What Works For You?

As part of College Planning & Management’s recent maintenance survey we asked the question, “What is the one best piece of advice you would give to other maintenance professionals to assist them in doing their job?” After all, who knows best what works best if not the people getting the job done, maintaining our campuses inside and out, day to day, in the face of uncertain budgets, deferred maintenance programs, staff hiring freezes, and a variety of other hurdles? 

We asked, and a number of you answered. Here is a selection of sage advice from your peers.

“If you communicate reasonable standards of service to the campus community you will avoid unreasonable expectations of service by the campus community. For example, faculty and staff should know ahead of time that a request for a new shelf in their office might take a certain number of days to complete, but that plumbing emergencies will be addressed the same day they are requested. As we continue to work toward this goal, our customer service telephone lines ring much less often than before.” — John Lorette, work control supervisor, Physical Plant, Keene State College, Keene, NH

“Students are your number-one priority. Aside from an exceptional faculty, the facilities are an extremely important tool to attract and retain your students. Make sure you live this fact and remind your entire staff that they are critically integral to the success of the University.”

“In order to be a successful facilities manager you must have a background in hands-on maintaining a facility. A background in a trade is essential. You will be swamped with information telling you how to do your job by professionals that do not have a clue how to maintain a facility themselves. You will be buried with useless time-consuming reports that are useless. Only after you have actually experienced maintenance yourself will you be able to intelligently administer a budget.”

“The number-one thing that makes my life easier on the job is ‘trust.’ As a physical plant director, it is impossible to know it all. We touch so many different things in our line of work that we have to accept the fact that we are not going to be experts at many of them. For many of us, we might manage projects, grounds, maintenance, and custodial and the many facets of each of these. We have to surround ourselves with co-workers and subordinates whose opinions we value and trust. It is our job to manage the big picture and not get caught up in the minutia. Trust that while the devil may be in the details, it is much easier to leave the details to others who understand them a little better.

Number two: Fight for change! Too often an institution and administration can become lax in the way they do things. Generally, this doesn’t just include facilities but the institution as a whole. They often fall into the trap of “this is the way we do things because this is the way we have always done things.” It is important to fight for new and better ways. For administrations and staff that have been at an institution a long time, change is hard. They are comfortable with the way things are, the status quo. Change can be scary and as a result they fight it. Fight back! The pain and effort will be worth it in the end. Once the results are seen and the compliments start, they will open up to more and more new ideas. The results will speak for themselves. — Matthew K. Stevens, director of Physical Plant Services, Northwood University, West Palm Beach, FL

“Continue to communicate the need to maintain and improve campus facilities, both on campus and in the community. Keep requests for capital funding and maintenance issues updated and in the forefront.”

“Understand your staff and their capabilities. The APPA ‘Clean Ops’ program helped more than anything under the sun. We train around the APPA standards. It’s simple, but it works.” — Paul LoCicero, quality program manager, Engineering & Facilities, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston

“The motivators that work for top executives can be just as effective for a maintenance and environmental services team. Making sure the team feels appreciated and that their input is valued goes much further than a raise will.”

“Never underestimate the power you have to create an environment that supports teaching and learning.”

“One of the main words of wisdom that I can offer from the grounds department is very simple yet profound. The momentum of the workload in the summer months carries the grounds crew through efficiently with mostly routine planning and scheduling. During the winter months, however, meticulous planning, scheduling, and instructing are necessary to not lose the valuable time we gain from the slower pace of turf and landscape growth. Projects, upgrades, winter specific maintenance, clean ups, training, and reorganization are all valuable undertakings that can be accomplished with wise and insightful management. Without a normal, routine schedule, employees can find themselves not able to move from one task to another very efficiently, so a manager needs to hold up a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished and give understandable and consistent instruction to accomplish these goals. The progress we make in the winter not only lays a solid foundation for the rest of the year, but also significantly contributes to the advancement and quality of our facility. — Ken Kropp, grounds manager, National Management Resources, Palm Beach Atlantic University. West Palm Beach, FL

“The condition of your campus is a reflection on your entire program.”

“1) Avail yourself of every training opportunity. 2) Communicate with your stakeholders, especially if you can’t meet a commitment. They won’t be happy that the work wasn’t done, but they will be less pleased (and even angry) if you just don’t show up. 3) Keep your supervisors informed of unhappy stakeholders, problem equipment, workplace issues.”

“Support your staff in any way possible.”

“While you could legitimately spend every dime in the bowels of the buildings where no one would ever see the work that was done, split what is available so that part of your work is known, seen, and improves the work environment on campus. Carpet over valves is a hard choice, but the payback can be much better.”

“Look to your peers for assistance, ideas, support.”

“Manage by walking your individual facilities. ‘It's not what you expect, but rather what you “inspect.”’ There are no surprises and everyone within the organization understands and supports the expectations.”

“Focus on staff to make them understand how they make a difference.”
“Space management is critical to prevent ‘trash storage areas’ that have to be maintained.”

Fight for the maintenance budget. Use that budget wisely. Don't compromise. Use a five-year plan that lists all the maintenance items and the renovation projects. Keep it current. Use this plan to fight for your budget. Execute the repairs and projects.”

“Do not give up.”