Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Things I've Learned 2015

After completing what was most likely the busiest year of my 30-year facilities career, the list of things I’ve learned is long and powerful. I will try to break it down into a handful of what I hope will be useful nuggets… One thing I know for sure is that the hardest lessons stick with us the longest! It is also important to note that, after this many years, not much is truly a first-time experience so when they come, hold on to them.

A theme I had for this past year has been from a Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better!” This ties in well with the continual learning process toward which I have always strived.

Embrace Your Limits

Let’s take a look at last year’s list, starting with “don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Taking on more than is possible to do, even with extended work hours, is never a good position to be in. This leaves us less organized; things fall off your radar, or the work you do produce may be substandard! Either way, this puts you back on your heels, answering for your mistakes or begging forgiveness from those that suffered from your poor work product.

When everyone, including your boss, knows you are overextended and they give you the option to say “No” to assignments, or to put other work/projects on hold to complete current projects, take the pass! Trying to be the hero oftentimes turns out to be the equivalent of pulling the pin and falling on your own grenade; in other words, don’t die trying! Don’t let your ego get in the way of your success. Do the work you can do, stretch yourself as far as possible, but don’t fall on your own grenade trying to take on more than you can handle. Heroics only go so far and many times folks expect far less from you than you may think.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Why is it that I continually re-learn that I need to communicate better, more frequently or more specifically? Seriously! Everyone knows this and those of us that enjoy any amount of success need to have mastered it at some point, yet when we are in the weeds, our most primitive fallback is to forget this and revert to trying to do things in a vacuum. It may not be an overt thought that we don’t want to communicate, but we get so focused on the end result that we just push ahead without sharing vital information or asking for input critical to the project. Even with such a fundamental concept, I made communication a professional goal for this year, with the intent of over-communicating to the point of peskiness.

Following the busy theme, I re-learned that as a director with a spectrum of responsibilities, it is critical not to take my eye off any one of those responsibilities for very long. Even when managing a large construction and subsequent renovation project, I needed to remember to stay connected with the day-to-day operations of the maintenance, housekeeping, grounds and security departments. I found it so easy to become singularly focused on the construction projects, but also needed to ensure our campus continued to remain operationally functional.

Value Your Connections

This year, I learned a new appreciation for working with true professionals from both in and outside of facilities maintenance management. I have been blessed to have taken on and built upon a solid facilities management team here at Berkeley Preparatory School. I am blessed to work alongside educators who are true experts in their field. Additionally, I have been given the opportunity to manage several construction projects alongside volunteers (parents of Berkeley students, board members, etc.) who I consider true leaders in their fields. These people have built very successful businesses, and the opportunity to learn more about construction during an active project has been so rewarding — being able to build on an already established foundation of personal knowledge. If ever given the opportunity to have outside assistance on a project from very qualified sources, take it and you will be greatly rewarded!

Finally, I close as I do each year with the message that we need to remember to take time for ourselves. While extremely important, there is so much more to our world than just turning out a solid work product in support of our customer: the students. Appreciate those around you, spend time in your faith and with your family and friends, and don’t take yourselves too seriously! I always say, “It’s not just maintenance!”

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 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

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