The Things I Have Learned

I have learned many things in my nearly 20 years in plant services management. Anyone that has done any amount of maintenance management will tell you that if you pay close attention to the things going on around you, you are bound to learn something whether you like it or not. I think it is also safe to say that some of the simplest things tend to work out as being the most important. Following is certainly not an all-inclusive summary, but a few of what I believe to be the most important.

First and foremost, the customer may not always be right, but they will always be the customer if you treat them right. Recognizing that we are a service provider helps us understand that essentially we are working for them and not the other way around. If there are concerns over right and wrong, always preface and close conversations over an issue with a positive; it helps temper the tough stuff in the middle.

Let’s get this straight: It is not“just” maintenance. What we do requires a high degree of technical and professional expertise. However, there are many out there that believe that because they can unclog a toilet or replace a light bulb at home, it is just as easy on campus. There is no real comparison. I once had a boss that could not understand why we needed to replace worn-out tools. The comments we heard were essentially,“I’ve had the same set of screwdrivers for 25 years and they work just fine.”

Right… and they are used once a month for a two-minute job. Ours are used 25 times a day. The quantity of work we do is amazing. I recently related to a faculty group that we have nearly 700 toilets on our campus. Imagine the work that goes into something so simple. Now imagine the work that goes into more complicated building systems and infrastructure, and all of the sudden it no longer seems like “Home Improvement.”

Perception of your department’s performance is more firmly rooted than is the reality of how you are doing. Unfortunately it only takes a few key individuals to cause that incorrect perception to spread. The only way to win this battle is to win over your detractors. Make emotional and professional deposits with these people, continually prove your solid performance, and eventually they will become your champions!

Along with that comes the realization that someone doesn’t need to show up at the requestor’s desk to actually fix a problem. The HVAC technician may be able to correct a temperature problem from across campus, or across the globe, via computer control. However, for many, out of sight is out of mind. A simple phone call, e-mail, or quick personal visit telling the requestor what was done will go a long way. Communication is crucial.

Always confirm what your customer is trying to tell you. How many times have you been told there is a major flood only to find a minor drip?

Conversely, how about the master of understatement reporting a little drip, only to find water streaming from the wall? How about the notations that a request has been called in a dozen times, or six months ago, only to find a single work order submitted or that it was submitted merely days ago?

While you are listening, make sure to listen to your employees. They are your direct connection to campus. If you have shown that you listen to them, they will always be willing to share new and important information with you. Employees who feel they are not heard are not connected, and we must have employees that connect with our campuses!

Professional development is very important. I have found that if you do as you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. The ability to get out of the office and off campus to learn something new is very valuable. Always take away at least one thing from the seminar, meeting, or workshop and incorporate it into your routine. Make change happen.

Speaking of change: it is not always for the better, but it is inevitable. The only change that is truly scary is one that you passively let happen. Grab it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground before it chases you to the side of the ring and pins you against the fence.

To summarize, there are a couple common themes here: Keep your eyes on the horizon and your ear to the tracks so you are able to see what is coming up and hear what is happening around you. Also, communicate! Lack of communication will cause problems for you in many ways.

Finally, I would like to hear what your lessons are. Please e-mail me with them if you have the time.

Michael G. Steger is director of Physical Plant Services for National Management Resources Corp. at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]