Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Things I've Learned 2014

WOW! It is hard to believe we are already into 2015… Where did 2014 go? I think it is safe to say that I am not the only one wondering that. The bigger question, however, is, was 2014 a productive year for you and your institution? This old dog has learned some new tricks this past year, or at least learned new variations of tricks already in the bag.

Embrace Change

Because I’ve had so much change in my professional life, I’ll lead with a commentary on embracing change and looking for good ways to introduce it to the maintenance team. Introducing effective and efficient work practices or refining existing efficient measures is an excellent way to solidify the department’s place on campus. Being able to increase both the quality and quantity of work is a win-win-win scenario. Our leadership acknowledges and often rewards such accomplishments, while our maintenance department enjoys the fruits of these efforts by being well thought of as well as experiencing personal and professional reward. In addition, our customer appreciates our ability to complete a job within a reasonable amount of time and with high-quality results. Be prepared for some pushback at first, but stick to the plan and it’ll work out for everyone. On plans, I’ve (re)learned that we must always have a Plan B, Plan C and, depending upon the degree of difficulty of the project or assignment, prepare to continue to invent new plans until we get it right!

Take Risks, and Trust Others

As leaders, we need to take calculated risks in our effort to support the goals of our institutions. One example would be taking on an energy conservation project. We can run the operational and return-on-investment calculations forward and backward, but we will never truly know the results until it is implemented and being maintained by our team. Thorough research, checking references from similar projects completed and trusting the engineering/marketing team’s data gets us where we need to be in order to gain approval to commence a project. Remember that with big risk comes big reward, so when the numbers are right and those supporting the project are willing to back it, go for it. However, do not confuse foolishness for risk. We are fiscally bound to good business management practices.

On the subject of trust, I’ve applied President Reagan’s adage, “Trust, but verify,” in many situations this past year while getting to know new employees and co-workers. This could relate to any number of things, including the proposed results of that energy conservation project, a new maintenance product, or our relationship with employees or co-workers. We must trust our employees to possess the technical proficiency to perform their work. Once that proficiency is verified, it is incumbent on each of us to continue to maintain that trust. Trust, I’ve learned, builds confidence and creates an environment where our technicians want to excel in order to maintain that confidence. Remember too, that trust is a two-way street and must be earned. I believe we sometimes take that trust for granted.

Emphasize Safety

I am reminded from time to time to bring safety to the forefront in the work we do, how we perform our jobs and for whom we perform them! Underemphasizing safety and complacency as it relates to safety are the same as being negligent. We encourage our employees to work safe for their own well being. Working to provide a safe campus environment for our students, staff, faculty and visitors is a very important byproduct of the maintenance effort as well. The balance between beating the safety drum too often and not enough is a very fine line. Too much and our technicians get numb to the message. Not enough and they begin to exhibit careless and unsafe tendencies.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask

Being relatively new in this position on a new campus, I’ve learned that it is the wise manager that seeks input and advice in any number of situations. One thing is for sure; historical perspective is vital in the decision-making process. Not so much in that we will continue to do the same thing, but, quite to the contrary, as the old cliché goes, in order to know where we are going we must know where we have been!

As always, I close with the most important thing we can continue to “learn” on the job. Remember that it’s not just maintenance — there are so many other factors in our daily work routine — and at the end of the day it is about performing for a customer… our students!

Take care of yourself, giving precedent to faith, family and friends, and you’ll be better on the job!

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 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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