Last month, I poked fun at budget season and the mysterious methods the guys and gals in the big offices use to calculate performance and projections. But if you manage a budget and are familiar with the annual ritual of financial planning for the New Year, you know this is serious business. Without adequate funding, your mission of providing safe, productive, clean, comfortable, and efficient facilities can be seriously compromised.
If staff and big cheeses rarely call on the facilities group, it probably means the toilets are flushing, the trash is going out, the temperature is bearable, water is in the pipes, the lights are on, and life is good, right? But if you’re out of sight, you might be out of mind at budget time!
“We’re all in sales” is a common expression at my company. While our sales execs intend that phrase to apply to direct and indirect contact with the people who pay the bills-our clients-the same phrase is true about internal process sales, especially for facility professionals.
The way I see it, we have a choice to make. We can either have faith that our good work will speak for itself and as a result, unlimited funding will be granted to keep our facilities operating; or we can recognize the reality of our responsibility for proactive communication by selling our value. When you look at it that way, it’s not really a choice, is it?!
Those of you with a technical background may roll your eyes when you hear the word sales-especially when put in the context of your job. But it’s risky to ignore the importance of helping the people controlling the money understand how you want to spend it. Fortunately, there are many ways to communicate value up the chain. Consider the following:
- Copy your boss on incident reports and resolutions that save the company time, money, or legal exposure. This will create awareness and help instill confidence in your decision making capabilities. Your direct supervisor’s confidence will get passed along to his/her bosses, one way or another.
- Publicly celebrate the completion of major maintenance projects or repairs that prevent major expenses or shutdowns. Invite your boss and his/her boss to a pizza lunch or afternoon ice cream break and explain why it’s a big deal. Make sure to indicate who on your staff is a hero.
- Know how to determine return on investment (ROI) for projects, and consider potential impact in all departments to get an accurate payback projection. Follow up projects with ROI confirmations. It’s sweet to report after six months that a project has paid for itself when you conservatively estimated a 12-month payback!
- Know how to present “soft savings” vs. hard dollar savings. For example, security investments can be tough to justify in hard savings, but ask any executive who has witnessed violence in the workplace or trade secret theft what security is worth.
- Involve a trusted person from finance (no accountant jokes here please) to help you develop business justifications for initiatives. If a CPA cosponsors one of your projects, your high-level finance types will have much more faith in the analysis.
- Work with your HR department on initiatives that will improve the quality of the workplace. You never know to what degree your HR director has the ear of the finance folks-especially since workplace investments are often considered employee benefits or recruiting tools in competitive labor markets.
- Be sure your IT folks know specifically what you do to keep their data center 72¡F and 50% relative humidity. If they know what it costs to maintain their precious metal boxes, wires, and blinking lights, they’ll be more likely to come to your aid in justifying your funding to support them!
- Have “plan B” options in anticipation of funding shortfalls. DON’T WHINE! Have constructive suggestions prepared in the event that staff or budgets get cut. For example, does the trash really have to go out every night? Do you really need a lobby with a receptionist? Do you really need an attendant with a phone system?
- Don’t pad your budgets (too much)! It’s okay to have contingency funds planned for unforeseen repairs and price escalations-especially if you are subject to roller coaster utility prices. But if you end the year at 75% of your budget projections, it won’t take long before your budget gets instantly cut by 25% because “you always puts an extra 25% cushion in there.”
- Demand value from your suppliers and subcontractors as business partners, and keep your boss posted on successes. This doesn’t mean beat them all up for price cuts and then brag about it! Develop value expectations for suppliers in conjunction with frequent account reviews. Ask them to recommend scope of work adjustments or technology improvements to add value to the relationship (probably saving you money). Create win/win opportunities for your suppliers. For example, our janitorial subcontractor recommended we change our procedures for replacing paper consumables in the bathrooms, and as a result, we are saving over $1,000 per month with little inconvenience to our staff. This was not even a suggestion that impacted his contract, but because he noticed we were doing something stupid, he added value to our relationship!
- Serve your customers with energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism. Have extremely high expectations for yourself and your staff. Even if you are doing everything right to communicate your value to the organization, it only takes a few bad work orders or a rude individual to torpedo your credibility. You don’t want negative buzz surrounding your staff or your subcontractors.
- Have fun at work! Develop relationships with your customers. Sales people will tell you that people buy from people they like. Do your customers smile and say hello when they pass you in the hall?
Unfortunately, even if you do a fantastic job and you do everything in your power to keep your bosses in the loop, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get the funding or staff you need. Consequently, these suggestions are worth reviewing at this time of the year.
Forces from customers, market conditions, revenue, earnings, debt covenants, and/or stockholders can generate waves-even in the smallest of ponds. But if your immediate superiors don’t understand the value of what your group does for the organization, your challenge to do it well increases exponentially.
Think about it: if you were the CEO, how would you decide what else gets budget priority (after fully funding the facilities group, naturally)?
Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.