From Boiler Room to Board Room by Brad Howlett, CFM

glorified janitorLet’s face it—the facilities management industry has been undervalued since buildings became more than shells.  While facilities specialists and operators realize this, usually top brass does not.  Buildings are believed to be static, boring, and simple, so why should they pay a business manager to run the facilities department when any ol’ janitor will do?

This has been a common attitude I’ve seen since I became a facilities manager.  The belief that the building is static leads them to also believe that the costs associated with operating a building are also static.  This misconception is one that I’ve used to create a new value for the facilities department, and to achieve a new attitude from top brass.  When someone understands how to increase occupant comfort while reducing utility costs, a new perception is created.  The trick is how does one communicate this ability to top brass when they are viewed as a janitor?

In the beginning of my FM career I was forced to produce weekly activities reports for my manager.  My position was low level at the time; I was only there to remove the headache of scheduling the janitors from the GM’s plate.  So at his request, I produced an email once a week to let him know what I was doing.  This became my golden opportunity to communicate the value of FM to the GM of the facility.

When composing a weekly activities report, one includes the obvious tasks of the coming week.  What I took advantage of as time went by was to communicate the effects of efforts past.  One month after completing the installation of a timer on the domestic hot water recirculation pump (which shut the pump off during unoccupied hours) I could add to my weekly report that I noticed the energy consumption had been reduced on a daily average of x% and $x.  I also included the ROI of x months.  The effect of including little tidbits of information like this steered my manager’s thinking from “glorified janitor” to “business manager with solid business acumen.”  Soon, we were having real conversations about how to increase the value of real estate, reduce energy costs, earn environmental sustainability awards, alternative energy projects, and capital renewal schedules, among other exciting FM topics.

It is easy for a facilities manager who was promoted simply because he maintained the building longer to buy in to the mentality of “leave me alone and let me do my job”.  A seasoned FM knows, however, that one cannot possibly be an effective FM hiding behind the boilers in the basement.  We wear many hats, and the biggest hat of all should be the business manager hat.  We need to think like executives to realize the greatest value in time, money, and returns on time and money.  We need to be able to communicate our value in a language that the C-suite understands.  Until we are willing to behave like more than glorified janitors, we will be nothing more than glorified janitors.

After establishing that rapport with my GM, he was often heard telling people that his accountant and his facilities manager were his most important team members.  While everyone else was valuable, those two would be the most difficult to replace, and were the two he relied upon most of all to create customer satisfaction throughout the organization and the community which we served, as well as to the bottom line.

Since then, I have found ways to communicate the value of my FM competency, such as earning the CFM and FMP credentials from IFMA.  It is my hope that as the baby boomers move out of the FM roles, the next generation steps up to the bar ready, willing, and able to take the business of FM out of the boiler room and in to the board room.

Brad Howlett, CFM, FMP, has served as Facilities Manager for public and private organizations, independently and salaried.  He currently sits on the IFMA Northern Rockies board as Treasurer, and blends the Millennial and Generation X styles in his management approach.  Because of this blended style, he has been accused of being able to work well with anyone at all, on any project.  He can be reached at fmservices.howlett@gmail.com or on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brad-howlett/33/765/55a

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