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In institutional and commercial facilities, a few things are universally true. Systems will degrade, people will complain — most often about temperature — and maintenance and engineering managers almost never have enough time, money and people to operate facilities the way they wish they could. Instead, they have to continually balance competing priorities with available resources. While this balancing act is not new, there is a difference between teams that do this well and those that struggle.
The facility management organization at its core is one of service. While many think of facility management as just operations and maintenance, it is so much more. When operating at their best, managers align the facility strategy with organizational strategy to ensure facility services are set to deliver and support the organization’s mission.
They coordinate with human resources to ensure occupant-related requirements are met and maintained. They work with IT to ensure systems that support technological infrastructure are robust and performing as they should. They work with security services to maintain safety and security of occupants and assets. They work with designers, builders and cleaners to ensure the facility is adequately configured and maintained to meet the expectations and needs of the occupants and the organization’s brand.
When we talk about optimizing the organization, we are talking about what we can do to make our facility management organization the most effective or functional it can be. While there is no single recipe for optimization, an approach does exist that anyone can use. Those who use it well can deliver better overall team performance and satisfaction.
The optimization process starts with understanding the organization’s strategic plan. I imagine most managers have a good idea of what keeps them occupied daily, and it’s not strategy. It is often mundane things, but they are important. It is phone calls about areas of the facility that are too hot or cold, reports of a strange smell, a contractor that showed up and needed an escort, and staying on top of preventive maintenance tasks so they don’t build up. These are all important duties, and managers and their staffs have to address them, but they need to do so in their proper context.
In facility management leadership and strategy education, one of the most fundamental lessons is this: Whatever the organization is about, the facility manager also must be about it. Alignment of the facility management organization is essential. That idea might seem obvious, but many teams miss that connection. I’ll share a few examples of what alignment looks like at a high level.
If the organization is a retailer and sales transactions are most important, the team must align with keeping the cash registers operating. That alignment translates into reliable core systems and a shopping environment that supports the brand’s idea of the ideal shopping experience.
If the organization is in bio-medical research and development and maintaining critical environments for project research is most important, the team must align with ensuring critical systems that support that research never fail.
If the organization is a manufacturer and success is measured by production quality and capacity, the team must align with ensuring systems that support the manufacturing process and its people are reliable and do not introduce errors that could cause parts to fail a quality control review.
Laurie Gilmer is vice president and chief operating officer of Facility Engineering Associates. She is a published author and instructor and is the chair of IFMA’s Global Board of Directors. She serves as IFMA's liaison to the Building Industry Decarbonization Collaborative and serves on the National Visiting Committee of Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow Center.
Optimizing the Organization: The Role of Systems, Processes and People