Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

An Honest Assessment

Every year budgets are reviewed to track performance and determine where the challenges lay for the coming year. Typically, budgets don’t get expanded, so operational groups have a tendency to hunker down and focus on defending rather than considering alternatives.

Prior to the budget discussion it is important to assess all areas of your operations. What do you do well and what do you need to improve? An honest assessment can be extremely beneficial, but also controversial. Sometimes employees can view it as a challenge to their personal performance. In reality, the organization may need to be updated or reorganized; all scary words! When performing the assessment, use data to support your challenges and communications to your team, as well as establish accountability indices. The data can be gathered internally or by an outside company. When using an outside company, it can be very beneficial to review and compare benchmarks that have been established from each organization that has joined in on the data collection. This data will help lead to the identification of goals for the organization and foster a competitive environment for your team.

Consider Staffing

When reviewing budgets and staffing levels, pay particular attention to openings caused by resignations and retirements. This is the opportune time to reflect on the performance of the organization and take a quick pause to be sure the organizational structure is evolving, paying particular attention to exceeding your customer’s needs. In other words, do you have the right people in the right places?

Be sure to ask your team the following related to personnel openings: What do your metrics look like and do they reflect the correct performance based on your customer’s expectations? How did the work get addressed after the opening occurred? Did we use overtime? Do you need the positions going forward or can we get the work accomplished another way? Are there any technology improvements that might help us become more efficient? Do you need help in another area or would you like to move the position to another area of your operations, or even upgrade it? Are there certain types of credentials or skill sets you are looking for to improve the performance?

Try to work within guidelines that keep staffing levels consistent but require supervisors to periodically move and/or rotate employees from task to task and from building to building. I know this isn’t easy and your supervisors and employees might push back; but for the good of the organization, work on getting this implemented. Implementation can occur in many ways — one building at a time, or by zones.

Survey Your Customers

How do you know the internal customer is satisfied with your organization’s performance? A great place to start is to ask. Setting up meetings periodically can help with communication and awareness, particularly for summer projects. Some organizations use surveys to appraise performance — this is quite popular. Be prepared, however, to do something when the votes get tabulated on the surveys.

You can also choose to have an independent company assess your buildings as well, but there is a cost associated with this service. Be sure to request benchmark data regarding the standards and results. Another way to review performance is to once a day or once a week choose a building and walk through it, checking out, in particular, the restrooms for cleanliness and correct supply of paper products. Are the carpets and floors clean and freshly vacuumed? And what about the paint, is it up to date? Are all the faucets in working order? Any leaky pipes? What is the condition of the grout and are all the lights in working order? Remember that restrooms are usually the first place people visit and then the last place people stop before heading home. That first and last impression is critical when students, parents and staff are visiting. If the building looks good, let people know!

Remember, It’s a Process

Finally, don’t worry about needing to hit a home run every time. It is the singles that matter most and help get the operational team noticed. In reality, most operational areas are costs for the organization, so becoming more efficient is paramount. An honest assessment can be extremely beneficial when based on customer feedback, understanding that it won’t always be based on good news. Focus on the message related to the results and work with your team to get the performance back on track.

Don’t forget to review all vacancies within the organization for any necessary skill set upgrades. Also, getting some quick wins will help you build political capital across your organization.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Bruce A. Meyer, Ed.D., is assistant vice president of Campus Operations at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, appointed in April 2010. His team currently manages 5,000,000 square feet on a campus with over 20,000 students, faculty and staff.

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