s note: This is not a political commentary. This has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with managing an institution of higher learning.)

Do not accept mediocrity from any level of the organization, but learn to recognize the difference between burn out and mediocrity.
Don’t hold on to those employees in your department for whom work is only a location and not an activity. We all hope we can counsel, retrain, and cajole a marginal employee to change into a star, but some just don’t get it, won’t get it, or can’t do it. A mediocre employee can also be contagious and spread mediocrity. Be quick to recognize his or her inability to come around and cut your losses before you become a casualty yourself. Remember, shaking the tree to get some of the bad fruit out isn’t always a bad thing.

Don’t overextend or over-commit. In these times of needing to do more with less, sometimes the “hero” in us drives us to want to work doubly hard to prove our worth. Many war heroes earn the Medal of Honor posthumously; don’t go down in a ball of flames or be remembered as the one who died trying! This applies to professional commitments as well as personal commitments. Both of which can play havoc with the other if not carefully balanced.

Do not forget to publicly commend or otherwise recognize those in your organization that make you and your department look good. Those that clearly have your best interest at heart are those you want to work to keep happy. The recognition or commendation does not need to be anything extravagant, and in fact, in this economy, if the reward were extravagant, folks would probably question the expenditure anyway. So keep it simple, but most of all keep it sincere!

In these times of rapid change, be sure and hold on to those traditions that add a sense of normalcy to your employees’ work lives. Keep the annual Christmas potluck or continue sponsoring a booth at the school’s pre-game tailgate party. These simple events provide comfort and remind your employees that not all is lost with recent departmental changes.

Continue to consider the value of belonging to and participating in facilities organizations, such as APPA and their regional and state chapters. Now more than ever, we must recognize the benefit of networking and keeping abreast of the latest innovations. The cost of belonging is usually minimal and the benefit always outweighs the cost. Remember not just to join, but also to participate. Your participation is welcome and will give you an opportunity to learn more, which makes you more valuable to your institution.

In closing, remember that our work is most often a means to an end… faith, family, and friends are still the most important things and should remain our point of focus. They are the reason we work so hard at keeping our institutions’ facility needs professionally met! If we are happy and healthy outside of the office, we will bring that health and good cheer into the office and use it to build upon the successes we have already achieved.

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.

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