Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

Change for Change's Sake

You have taken drastic, even painful steps to change the makeup and culture of your facilities organization. You have changed out a level of senior management; hired new, energetically motivated and highly skilled (degreed?) senior staff members; and you have modified policies and procedures. Institutional management is optimistically looking forward to a more effective and efficient facilities management organization. You have even retained a marketing guru to sell your exciting changes to customers.

Then you bring in an independent consultant to help quantify the improvements that should have resulted from the tsunami of changes implemented a year ago. Customers indicate that they believe response may have improved, but that they still have serious concerns about costs, scheduling and communication. You are disappointed by the underwhelming results.

Frustrating to you is the tone of the consultant’s reports, indicating a lack of positive results from assessments of internal employees’ feedback. What happened there?

Perception is Key

I believe that the main problem is that changes and improvements contemplated by senior management have the appearance of improving system results and data collection at the organizational level. Employees on the frontlines may hear about changes being considered, but too often wait in vain for any positive results to “trickle down” to their levels.

Of the numerous institutions that I have had the privilege of visiting during the last 20-plus years, “nothing has changed” is the most common refrain that I hear from employees in the trenches. At times, the main change they might see includes more requirements in data reporting, sometimes accompanied by the provision of advanced, portable technology to help keep better track of them and they work they’re supposed to do. They may not be convinced that there have been any detectable, beneficial changes.

Ask Questions

To be fair, I have had occasion to see organizations where changes (improvements?) were implemented with the goal of actually improving the perceptions that employees retain regarding their own work situations. I’m aware of at least one institution where the department’s leadership had the courage to inventory employee attitudes, beliefs and needs. That takes courage, and can be facilitated some if an established vehicle is used that asks the right questions — in the right ways.

Topics covered include a variety of analyses and assessments, such as:

  • An analysis of turnover rate, career development opportunities and perceived opportunities at career advancement.
  • Separation interviews: Do they indicate employees are leaving for “more money” or for “a better job?”
  • Disciplinary actions: Is there an increasing incidence pertaining to certain groups or individuals?
  • Life away from the workplace: Do employees feel that management is respectful and considerate of their personal lives? Do policies encourage a reasonable degree of flexibility?
  • Is there access to impartial employment counseling?
  • The degree of satisfaction that employees generally display in their jobs: How does the organization support their needs as they strive to perform their assigned tasks. Are their efforts valued?
  • The degree of understanding they have regarding the whys, whats and hows of the work they do. Do they feel they have the tools and the right to make job-related decisions?
  • The degree of satisfaction they enjoy in performing their jobs: Do they mostly exhibit an attitude of “it is good enough for government work?” Is there a real and appreciated reward and recognition system?
  • Performance evaluations: What is the value-added benefit of that ritual? Are they seen as developmental or punitive in nature?
  • The degree to which employees realize and feel that they are supporting the educational/research priorities at their institution.
  • The degree to which any employee’s training, qualifications and interests align with assigned job responsibilities.

Other considerations exist and could be addressed, depending on an organization’s history. The point is that senior management is more frequently seen as having an interest in correcting perceived issues at the macro-organizational model. I have yet to see a convincing instance where change was implemented for the benefit of that most significant resource we have: our employees!

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 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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