Jim Christenson is an APPA member emeritus and can be reached at email@example.com.
He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.
—Sir Francis Bacon, C 1622
Those who provide and support the education of today’s students are struggling. Budgets are deflating. Endowments do well to maintain their shrunken balances. Students look for institutions with the lowest cost instead of seeking admission to those with the highest quality. Everyone’s expectations are higher; yet they want to pay less. State governments and school administrations demand greater cost effectiveness; at the same time, some say the old work ethic is fading away, making that objective more difficult to reach.
When the world around us has gone crazy, how can our organization, that lives in and is part of that world, be effective and innovative? When we are overwhelmed with too little money, too much work, too much change, and too little energy to deal with it all, how can anyone expect our people to deliver services effectively?
Effectiveness and Innovation: Different Concepts, Both Important
Keeping our mind and the minds of our staff members on the goal is difficult in these tumultuous times. Yet it is exactly such times that call for more effectiveness and efficiency than ever. A very simple definition of effectiveness is “doing the right thing.” Efficiency is “doing the thing right”—and, by doing it right, using the least resources. As Peter Drucker often points out in his writings, it is very important to deal with work in that order: Effectiveness first, then efficiency. As he put it, “There is nothing so useless as doing with great energy and efficiency that which should not be done at all!”
So to be effective, it is critical that the right things—those services that make a positive difference and, among those, the services that have the highest priority for your customers and for the well-being of the facilities—be targeted for the shrinking resources available. That, ultimately is one of the leader’s key responsibilities.
On the other hand, perhaps resources can be stretched to expand the palette of services that can be provided if existing services are performed more efficiently. So efficiency should not be neglected. There is still a vital role for innovation—for finding or inventing new ways and better tools for increasing efficiency. And supporting innovation is also one of the leader’s key responsibilities.
Is Everyone Aboard?
But the wise leader doesn’t face these responsibilities alone. As noted in the “Field Notes” column of the May/June 2003 Facilities Manager, a good leader also establishes and reinforces an environment where shared values support self-direction, innovation, and decentralized decision making. Facilities management in the twenty-first century is a complex business. No one person can learn enough to have the answer to the questions of which specific services and products should be “fed” and which should be “starved.” A strategic plan initiated by the leader, conceptualized by the managers, and developed in detail by a fully-engaged staff can provide the framework to answer the critical effectiveness/efficiency questions: Where should we invest our limited resources? How can we make the existing resources do more good?
Unfortunately, however, the answers are always changing. That situation isn’t new. In the quote at the beginning of this column Sir Francis Bacon observed the need for innovation nearly 400 years ago. In today’s terms, one might put it this way: Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. This year’s priorities are different than last year’s. In fact, sometimes today’s crises demand a complete redirection of resources from what seemed right only yesterday. And it is a certainty that better technologies and methods will be available each month, offering opportunities to improve efficiency, if investing in these better ways can be shown to be cost-effective in the long run.
Are your staff members up to the challenge of frequently changing allocations of resources? What have you done to prepare them? Technical skill is a starting point. Competence and a good mind, especially one given freedom to be creative, can often perceive better ways to do things. That leads to greater efficiencies—more product per unit of resource. The freedom to be creative is nurtured by not punishing people for mistakes they make in trying to improve services. Encouragement of experimentation is essential to innovation.
A Learning Organization
Peak performance in effectiveness and efficiency are enhanced with a well-conceived and targeted staff development program. We can’t always find and usually can’t afford a facilities staff where every person is super-effective and super-efficient. Most organizational leaders and managers hire those people reasonably available in the marketplace and, again assuming they have a moderate degree of wisdom, grow those ordinary people into highly effective and innovative staff members.
Growing involves learning. In a “learning organization,” assessment of needs, professional reading and correspondence courses, mentoring, classwork, apprentice programs, development and advertising of best practices, and training by doing are supported and encouraged. Absent an atmosphere that supports such growth of people, organizations atrophy and “that’s the way we’ve always done it” becomes the unofficial, destructive rallying cry.
If the concept of a learning organization intrigues you, you may be interested in some of the ideas developed in the “Plant Academy” of the University of Michigan in the late ‘90s. The “dean” of the academy, J. A. Bardouille and her colleague, Leslie H. Smith, wrote about the academy’s ESP (Education/Skills/Performance) model for learning in the May/June 1999 issue of the Facilities Manager.
Finally, I recommend that you follow what I believe was Mark Twain’s advice: Learn from the mistakes of others—you can never live long enough to make them all yourself. You can follow that advice and learn what has worked well elsewhere by attending international, regional, and state meetings of APPA and by networking with contacts in peer institutions.
Meeting the Challenge
The challenges are great. The standards for effectiveness and efficiency increase steadily. But with leaders and managers who believe in the worth and potential of the people in their organization, the challenges can be met. Leaders are appointed to empower people. Charles Darwin stated long ago, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” For modern humans, responsiveness to change is mostly attitude. First, the attitude of the leader; then the attitude that leader inspires in the members of the organization.