Facilities are in a crisis. Staff reductions due to retirement are straining our collective facility knowledge and impacting our ability to quickly respond to workloads and emergencies. Consider the complexity of a healthcare or school campus with dozens of buildings. How can we expect new hires to be as familiar with these facilities as our most tenured technicians? Because facilities professionals are responsible for safety for buildings and people, when they leave, there’s risk involved. Mitigating the risk is complicated. How can we create a holistic approach to facility succession planning, considering building knowledge, lessons learned on the job, and fresh perspectives from new hires to the field?
While we’ll miss “Fred” because he’s a great guy, and a smart, funny, resourceful leader, he’s much more than that. He’s a walking database of building information who knows areas that need special attention, where every piece of equipment is located, what happened the last time there was a flood or a fire, and how long it took to get everything back up and running.
“It’s all about what’s in their heads and why decisions were made,” says Robert Kleimenhagen, director of facilities and energy management, Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania. “Historically, there have been large disconnects because key technicians haven’t been included in design and construction meetings. We’re working on changing this practice, so there’s more collaboration and fewer tiers.”
Kleimenhagen is developing desk manuals for new hires. He’s also involving technicians in writing and updating their job descriptions during review sessions, so there’s some overlap when new techs join the team. “Job responsibilities are always changing,” he says. “When we have people updating job descriptions, there’s a lot we learn and can share with the next generation. The practice also reenergizes long-time team members and gets them excited about sharing best practices with the next generation. It’s a way to pass on their legacy and teach newcomers to advocate for change.”
Robbie Bryant, director of facilities for Southwest Baptist University, says that if a key facility team member retired right now, the impact would be detrimental. “Employees with 10 years of service or longer are legacy employees. The breadth of knowledge these employees have gained throughout their tenure also retires with the employee. It’s difficult to recover from such a loss.”
“My first concern is replacing the retiree with someone who’s a good fit. We are truly like a family and very much a team, so it hurts when we lose them. My second concern is the knowledge lost with the retiree when they exit. The knowledge they take with them is priceless. It puts stress on the remaining team members to try to figure things out,” says Bryant.
“I imagine processes don’t get written down, or as-builts don’t get updated, inspections are filed away and never shared, and some plans that are only in the minds of the folks in the meetings get lost when legacy facility professionals retire,” says Karen Trapane of the Trapane Group, who specializes in environmental health and safety compliance.
Facility professionals often feel a sense of responsibility about the campuses they manage, and a sense of familiarity and closeness, like a parent who’s watched their child grow or adapt to changing times and conditions. Did we foresee changes that we should have anticipated? To keep our building safe, what should we do differently?
Capturing Legacy Knowledge
“What I’ve found from my conversations is that sharing knowledge takes many forms,” says David Trask, national director for ARC Facilities. “While equipment manuals provide detailed operational information and building plans are useful for knowing entrances, exits, and historic renovations, verbal communication is critical for understanding why something was done or changed in a facility. Unfortunately, when it comes to documentation, these are often scattered throughout a facility and are difficult to read because plans were created years ago and are now fading, coffee-stained, and disintegrating. Electronic files are usually worse! Naming is a mess. They aren’t searchable and they typically aren’t organized any better than paper. Most importantly, the field techs can’t access the critical building information they need standing on a scaffold or in a ceiling.”
What’s missing from the practice of capturing legacy knowledge is a platform that everyone uses—one that’s highly visible, easy to search through, and easy to customize for each facility’s unique needs.
When tools are available to holistically address both daily facility workloads and can alert all parties to upcoming milestones, then both new hires and veteran employees can get on the same page.
What are some of the best ways to train the next generation of facility techs? Job shadowing and cross training are two great ways to train new technicians. At Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) in Los Angeles, California, Mark Reed, director of support services, recommends one month of shadowing a supervisor and one to four months shadowing facilities techs and reviewing guides, rounds, checklists, and logs. Reed has been with the hospital for more than four years.
Since facilities workers are responsible for so many areas, documenting the training always ensures that processes are being followed and all steps are being communicated. This stops potential bad habits before they start.
Adds Trapane, “Facilities workers should spend time with other disciplines, such as safety, infection control, quality, [and] risk management to gain perspective. I have seen firsthand how monotonous some of the tasks can be, such as checking eye wash stations or taking the air temperatures and humidity readings in operating rooms. If the worker can understand how these tasks may impact patients or other workers, the task may not seem monotonous, knowing they can be the difference between health or illness/injury or worse—death.”
Technology in Facilities
In 2017, MLKCH made American Hospital Association’s “Most Wired” list for its use of telehealth, remote monitoring, and mobile technology.
The latest addition to MLKCH’s high-tech arsenal provides immediate access to shutoff locations, fire extinguishers, alarms, and other emergency equipment information throughout the hospital. “It gives staff the ability to access emergency plans right at the forefront,” says Reed. “The last thing you want in an emergency is to say, ‘Where’s that binder? Let me go find it.’ The ability to pull up an app on our phones and have fire evacuation plans and procedures right at our fingertips is an advantage for emergency management and helps both newcomers and long-time employees involved in succession planning.”
When conducting succession planning, consider the value of having legacy knowledge at your technician’s fingertips. There’s huge benefit for succession planning with knowing shutoff locations; knowing where to find mechanical equipment like air handlers, water heaters, and exhaust fans; and having historical as-builts showing the areas each renovation touched in your buildings year over year.
For holistic succession planning, new eyes and new energy can positively impact your team, but all facility teams should have immediate and instant access to as many details of their facility as possible.
Jack Rubinger is content marketing writer at ARC Facilities in San Ramon, CA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.