This post is the second in a 5-part series that addresses deferred maintenance on higher education campuses and the evolving role facilities managers play in the future of facilities in North America.
The state of regional and national economies aside, it’s clear that the three F’s (financial aid, faculty salaries, and facilities) will always compete for finite funding on higher education campuses. In order to perform the traditional duties of a facilities manager, an individual in this role must now champion the earmarking of funds for maintenance and facilities improvements to a far greater degree than at any time in the past.
This new reality is a challenge that facilities managers face every day. But the real question is: how can you best deal with the situation and still accomplish your goals?
Common Challenges Facing Facilities Managers
In order to fund maintenance tasks that have been neglected, campus facilities managers must clearly articulate the true need for the tasks to be performed. The following are among the more common roadblocks they face:
Maintenance backlog. Year after year, maintenance budgets fall short of the capital investment required and the backlog continues to grow. Each year, the facility manager must attempt to perform routine lifecycle maintenance as it comes due, perform lifecycle maintenance that was deferred from previous years, and make required improvements, all within a shrinking budget.
Communicating the real problem. Trustees and board members have limited time to discuss the myriad campus-wide requirements. Facilities managers must explain succinctly the complexities of plant management or the importance of capital investment in terms that motivate key decision makers on campus.
Lack of metrics and data. Facilities managers need hard data to make the case for greater investments in operation and maintenance of campus buildings and systems. More often than not, facilities professionals do not have access to the data and clear metrics so important for making the case for change.
To successfully address the growing backlog in building maintenance, facilities managers must rely on a combination several elements, including:
- The availability of relevant data,
- Direct and compelling communication, and
- The ability to provide a thoughtful situational assessment.
Overcoming these challenges can seem daunting at first. Most facilities managers got into their jobs because they enjoy and excel at the roles, duties and functions of the position, not because they were looking for a career lobbying for funding. The good news is a facilities manager usually has all of the information necessary to succeed and just needs a little help presenting it effectively.
Successfully Make the Case for Maintenance
Understand the current situation. First, get a complete overview of the current situation, assessing capital, space and operational need. When the scope of the problem is as large as it is on many campuses, it can be difficult for decision makers to see the full, long-term effect of deferral and to understand how their institution ranks against other campuses.
Gather the right metrics and have them analyzed. Facilities leaders need compelling data to effectively articulate why the institution must address a maintenance backlog. Identify metrics that highlight the current maintenance situation, as well as how the campus compares to other similarly sized institutions. With validated data, facilities managers have a much better story to tell when it comes time to present their budget requests.
Define goals and set priorities. No matter how compelling the data, no single budget will ever fully address all funding needs. A plan that highlights specific goals and priorities and ties them to the institutional mission will position the facilities manager as a thought leader with institutional executives. This is a key step toward addressing the problem of backlogged maintenance.
Communicate and engage with decision makers. In order to succeed, facilities managers must explain maintenance needs to financial leaders in a way that non-facilities experts can grasp. It is more a task of translation than communication. To best communicate with board members and trustees, learn their vocabulary and use those terms to explain how improved maintenance will help to address their concerns.
From Facilities Manager to Funding Champion
The competition for higher education has added a critical new responsibility to the facilities manager job description — funding champion. It’s no longer enough to oversee the physical plant, operations and maintenance staff with the resources provided by the institution. To address an institution’s maintenance backlog, facilities managers must communicate the needs of their department in a compelling manner to those who control the budget.
How Sightlines Can Help:
Sightlines leverages independent analysis and rigorous benchmarking to bridge the gap between physical and financial asset strategy for educational institutions throughout North America.