By Peter Reeves
While there may not be much a facilities manager doesn’t know about the buildings on an institution’s campus, knowledge of the college or university budget is generally an altogether different matter. Yet when many facilities managers approach campus executives and board members with requests for added funding, they expect those financial and administrative decision makers to immediately understand why facilities funding must come before other requests.
It’s no wonder that backlogs across many higher education campuses are growing as maintenance is deferred. To successfully secure funding for improvements, facilities managers are best served by taking a closer look at how they communicate requests. By speaking the right language, facilities managers may offer more convincing arguments — and see funding requests granted more often.
Defining the Shared Problem
Too often, facilities managers describe funding needs by explaining (sometimes in exhaustive technical detail) the nature of a problem. That’s often the first communication breakdown.
A college president or university board of trustees is most concerned about the impact a problem will have on the campus and the university’s overall mission. Instead of highlighting the problem itself, facility managers may want to convey the consequences that could be felt if the problem isn’t solved. Campus executives and board members need enough information about facilities requests to evaluate and fund them. Information shared with these professionals should convey the risks of failing to act as well as the positive results of completing a project.
Improving Communication Channels
The following three steps can help facility managers to more effectively communicate facility needs and concerns:
- Define a clear set of priorities that can help executives understand the relative urgency of each project. Begin by assessing needs. These are key takeaways which can provide financial and administrative decision makers with the facts they need to objectively consider the situation. Categories might include repairs, maintenance needs and improvement costs.
- Challenge every technical term. An insider’s knowledge doesn’t impress anyone, and it certainly doesn’t make an argument more convincing — just as switching to a broader discussion in layman’s terms doesn’t mean an audience isn’t shrewdly considering the solutions to the stated problems. Step back from overuse of jargon and ask if there is a layman’s term that might work instead. If not, will someone with limited facilities background understand the term? If not, provide a brief definition. Data, in particular, can help in these conversations as it shows definitively the nature of a problem or how a facility compares to peers — and how a solution can provide a competitive edge.
- Discuss facilities needs in the context of the institution’s mission. Pinpoint the areas that most concern decision makers when it comes to campus improvements. Outline needs in terms of how a repair or other investment would impact the institution’s ability to perform its mission. How exactly does the institution benefit from an investment into the maintenance backlog? If the answer seems obvious, remember that it might only be obvious to those entrenched in these problems day-in and day-out. Help executives understand how a project will deliver a return on the money they invest.
Stop the Confusion
By communicating problems through a shared financial vocabulary, facility managers can ultimately eliminate confusion that could hinder the urgency of funding requests. Developing a shared vocabulary can be a challenge. But it can also be a strong first start toward gaining an ally among university decision makers.
Peter Reeves is an associate director of member services at Sightlines and currently is responsible for service delivery of the operations teams in the Pennsylvania and Oregon offices.