Strategic Thinking Can Help the Facility Department Add Value

  March 3, 2011

Today's tip: Think strategically about facility management to help the facility department add value to the organization.

As much as facility managers complain about all the surprises they have to deal with on the job, putting out fires can become a habit, almost 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.

But facility managers who think strategically have learned to view the performance of the facility department in terms of its contributions to the overall organization. And that perspective can help facility managers gain credibility with top management, credibility that can translate into more access to resources for the facility department.

Even well-run facility departments are not necessarily operating from 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, FM consultant Stormy Friday of the Friday Group answers this way: "Well, you're fighting fires because you aren’t strategic. You're always playing catch up."


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