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How Clear Communication Streamlines a Facilities Budget Request

By Jay Pearlman

Many facility managers find the process of securing funding to be a stumbling block on the path to facility maintenance and improvements. It may seem difficult to get an audience of executive decision-makers to understand the critical need to spend money on the behind-the-scenes systems that keep colleges and universities running. Often the challenge is that facilities managers speak a different “language” than members of the C suite.

Decision-makers at higher education institutions spend much of their time hearing requests for funding. The rest is spent on determining where to allocate the funds available and finding ways to raise the money needed to make broad campus improvements. To help this financially-focused audience understand why funds for facility maintenance should make the list, it helps to speak the financial language.

Too often facility managers lack the vocabulary to make their case to financial decision-makers in relatable, persuasive terms.

Finding the Right Words

Every workplace has its jargon, and facility management is no exception. While the technical terms may be the norm when working in the boilerroom, they don’t always get the point across in the boardroom. Whether you’re speaking to the CFO or the board of trustees, it pays to step back and organize the discussion around their concerns and needs.

Remember, it’s not necessary to explain the surge needs met by a centralized uninterruptable power supply system versus a distributed system. All the decision makers need to know is the cost or, worse yet, liability they may face if the power goes out.

Like any skill, it can take time to gain a common vocabulary, but this is a skill that can help a facility manager more successfully run the department. Consider the following suggestions for improving communication and ensuring clarity for all parties involved:

• Know your needs and express them clearly. Facility managers know their building needs. But how clearly are those needs being conveyed? A good place to start is by concisely outlining each need. This might include breaking down funding needs into categories such as repair costs, maintenance costs, and improvement costs. This list will enable financial executives to better understand short- and long-term needs and the role they play in campus management. By prioritizing each of these costs, facility managers can better convey the urgency of each project.

• Lose the technical jargon. Not surprisingly, departmental leaders and executives outside of facility management have likely spent little time considering how building management issues underlie campus management as a whole. This is not the time to provide a detailed explanation. Instead, keep the lesson light. By explaining in broad concepts and using terms that the layperson can easily understand, facility managers can help executive decision makers to more rapidly reach a decision. In this case, exhaustive detail will only cause confusion.

• Look at the big picture. Speak directly to how the organization will benefit by funding maintenance needs. What problems will this investment solve for board members and trustees? How will this meet the institution’s overall mission? When asked for funding, an executive most likely will reply by asking for the expected return on investment (ROI). Be prepared to address this, and aim to relate the ROI to the institution’s broader goals. By preparing for these questions before meeting, facility managers can smooth the communication process and level the playing field.

Building on the Institution’s Mission

Try not to think of the move away from technical terms as “dumbing down” the problem. This couldn’t be further from the case. Using a shared vocabulary helps the savvy individuals who make funding decisions think outside of their specific role, and provides clear insight into the tools facility managers need to better do their job.

A common vocabulary can prevent confusion that would otherwise undermine the urgency of a funding request. This new tool will help facility managers to effectively make the case that deferred maintenance is an ongoing problem that requires attention before a problem begins — and demands ongoing consideration. By adopting the right language and speaking to the concerns of the target audience, facility managers can more successfully communicate the consequences of a mounting maintenance backlog.

Whether the audience is trustees or staff, faculty or students, facilities managers must clearly explain their maintenance needs and their planned strategy to meet that need. By emphasizing that the return on this campus-wide investment will continue to build over time, facility managers will find the support the department needs to succeed.

Jay Pearlman, associate vice president, Sightlines, has been with the company since its inception in 2000. He has played a variety of roles across the company, including those in operations, business development, quality control, and product development.