Don’t get me wrong, I love being a facility manager. It suits me that FM is such an incredibly complex profession that requires leadership, problem solving, and patience. The nature of facilities management and the fact that no two days are ever the same fits me well. That said, these 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Facility Manager would have been very helpful in leveling out my learning curve. It took years of experience and making many mistakes before I really felt comfortable in my career development. These are what I consider to be the most important things to know about being a facility manager.
Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Facility Manager
1. Facility Managers are Never “Off”
In the past three years, I’ve been without my cell phone once. This happened during a four-day cruise recently and I was uneasy the whole time (this doesn’t happen to everyone). To be fair, I don’t take my cell phone with me in the shower and there are times that I don’t have it by my side, but those times are exceptions to this rule: Facility Managers must be available to their facilities.
To illustrate this point, I just took a shower this afternoon. I was in there no more than 10 minutes, got out, and put some clothes on. I checked my phone to find two text messages and a voicemail. Apparently, someone desperately need the combination to a padlock. The funny thing is….it wasn’t even my padlock.
Now, it’s my personality that I don’t mind being always connected. For some of you reading this, that will sound like a horrible idea and you’ll probably think I’m crazy. If that describes you, rest assured that you don’t have to be connected as much as I am. You just need to make sure that someone (a capable someone) is always available to your facilities. While you might work 40-50 hours a week, your facilities exist the full 168 hours and they don’t stop needing attention outside your work day.
2. Everyone Complains
This is something that took me a little while to get used to. No one comes to their facility manager with compliments on how the air-conditioning has been so well-maintained this year. They call to say they’re too hot. As an FM, it is your job to fix problems (at least that is what people tend to think). Since you are responsible for ensuring continued operations through maintenance, it becomes your problem if anything threatens those operations.
The reason I wish I had known this fact is because I didn’t expect a complaint every time my phone rings. I’m used to it now and take it in stride, but I initially wasn’t able to do that. To be fair, no one is doing anything wrong when they put in a work order for something that breaks or call me for questions about the facility. It’s also not 100% accurate to say that everyone complains. However, the reality is that everyone who calls the facility manager needs a solution to a problem, which can often feel like a complaint. I just needed to put that into perspective going into the profession.
3. Everything Breaks at the Worst Possible Time
Here in Oklahoma, we get our fair share of severe storms during transitional seasons. As I’m writing this in May, it’s one of the worst months of the year for wind damage. Last Thursday night, I got a call at 10:15pm that our largest facility had lost power. Since we have ten walk-in refrigerator/freezer units with no back-up power capabilities, we have a narrow window of time to figure out power failures before lots of food begins to spoil. At 11:00pm, while I was working with the power company, the head chef went to get a load of dry-ice to extend the time we could be without power. At 1:00am, the power company thought they had a temporary solution. They didn’t.
It wasn’t until 2:00pm on Friday that we finally got power restored. Thoughout the rest of the weekend, I was fielding phone calls anddirecting repairs from systems that had been damaged both during the storm and through the subsequent single-phasing after the power came on and blew a fuse. Needless to say, my weekend was less than ideal.
Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Murphy must have been a facility manager! When do you think your most important HVAC will fail? Yes – on the hottest day of summer. When will the biggest storm blow through your town? That’s right – in the middle of your major roof replacement project. Since you can’t change this, learn to put in processes and contingency plans to mitigate risk for all of your critical systems. You’ll thank yourself for doing it.
4. Everyone Needs Something From You. All the Time.
People don’t mean to demand a lot out of you, it just happens. They don’t know that their seemingly mundane request is one of another 50 from other departments, all with small (but nagging) issues. Even when people don’t have a pressing issue that needs to get fixed, when they see the facility manager in person – they magically remember something they need. It can get overwhelming.
I wish I had known this for two reasons. First, I would have set my own expectations. By doing this, I would expect everyone to need something and I would be prepared to handle it. I don’t like procrastination and having a lot of things on my to-do list feels like major procrastination. If I had known to expect this, I could keep things off of that to-do list by managing the expectations of these requestors. Now, I’m very upfront in my response. I will tell them exactly where their request falls in the overall priority of the FM department and not promise anything I won’t be able to do.
Second, I would have made it a priority to meet with other departments on a regular basis. I do this now by making sure I visit with each department in my walk-throughs to see if they need anything. By being proactive, I can anticipate requests many times before they come. This also prevents these departments from requesting a laundry list of things they have been saving for me.
5. There is Never Enough Time in the Day.
I’m sure many professionals can say this about their jobs. However, never having “enough” time is an absolute truth in facilities management. If you think that you’ve accomplished everything in your facilities, you are wrong. There is always something to do. To further compound this fact, your facilities are aging by the day (which will require more time for maintenance activities) and you will constantly be asked to do more with fewer resources.
I wish I had known this for two reasons. First, I would have placed more emphasis in learning how to prioritize requirements. Being able to effectively prioritize is an essential skill for success in facilities management. Second, I would have learned work-life balance sooner. Simply working more hours during the week does not make you good at FM. However, it does have a direct correlation to health and happiness. Everyone needs personal and family time that balances with time for work. Finding this balance is key.
6. You Have to Be a Salesperson.
This last truth is one that I cannot overstate. No one will understand your facility as well as you. This has two huge components to it. First, when you tell whomever controls the money that you need to replace a system, you’re going to have to sell it. They don’t know how critical the asset is or why it is important to replace it versus repairing it. Also, they might not understand the importance of performing preventive maintenance or why you’re advocating to fund depreciation for capital assets. It’s up to you to sell your projects that will compete with revenue-generating department priorities.
Second, you need to sell yourself and your team. Because the senior managers don’t understand the building like you do, they also won’t understand how challenging it is for your team to maintain it. If you’re good at what you do, all facility management activities should be carried out in the background. No one wants to experience equipment failures and then deal with maintenance technicians fixing them. They just want things to work. So, it’s important for you to be your own advocate and make sure senior management understands how important the FM department is to the organization.
This requires you to sell.
So, there they are – the 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Facility Manager. Would any of these have dissuaded me from developing a career in FM? Absolutely not! I’m lucky that my personality just so happens to fit in the profession. However, knowing these things would have definitely helped me to progress faster and mentally accept some of the challenges I’ve faced along the way.
I’m also really interested in your thoughts as FM professionals! What would you add to the list? What have you experienced that you wish you had known before committing to becoming a facility manager and why? Hopefully, we can help some newcomers to our profession out with sharing some of our challenges in our experiences.