The Discovery Channel recently aired a special documentary on the horse racing industry. Albeit fascinating information in its own right, I was struck by the similarity in qualities or attributes used to describe today’s finest thoroughbreds and those qualities required of today’s facilities professional in these economically challenging times. The four qualities that depict a thoroughbred’s success in the horse racing industry are stamina, strength, speed, and spirit. I see little difference in the qualities required to tackle the tumultuous challenges facing today’s (and tomorrow’s for that matter) higher education community.
A general summary of the challenges facing higher education today includes:
• Burgeoning enrollments and rising demands;
• Declining budgets amidst an historic economic slump;
• Increasing accountability and performance measurement;
• Decaying facilities and utilities infrastructure;
• Counteracting terrorism (both the physical and in cyberspace);
• Deteriorating environments;
• Pressing compliance issues and unfunded mandates;
• Emerging technologies; and,
• A changing landscape and marketplace we used to call “higher education.”
These challenges are all culminating in what might be feared and/or best described as the “perfect storm.” However, we should not be focusing only on the adversities of the day; we should be setting a multi-year path to maintain and improve the best higher education system in the world. Just addressing these challenges from the facilities perspective will require our best efforts using both our individual and organizational stamina, strength, speed, and spirit.
For me, stamina suggests a sustained effort focused on change, growth, and continuous improvement day in and day out. This requires a relentless push for learning both as individuals and as organizations which creates the learning environment needed to take rapid advantage of new information and knowledge. Good strategic planning and preparation reside at the core. Realizing the importance of the long-term perspective sustains our organizations and ourselves during the peaks and valleys that normally occur.
Strength begins with healthy individuals aligned in a productive organization that is focused on the
reliable and effective delivery of operations and services. These individuals are willing to extend solid, unwavering support to the institution and its stakeholders no matter what the economic or political circumstances. We must resolve to be purposeful and stick to guiding principles and values in all that we do.
When we think about speed, our first thought is usually that of a fast-paced organization. But it is more
important that we be responsive, flexible, and adaptable. Specifically, we need to find problems before they occur; not just solve problems after they have happened. Speed depicted as responsiveness means that we go beyond just fulfilling needs to exceeding expectations at every turn.
Although many people quake at the thought of and discussion about “heart” in the workplace, I firmly believe it is absolutely essential. Our people need to feel our passion, energy, and enthusiasm for the work, not just hear the words. If your heart is not in it, unfortunately it will show and ultimately affect everyone
All of these qualities rely on a positive, upbeat attitude. Only you can choose the attitude you bring to the workplace everyday. No matter what the situation—good or bad—we always have a choice of attitudes that we can adopt as we go about our activities.
I would also suggest that undergirding the challenges identified and the four qualities examined is the need for change. We all know that “the only thing constant is change.” But change, unfortunately, does not occur easily or readily for many of us. An article titled “How to Handle Resistance to Change” by the Deutsch Group captures this by stating, “Change is inevitable if a company and its people are to grow. Unfortunately, most people find security in the status quo—they resist change. There is only one way to handle resistance to change effectively—people must be made to feel part of change!”
Although we have some organizational and managerial responsibility for creating an engaging environment that is open to and allows for others to be part of the change occurring around them, change really only
occurs as a result of individual decision. In other words, because change is personal, we must choose to change. “Life is a series of choices and, as such, we each choose our own destiny.”
So we come full circle. The challenges we face will require us to change the way we do business today and well into the future. Will we personally choose to make the necessary changes? If so, will we apply the stamina, strength, speed, and spirit necessary to succeed? The choice is yours! But as you consider your choice, remember the words of author William Arthur Ward who once said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the realist adjusts the sails.” And we must adjust “our sails” if we are to successfully face this “perfect storm” that will surely determine our ultimate survival and that of our institutions.