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"Fear of public speaking is right up there with fear of taxes and fear of death," says John Finney, senior communication and change management consultant, Towers Watson. In fact, fear of public speaking is often listed as number one among the things Americans fear most. Public speaking, and communication in general, is an art, a gift even. You either have it, love it, and communicate often and well. Or, like most people, you don't.
But here's the rub. To be a successful facility manager, as with any leadership position, being a poor communicator is not an option.
"The old days of the facilities person being the one who took care of the heating and cooling stuff, sort of being a mystery behind the scenes, that's long gone," says Richard Christiano, assistant professor in the facilities planning and management program at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Facility managers now have so many varied responsibilities and are so visible within their organizations, they should be able to communicate effectively, he says. "There's an art to it. If you can't do that, you're never going to be successful because people are going to dismiss you as less qualified."
Unfortunately, many facility managers follow a career path that exacerbates the communication challenge. "Often times, we promote people into management roles based on their technical skills and experience, not necessarily on their communication acumen," says Finney. "Yet when they get into those positions, a big part of that job is motivating employees, sharing information, and teamwork, where communication is important."
The good news is that effective communication can be learned, nurtured, studied and measured. By using the right tools correctly and being aware of audience needs, facility managers can take a targeted approach to wringing the most benefit out of their communications efforts.
"Our studies find there is a connection, a correlation, between taking the time to communicate effectively and the kind of performance and engagement you can get from employees," Finney says, citing findings from the fourth annual Towers Watson communication ROI study report, Capitalizing on Effective Communication. "We find that those companies that have best practices correlated to an almost 50 percent higher return to shareholders, higher market premiums, higher level of employee engagement and lower turnover."
As organizations have flattened, managers everywhere have been given more and more responsibilities, and they are recognized for performing well in those. However, if communication is not an element that is recognized and rewarded and they're not comfortable doing it, they might not focus on it as much as they should, Finney says. "By making effective communication an element of performance management, you can help to encourage both those that enjoy it and those that have to work at it to actually do it," he says. "Ultimately I think it leads to more effective engagement and performance of your people."
Many facility managers not only accept the idea that the FM role is thankless and invisible, but also believe that a certain level of invisibility is a hallmark of a well-run facility. That perception, even as it is less and less accurate, breeds a comfort level with keeping communication a low priority. This is one of the many bad habits in facility management, says Bert Gumeringer, director of facilities operations and security services at Texas Children's Hospital.
"Right at the top of that list is the lack of communication, the lack of collaboration and the inability to market your own department," he says. "If I don't tell the story for my staff, who is going to tell it? If I don't tell the story of the good work they do every day, who is going to tell the CEO? Who is going to tell the board? No one is."
The facility manager can step into that vacuum, parlaying the mystery around facility management into plastic potential for growth and success. "I think that's what a lot of facility management leaders fail to grasp," Gumeringer says. "We can make our jobs whatever we want them to be, because a lot of people don't know what our jobs are. If we communicate, collaborate and market our departments well, instead of being viewed as that necessary evil in the organization, you can be viewed as an asset."