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Sustainable facilities, resilience, and the Internet of Things

How to integrate today’s trends into an organizational strategy to result in a better workplace

by Chris Hodges, P.E., CFM, LEED AP, FRICS, IFMA Fellow — In writing this article, I was tempted to add the words “Oh My!” to the title. Just as the famous phrase Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! reflected Dorothy’s, the Tin Man’s and the Scarecrow’s fears in their journey through the forest. We are often fearful as we navigate the world of facility management – fearful that we are going to fall behind or completely miss an important trend.

Sustainability, resilience, and the ability to connect everything through technology (IoT) are often seen as trends in the modern world – themes that we cannot do without. As important as they are, these trends do not represent ends to be reached. We often hear that If we do not give these trends significant attention and resources, we will be judged as slow, dying, or otherwise behind the times. For example; we may be penalized financially for resource inefficiency; our buildings may be deemed not durable or safe enough in a natural disaster; or, our failure to embrace the newest technology will lead us to being replaced by computers and our work done by machines.

These modern trends and themes are important, and they should be incorporated into our thought processes, evolved as tools, and absorbed into modern practice of our craft. Once we have absorbed these themes into how we design, build, and operate our systems, they become second nature and standard practice.

Trends in facility management

In facility management, we are constantly reminded that our facilities need to use less (or zero) energy, waste nothing, and assure that our buildings and workplaces are in harmony with our environment and remain safe and healthy.  Although it doesn’t seem to have been that long, the concept of sustainable facilities has been around for a few decades. The focus on resilient facilities is somewhat more recent, and reflects a call for safer, longer-lasting facilities with the ability to withstand interruptions and disasters with minimal impacts to health, safety and the ability to continue our mission. The Internet of Things (IoT) has gained more recent attention and represents our desire and ability to connect everything through technology.

The challenge of facing these trends is that we often let our passions drive our practice. This can lead to motivating by fear – fear of rejection (we’re not knowledgeable enough), fear of falling behind (we’re not quick enough), fear of missing something (we’re not valuing the trend). Many of the proponents of these trends tend to focus on each trend as the answer for almost everything, including how to best manage facilities. Hyper-focus on a single trend can lead us down paths that make us lose sight of the overall mission.

After spending a few decades in the facility management community I’ve noted that facility managers have been practicing sustainable concepts long before sustainable facilities became a trend. The facility manager has been thinking and acting to improve the resilience of facilities, and practices that promote safety and longevity since facility management was recognized as a profession. And innovative uses of technology have been an integral part of facility management for as long as we’ve been able to capture data and use it to make better decisions.

And yet, we continue to be led by trends, worried about how we will keep up or stay ahead. The good news is that if we are able to incorporate important trends into our strategic planning process and make the strategic planning process a continuous cycle rather than a singular event, we can take the fear out of the equation. We can incorporate new ideas in sustainable facility management, resilience, and connectivity into our everyday practice. Rather than being motivated by fear (of falling behind), we should strive first to align with the mission, vision, and values of the organizations we serve. That is, find our purpose.

In the book, The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath write about elevation, insight, pride, and connection in evaluating how we work as teams to accomplish our goals. In achieving connection, the Heath’s refer to research by Morten Hansen of the University of California. Hansen’s research evaluates the difference between purpose and passion in motivating performance. Purpose is the ability to find meaning. Finding meaning can also mean aligning with the group to which we belong. Passion is the feeling of excitement and enthusiasm one finds from a task, a project, a job, or a cause. The interesting thing about Hansen’s research is the conclusion that purpose always trumps passion.

There is a lot of passion around practicing sustainably, operating resilient facilities, and connecting everything in the facility management world with technology. However, the drawback is that these trends and drivers often lack purpose or context. That’s where an effective facility manager can make best use of these important trends by providing context (purpose) within their own organizations. While passion is admirable and is an important part of making facility managers better at what they do, it is purpose that will make following these trends valuable.

The importance of defining purpose

Talking about purpose in the context of facility management carries the risk of sounding a bit new-age. However, it’s much simpler than that. Purpose in facility management can be defined as understanding why your organization exists, what makes it successful, and how facilities can best serve the mission. There is a simple step at the beginning of the strategic planning process that can vastly improve the way facilities supports an organization’s needs – alignment. The figure below provides a very broad outline of the strategic planning process.

Figure 1: Strategic Planning Process

Figure 1: Strategic Planning Process

As we see in Figure 1, there are several more steps in the strategic planning process. There are hundreds of books and references that support strategy development, management frameworks, and how to create a measurement and reporting process with metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This article highlights one very important step in the first phase of strategy development – defining purpose.

The organizational alignment part of the strategic planning process is often skipped or not given much attention. However, it is one of the most important steps that recognizes the organization’s attitude and level of support around the important trends of sustainability, resilience, and technological connectivity.

In the alignment process, we evaluate the Mission, Vision, and Values of the organization to determine how to create a workplace environment that optimizes performance. The mission, vision and values of the organization create insight to the purpose and how the organization measures success. In the alignment phase, we can also evaluate and gain a deep understanding the organization’s attitudes toward trends that affect the organization and influence the facility management strategy. We can also tie the organizational success measures to the how we define success in the delivery of facility services.

For example, many organizations’ purpose relates to an end user – a customer in retail or service organizations, patients in healthcare, or students and families in schools. Recognizing purpose makes the performance of facilities easier to monitor, measure and demonstrate successful outcomes – more satisfied customers, healthier patients, happier parents and more productive learners.

Summary

Monitoring trends is an important part of a facility manager’s role. It is easy to find people and groups that are passionate about trends like sustainability, resilience, and the IoT. However, it takes a lot more work to gain deep understanding of purpose and provide the context needed to comply with these trends. The rewards for that deep understanding are many:

  • A facility management strategy that aligns with the organization
  • A strategic plan that focuses on what’s most important to the organization
  • Operational plans and initiatives that allocate the right level of resources to trending issues
  • A monitoring, measurement and reporting framework that focuses on the most important metrics and KPIs that link to how the organization defines success

The next time you are asked to participate in the strategic planning process, respond with a yes, and take the time needed to understand purpose – it’s a key ingredient, and if paired with passion, will allow you to become a valuable contributor to the facility management team.

Bio

Chris Hodges, P.E., CFM, LEED AP, FRICS, IFMA Fellow

Chris is a Principal and co-founder of Facility Engineering Associates and is co-author of the book, “Sustainable Facility Management, the Facility Manager’s Guide to Optimizing Building Performance.”

Facility Engineering Associates is an engineering and facility management consulting firm specializing in existing facilities. Our mission is to make facilities last by implementing practical and cost-effective strategies to achieve operational excellence. Our areas of expertise include: Facility Asset Management, Facility Diagnostics, Condition Assessment, Repair and Restoration, Energy Management, Environmental Assessment, Sustainability. Office locations: Washington DC, Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, San Francisco, CA

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