How Can a Facilities Manager Help Onboard a New Boss?

Managing New Leadership

As a facilities manager, when a new business officer takes the helm at your institution, you want to have the ability to tell the most complete facilities story possible. To do this, you’ll need the right data and peer comparisons.

It’s not uncommon for the facilities manager to be one of the longest-serving employees on campus. One by-product of a manger’s years of service is a wealth of institutional knowledge. Another result of the relative stability in the position is the likelihood that at least once in his or her career, the facilities manager will help to onboard a new business officer for the school. (A recent NACUBO article suggests that many institutions are not well-prepared for future leadership changes). That transition can be a critical moment in each person’s career and it’s not always easy to manage it smoothly. While every new business officer/facilities manager relationship is as unique as the two individuals involved, there are a few best practices that can help any facilities manager get a new business officer up to speed as quickly as possible.

  • Gather and organize relevant data. It’s not like you want to show up at 8 a.m. on the boss’ first day with a cup of coffee and 12 binders of charts and data, but the new business officer will need to get up to speed on the current state of facilities pretty early on.

1. Think about the information that has been presented to the outgoing business officer when you made the case for facilities investment. If it’s still useful, review it to see if it includes jargon, abbreviations or other shorthanded references to facilities that might need to be spelled out or defined for a new reader.

2. If you’re building the data from scratch, think about how to categorize projects to help the newcomer understand what facilities issues may be likely to affect academic programs or students in the near term.

3. Key points to cover include:

Maintenance needs and backlogs.
Energy usage.
Staffing numbers.
Sustainability measurements.
Financial performance.
Capital investment and needs.

  • Be prepared to benchmark current processes against the new business officer’s experience. Keep in mind that the data you present may trigger new questions that have not been asked before. In some cases, an executive might be used to measuring costs against different standards than the institution currently uses. The development of a common language about facilities is a key part of the onboarding process, and it will inevitably involve learning on both sides of the discussion.
  • Educate the new executive about campus culture and the local business environment. Facilities managers have a unique view of the institution’s day-to-day life. It’s helpful to share that information with the new executive and to learn about the type of culture at previous institutions where he or she may have worked. In addition to campus culture, it’s also important to share information about the business culture in the community. Are there issues with contractors in the area? What environmental regulations must be followed and do regulators perform inspections? Items like these may not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking to a newcomer, but they can be important knowledge for someone to have.
  • Keep an open mind. The arrival of a new business officer often raises concerns that everything is about to change. While some change is inevitable, not every question is an expression of skepticism about the current state. Stay open to the possibility that even some of the best practices can be improved. If there’s a reason behind a particular practice or procedure, don’t hesitate to share it. Just don’t assume that there isn’t room to make things better. Stay evenhanded as you help the new executive understand the facilities and learn about what he or she would like to change.
  • Plan for discussions about your team and your career plans. Nobody knows the strengths and the areas that “need improvement” of your team better than you. The new executive will need to understand the effectiveness of the group in terms of meeting its current objectives and supporting any new initiatives that might be planned. And remember that your relationship with the boss isn’t just transactional; it’s personal. Be prepared for questions about your objectives in your current position and, if applicable, beyond.

Perhaps the key to the new relationship is comprehending how each person understands the mission of the institution and the contribution that he or she makes toward the achievement of that mission. If you can start on common ground with respect to this core principle, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a relationship that keeps both of you productive and satisfied in your jobs.