Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

The Things I’ve Learned 2013

Reflections on changing, learning and remembering what matters.

What a year 2013 was for me! A host of new experiences brought many new life lessons, as well as confirming a great number of the old standbys. I started a new job in the summer of 2013 and the excitement of new beginnings was tempered by the pain of leaving an established career with a great company at a great university.

I will begin by countering my normal statement of “It’s not just maintenance” by saying that actually maintenance is maintenance! By that I mean that the processes and procedures we follow to perform maintenance tasks are largely the same, no matter the type of facility in which they are performed. However, what is “not just maintenance” is the fact that there is a significant human element in all the work that we do. Performing quality maintenance tasks while remembering exactly why and for whom we are performing them is critical to our daily mission of institutional support. We should never lose sight of who our customer is and continually remind our front-line employees and management that the work they do supports the organization’s mission of education.

Make Informed Decisions

What else did I learn this year? From the maintenance standpoint, I was reminded that when it comes to newer technology (think LEDs, oil-less compressors, etc.), there are many upstarts pushing their products. Remember that just because someone wants an appointment doesn’t mean we must grant it. If you do meet and like what you see/hear, be sure to block the time to properly vet the product and run the numbers. It is often this investment of time that is a struggle in the maintenance realm. I learned that one should not venture into this if you are not prepared to make a fully informed decision.

I learned also that technology for technology’s sake is worthless. If implementing some form — any form — of technology, make certain it is put to good and productive use. Technology must benefit our employees, and ultimately, the mission of the institution.

To segue, I’ll add that serious change requires serious thought…be it a maintenance technology, implementing a process, or changing jobs. Not every change requires an in-depth analysis, but many do require at least a cursory cost/benefit analysis and an answer to the question, “what is the impact, short and long term, of the changes being made?” Once these and other analyses are complete and the decision to move forward is made, we can then implement. When change comes, consider whether to implement quickly, or use a more measured roll out so as to not create undue stress or concern.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask

It became quite important for me to remember, in any situation, to ask questions. I know that sounds fundamental to most, but after doing my job in one institution for so long, there were very few questions I needed answered. Changing jobs forced me to realize that even with all I know about managing facilities and maintenance, when doing it in another facility there are so many dynamics that change:expectation of maintenance support, the events that occur, the political aspect, etc. Wherever possible, ask leading questions. Most important questions require much more than a “yes” or “no” response. This past year, I’ve given the adages “there are no stupid questions” and “the only stupid question is one that isn’t asked” a run for their money! No matter how much you know, there are always others that know more, or at least more about a specific topic or organization. Use local knowledge to your advantage. Any opportunity there is to learn something new, especially from someone who holds specific information, is an opportunity you will want to take advantage of. And remember… you learn nothing when you are talking. Stop and listen when your questions are being answered.

Finally, I learned when starting a new position, don’t worry so much about being liked and focus more on doing your job well. If you are taking the time to learn about your institution and systematically picking up on and performing all the finer points of the position, you will earn the trust of your new cohorts and the leadership of the institution.

Remember What Matters

I’ll close with the same admonition I always do: Remember that all this is good and helpful for what we do for our institutions each day, but what really matters is our faith, family and friends. We are shaped as much by what happens off the job as we are on the job. Do well for yourself off the job and you’ll be better on the job!

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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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