The Things I've Learned 2011

Many of our regular readers will recognize that each year I look back on the previous year and recount some of the things I’ve learned. We all know it is important to continue to learn, and in many cases we already knew some of the items we pick up on, but we had simply forgotten them. Always remember that as we learn new things, or become familiarized with old things, that simply possessing knowledge is not enough. We must apply what we learn, and as facilities leaders, directors, and maintenance managers, it is incumbent upon us to share that knowledge.

I won’t go into the whole “more change” discussion because we have come to learn through the years that change is a constant, and it is important that we embrace it… or at a minimum, make an attempt to accept it. What I’ve learned is that there are some changes that I happily embrace and there are others that I simply need to force myself to accept as part of doing business or living life. Either way, I now know that, no matter what, change is going to happen, and the important piece is what I decide to do with it.

Measurement and Verification

I learned that measurement and verification are very important. Yeah, yeah, I already knew that, so maybe what I really learned was that the proper application of measurement and verification devices can help out in a great number of ways.

We’ve installed some fairly new technology during the past couple years: most notably, electromagnetic chiller compressors. We knew that these chillers would save us a lot of money in energy costs as well as increase our efficiency. What we failed to do in the project budgeting process was include tools and technology that would have us accounting for our consumption from the day these units began operation. Instead, what we’ve ended up with is a good old-fashioned “guesstimate” as to what our energy savings have been up until the time we finally got power monitoring installed. In retrospect, the cost of the power monitoring would have had a payback that measured in weeks and would have barely been a blip on the radar of the projects budget sheet.

Processes, Policy, and Procedures
A solid reminder that processes and policy and procedures are important was hammered home on more than one occasion during this past year. I believe that in our day-to-day operational posture, we get so comfortable with many of our responses that we don’t follow the letter of the process, policy, or procedure. In other words, we take shortcuts. In most cases we’ve done it enough that the outcome is satisfactory. However, in more important situations, the details often get overlooked. Perhaps the collection of certain data doesn’t get done. In most instances that may not pose a problem, but consider a situation where a temperature or humidity reading would have helped note important condition information, or perhaps making sure that each step was followed in an emergency response to ensure that everyone in the department is contacted when disseminating information through a phone tree. Take the time to review these procedures and policies yourself, as well as with your employees.

Self-Reflection and Customer Feedback
Here’s a good one for those of us that have been doing this a long time: Don’t get lulled into thinking that your department is all that and a bag of chips! I learned that it is important to really, and I mean brutally honestly, take a look at how our department operates and verify that we are truly serving our customer. And while doing so, also be sure you are aware of who your customer is. Our customers are well aware of who we are, and what is expected of us.

In many instances we all (our maintenance employees and our customer) come to believe that the level of service we provide is good… but the real question is, is it good enough? Take the time to survey your customer, and take a hard look at the feedback. Yes, it is great to see how well folks think we are doing. But take a look at the (hopefully) small sample in the survey that had something negative to say. They may be the exception and not the rule, but maybe they are just the ones that had enough fortitude to tell it like it really is! Take the time to comb thorough that data, review what can be done to avoid those less-than-satisfactory items, and make certain that your employees are trained not to repeat situations that would cause that type of response in the first place. If additional training or a refresher is needed, arrange for that to take place. After all, the customer is always right.

Strength in Numbers
I’ve touched on this in the past, but it bears repeating: Being active in a facilities organization has great benefits. And “active” is a key word here. Simply being a card-carrying member of an organization doesn’t mean that you are a productive member or are reaping the benefits of your membership. In order to develop your knowledge base, establish new friendships and professional relationships, and improve your skills, you must attend meetings and mingle with as many other members as possible. Introducing yourself to other members will enable you to learn about new aspects of our profession, as well as possibly discover new products or services that may be available and useful to your institution.

In short, these organizations serve as a platform to learn more about what we do for a living and also help us do our jobs more efficiently. Due to my participation in the Florida chapter of APPA (, I can honestly say I can pick up the phone and reach the facilities directors at many of the institutions around the state and get a question answered. In times like these the state, regional, and national chapters need our support. When you participate it is truly win-win!

Always Be Prepared
Another valuable lesson I learned this year: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it! I had a couple instances in 2011 that apply directly to this. Each time they’ve turned out to be good things and, for space’s sake, I’ll just leave it to say that when wishing for a specific outcome over a certain situation… always be prepared for the “what if!” Unanticipated events will occur, and depending on the particular circumstances, you’ll find that you need to be flexible and adaptable in responding to unexpected situations.

Finally, speaking from personal experience, never take your health for granted! I had a run-in with lymphoma this past fall, and let me tell you, at that time nothing else mattered but the diagnosis and restoration of my health. It’s amazing how what used to be the most earth-shattering work-related items quickly became relatively inconsequential concerns. A shift in perspective can be enlightening.

Here’s to 2012!
As we continue to work through these changing times, embrace them, and adapt in positive ways — and I say this each and 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 2012 brings us! 

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].