Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Maintaining Our Standards

Recently my social media news feeds were filled with a story about a speech given to attendees of the 1996 American Baseball Coaches Association convention. The speaker was retired legendary college baseball coach John Scolinos.

Coach Scolinos came to the podium with a full-sized baseball home plate dangling around his neck and to the snickers and wonder of his audience. Coach Scolinos delivered his address without once mentioning the adornment of the home plate. Finally, he closed by asking the audience the size of an official baseball home plate in each of the baseball leagues from Babe Ruth up to Major League Baseball. The answers trickled in at 17 inches. He confirmed that, and then asked what happens when a pitcher cannot consistently throw over home plate. He is sent to the minor leagues, that’s what. Baseball does not conform to this player and widen the plate to 18 inches, 20 inches or whichever necessary size to allow him to throw strikes to accommodate his lack of skill. There are other great messages contained within Scolinos’ closing remarks and I recommend taking a moment to search out and read the full story, it is as pertinent today as it was 20 years ago.

What does this have to do with maintenance or facilities management? Everything! Read on.

The Slippery Slope

All too often we find ourselves quick to bend a rule or change a standard in order to accommodate someone. We must remember that while the relationship we maintain with our customer and our employees is a synergistic one, ultimately what is best for the business — in our case, our schools — must take priority.

Who among us hasn’t been worn down by the squeaky-wheel faculty member that simply cannot survive another day teaching in a 73°F classroom? We take the path of least resistance and change the space temperature set point to 71°F in order to “oil the squeak.” We do this even though we know that the 73°F standard was not set arbitrarily, but through years of research and following other facilities trends based in fact that the campus standard is both comfortable and helps conserve energy. Once we give in to one, we start down the slope and perhaps allow more. Then what? Utility bills begin to climb and we are left trying to account for the increases.

How about policies that relate to professional accountability? Practices rooted in how our employees look and act are beginning to erode in many ways. I have struggled for years with employee use of cell phones on the job. When most personnel policies were written, cell phones didn’t exist, or weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today. Instead of widening the plate to accommodate employees who can’t seem to function without a phone in their hand or up to their head, we need to remind the pitcher (the employee) that these are the rules and all are to follow them.

I know this can be a touchy subject, but personal appearance is similar in context to the cell phone. Most likely when policies were written, full-sleeve arm or neck tattoos, gauges in earlobes and facial piercings may not have been in vogue. Sure, every generation has their group on the cutting edge… did employers of old become concerned and alter policy when men stopped wearing suspenders, or grew sideburns, cut their hair in a mullet or started wearing powder-blue leisure suits? Given that thought, employers must continually consider what is acceptable in their place of business and have their employees conform to the policy of the day; it is not the other way around.

Standards Exist for a Reason

How about our many other facilities’ operational standards? We should resist the urge to lower standards on anything that would be negatively affected by the reduction of those standards. This could be anything from the aforementioned temperature set point, the number of times we perform a particular service or how we perform a particular service, to the quality of the parts and supplies we purchase in order to maintain our campuses, and many, many more examples.

Essentially, it is not in the best interest of our departments or our schools to widen the plate. It is in our best interest is to manage our departments, and to train and equip our personnel in such a manner that makes the proverbial “throwing over the 17-inch home plate” easy to do time and again. Maintaining high standards and holding ourselves and those under our leadership accountable will help keep us from needing to widen the plate.

This article originally appeared in the May 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 Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.

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