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Be Strategic and Save Money
Facility managers who want to build clout may well have to take a new approach to their jobs. One skill they have to develop is the ability to think strategically — to view the performance of the facility department in terms of its contributions to the overall organization.
Even well-run facility departments are not necessarily operating from such a strategic perspective. The Office of Facilities Management and Reliability at the Smithsonian Institution had good marks from customers and was about to embark on another five-year operating plan when department leaders decided it was time for a more strategic approach. For a department with 850 people, that wasn't easy. Developing a strategic plan, then communicating it throughout the department and getting staff engaged, took about 20 months.
"It needed time and [leadership] gave us time," says Judie Cooper, a workplace performance analyst at the Smithsonian. "That's a challenge that many facility organizations don't want to deal with." Facility managers shouldn't view the time as a cost, but rather as an investment in people, Cooper says.
When facility managers say they don't have time to think strategically because they're always dealing with urgent but unexpected problems, Friday answers this way: "Well, you're fighting fires because you aren't strategic. You're always playing catch up."
As much as facility managers complain about all the surprises they deal with, putting out fires can become a habit, even a sort of addiction. There's the adrenaline rush that comes with having to handle even a small crisis, plus the immediate gratification of solving a pressing problem. By comparison, things that are necessary for facility managers operating strategically — like analysis, planning and networking — can seem dull. Shifting priorities from crisis-response to proactive management isn't easy.
Market the Facility Department
Even more difficult, at least for some in the field, is the idea of tooting their own horns. "A lot of facility managers and engineers tend to want to be the background support guy," says Dan Gelderman, an associate and senior professional at Facility Engineering Associates whose career includes facility positions at a large state university and the U.S. Navy. "There's a danger of just becoming invisible. When that happens, the only time you get recognition is when something goes wrong that affects the building."
Gelderman used to invite his peers from other parts of the organization to facility department functions — internal award ceremonies, picnics, holiday parties — just so that other managers could get a sense of what the facility department did. Another tactic is to piggyback on external events — Earth Day, for example — to highlight facility accomplishments in areas like recycling or energy efficiency.
"I really look at the facility manager as a kind of cheerleader for the staff," says Gelderman. Spreading the word about the achievements of the facility workforce is often easier for facility managers than talking up their own accomplishments.
Facility managers who learn to wear a marketing hat have taken a big step. At Bayer Corp.'s Pittsburgh site, Gary Hunt and his team used a contest to help motivate employees to save energy. It was part of a broad-based effort to reduce the site's environmental footprint. Other initiatives included the purchase of green power, a lighting upgrade, and installation of submeters.
Unlike those projects, the contest was strictly low-budget. The idea was to get employees to turn off devices like computers and printers at night. Facility teams went through buildings after hours to see if equipment had been turned off. The buildings that scored the highest got donuts or apples. The facility team used the site's internal newsletter to publicize the rules of the contest, the results and the ways the winners saved energy.
Save Money — Wisely
While donuts and apples may have caught the attention of employees, top executives at Bayer were more impressed by the money that the facility department saved — savings that helped the facility department justify its next project. That's a fact other facility managers should keep in mind. "You want to have clout, then save the company money," says Joe Havey, president of Havey Real Estate, whose 30-year career in real estate has included responsibilities ranging from commercial high rises to data centers, hotels and medical office buildings. "The money that my teams have saved, the millions of dollars, is so noticeable that you can't help but get respect."
As Hunt found out, facility managers don't always have to spend money, or not much of it, to achieve significant savings. Simple things can add up. Make sure the HVAC system is using the economizer cycle. Walk around and look for missing insulation on pipes or blocked air returns. Check the energy management system to see if it is taking advantage of functions like start/stop optimization. "There are dozens of low-cost, no-cost things," says Havey. And they're not all related to energy. From design and construction to service contracts, facility managers have numerous opportunities to cut costs without spending money.
However, not every money-saving opportunity is a "wise" one, Havey says. For example, if a facility manager re-bids a contract, it's important to have a well-thought-out request for proposals so that all the bids are truly comparable. "Anybody can save money on contracts by accepting poor quality and cutting scope and cutting quality," says Havey.
When cost-saving measures do require capital investment, facility managers should consider their audience when they seek funding. "Many times we get sucked into just dealing with the kind of field devices in a building," says Sinopoli. "We're down in the technical weeds if you will." Top managers don't care about kilowatts per ton or watts per square foot. They want to know about return on investment or net present value.
By working with the finance department, facility managers can find out what financial metrics matter, as well as getting help with the intricacies of financial analysis.