Campus Management & Shared Vocabulary: How to Get Heard & Be Effective

This post is the last in a 5-part series that addresses deferred maintenance on higher education campuses. Here we discuss the value of a shared vocabulary when it comes to campus management and the evolving role facilities managers play in the future of higher education in North America.


Board members, trustees and other key decision makers at colleges and universities spend a lot of their lives in meetings where a wide variety of people request funds for all kinds of projects. When these leaders aren’t being asked for money, they’re often evaluating funding allocation or how much they need to raise in order to meet goals and improve campus management.

One of the biggest challenges that facilities managers face when seeking funding for maintenance is the lack of a common vocabulary to explain the need in compelling, relatable terms for financial stakeholders.

Why Vocabulary Matters

Facilities managers often rely too heavily on technical terms rather than recognize the needs and concerns of their audience, whether the CFO, president or board of trustees. These executives tend to operate at high levels giving instructions to others who handle the detailed day-to-day campus management. You don’t need to explain the hydrodynamic efficiency of pumping waste effluent through a 3-inch pipe versus a 4-inch pipe; what decision makers really need to know is that if they don’t fund this project, the basement floors of several buildings could be covered in raw sewage.

Developing a shared vocabulary can be a challenge, but it can also play a crucial role in forward motion. Here are a few tips for enhancing communication and creating a shared vocabulary with which all parties can feel comfortable:

  • Outline and prioritize a clear set of needs. Facilities managers must gain a thorough understanding of their building maintenance needs, then outline them in a clear, concise manner. This can be thought of as the “key takeaways” part of the conversation, which will give board members and trustees a solid base of understanding when considering the situation being presented. Think in terms of the categories for repair, maintenance and improvement costs discussed in our previous post.
  • Drop the technical terms. Outside of the facilities management department, it’s not uncommon for other departmental leaders, presidents, or board members to have limited experience with the nuts and bolts of facilities’ maintenance issues and how these related to campus management as a whole.  Overwhelming key decision makers with technical terms will do nothing but cause confusion. Facilities managers can get a lot of mileage out of simplifying terms and explaining concepts in ways that non-facilities experts can understand without the need for exhaustive detail.
  • Consider broader goals. What is it that board members and trustees are most concerned about when it comes to improving campus management?  How will they and the organization benefit from finally addressing the maintenance backlog? Thoughtfully considering these and other questions in advance can help enhance communication and create a more level playing field between facilities managers and decision makers. When an executive is asked for funding, he or she will typically reply with the question “What’s the return on investment (ROI)?” Facilities managers need to be ready to answer that question and relate that answer to the broader institutional goals.Sig_CTA

Emphasizing the Issue

It’s important to remember that developing a shared vocabulary is not “dumbing down” the issues. The men and women who will be making funding decisions are intelligent, high-achieving individuals focused on the goals specific to their roles. A shared vocabulary helps eliminate any confusion that may interfere with the urgency of a funding request.

Present the case as a growing problem that requires immediate intervention and sustained consideration over time. By utilizing the right language and addressing the concerns of their audiences, facilities managers can find success in communicating the implications of the ever-increasing maintenance backlog.

Facilities managers need to make sure that their audience, whether trustees, staff, faculty, or students, understands the need they are describing and the strategy for fulfilling that need. Emphasize that it is a campus-wide effort, and that results and ROI will accumulate over time.



    The High Cost of Deferred Maintenance - School Construction News

    […] Facilities managers seem to face an ever-increasing number of challenges when it comes to the problem of deferred maintenance. The best solution for these challenges is clear communication of the problem. […]