The Things I've Learned 2010

As each year closes out, I take some time to reflect on the events of the year and work to find areas where I picked up on something new, learned a new or different way of doing something, or just plain “got schooled,” and will apply those lessons in my life from here on out.

The Consistency of Change
My biggest surprise/teachable moment of the year was: More change! I know. Last year I noted the change thing, but once again, change continued to happen. I believe that by the end of the year I have finally embraced much of the change that we have endured over the past couple years and am truly coming to terms with our situation. I am finding that in these ever-changing times, many of the changes that we have made in regard to budget, staffing, and work loading are here to stay. We likely won’t get to hire those people back, and the money won’t magically reappear in next year’s budget. The surprising thing is that in some cases these changes have had positive outcomes.

What is the saying? Out of the ashes a phoenix rises! We looked at the potential for our department as a whole and/or individual personnel to crash and burn. It didn’t come to pass. Instead, I believe we have become stronger for the efforts we have made, similar to tempering steel. I would hazard a guess that if we polled this readership, we’d find repeated instances where, even though we’ve reduced budgets and staffing, we’ve found better ways of doing business and providing at least a level — and in some instances even rising levels — of customer service. Additionally, we are seeing employees rise to the occasion. They are innovating within their own spheres of influence and finding ways to do their jobs more effectively. Out of this, we have even had employees rising above their primary position and seeking higher positions… promotions are being sought and received as part of their quest!

Recognize the Importance of Personnel
Keeping in mind the idea of our employees rising to the occasion, it is important as facilities leaders to remember that the people we have hired to do these jobs are professionals. We must remember to continue to trust our employees. We need to give them the tools (literally and figuratively) they need to succeed and then let them go out and perform their work. Not trying to micromanage every little aspect of our department’s operations will free us up to lead in a way that our institutions require of us… long range planning, budgeting (both short- and long-term), etc.

In order to continue to provide as high a level of service as possible, we must continue to train our employees. Training is essential to their ability to effectively and efficiently do their jobs. As their jobs have constrained, we have much less overlap within our departments. Additional training gives the remaining employees the skills they need to take on new tasks, to know more about their particular jobs. In turn, they then make more informed decisions in the field, which ultimately makes jobs go quicker. In the end, the customer receives a positive outcome on a timelier basis.

Keep Sight of the Mission: Our Students
Amid all the doom and gloom, we must not lose sight of our ultimate mission: Serving our primary customer; the student! Without the students, we have no work to perform… and the better our work is, the more students we will help our institution attract and retain! Part of the training we give our employees focuses on our approach and attitude toward how we perform our job; ensuring that customer service is a core part of the training.

Seek Out Bargains… They’re Everywhere

Another positive change to come out of these economic times is that everything is on sale! If one needs repairs made by an outside contractor, now is the time to get it done. We completed a large-scale building exterior painting project this past fiscal year. We were able to paint all of our main campus buildings as well as three other large buildings for approximately the same price we paid to paint just the main campus portion of our buildings just 10 short years ago. The same holds true for most all services, parts/supplies, and projects. We’ve taken this opportunity to go back and review many of our contractual agreements and purchasing agreements in order to maximize our expenditures.

Stay Focused

As we continue to work through these changing times, embrace them and adapt in positive ways. I say this pretty much every year: stay focused on what is important: Our faith, family, and friends. So much of what shapes us on the job comes from off the job. If we take the time to rest and interact with our family and friends, we will arrive to do our work with a healthier mind, body, and spirit! Here’s to whatever 2011 brings us!

About the Author

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