Guest blogger Terry Vergon’s “Hiring a Facilities Manager”

Feb 15, 2013

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Tradition may dictate that the best technician or the most senior person in your organization be promoted into supervisory or managerial positions, but this practice may not always be the best choice in reality.  Yes, the best technician or most senior person most likely demonstrates some of the technical knowledge and skill that would be required of anyone filling the role of facilities manager.  But the fact is that if you don’t look for these other important traits when you make the hire, your facilities manager will likely fail – or at least fail to be as successful as they need to be. In The Crucial Role Of The Facilities Manager In Mission Critical Environments, I discussed what to look for when hiring a facilities manager (or any member of the facilities management team, for that matter) but how do you know which candidates actually embrace these qualities? To answer this question, we must take an honest look at some of the most important traits for success in the position:

They have technical knowledge and education:  It almost goes without saying, but the candidate should have the ability to understand the engineering, physics, and chemistry behind the facilities processes of your organization to allow them to make critical decisions concerning safety and risk mitigation.

They are the example and not the exception:  Probe your candidate’s past behaviors in various situations to discover if they innately understand that they need to be the example of the behaviors they want to see in others.  These are the people who lead from the front, who show first and expect others to follow.  This trait may not be readily apparent, so look for occasions when the person was leading and explore their behavior during this period.  Ask about the times they were the example for their group.  See if you can find instances where they were in a leadership position but they nonetheless identified with their group as opposed to that they “led” the group.
They like a challenge:  The best managers like challenges.  Challenges become motivation for them.  But be careful not to confuse this with “firefighting.”  Some managers thrive on fighting fires, even to the point that they create situations where this behavior is needed.  The managers that are motivated by challenges see firefighting as a situation that needs to change and they will attempt to change it.  Lead your candidate in a discussion around whether they truly enjoy challenges or putting out fires.
They are naturally curious:  As with technicians in this field, the best managers are naturally curious.  To determine if this trait is truly part of your candidate’s makeup, delve into their experiences and stories to see if they learn things on their own.  See if they express an interest in how things work or seem to want to know more information about the science behind something and why it operated the way it did.  If the candidate explains that they tried to explore how to make it work better, it is a pretty clear sign that they are motivated by natural curiosity.  You can also identify the trait in their educational pursuits (the mere fact that they have some) and the questions they ask.
They are constantly learning:    Another trait that great managers have in common with the best technicians is a constant drive to learn.  This trait fits with their natural curiosity but is actually different.  They are always on the lookout for opportunities to increase their knowledge.  They may be working toward an industry-recognized certification or a degree in a particular field of interest.  They may also regularly attend seminars that relate to their profession or subscribe to industry publications.  Busy as they are, they still manage to devote time to this pursuit and it shows in their resumes and experiences.
They are natural communicators:  Evaluate how comfortable your candidate is when discussing their experiences.  Do they naturally like to talk to people?  Are they at ease in front of a group?  Are their messages easily understood?  What about their correspondence?  Do they write coherent, complete sentences or do they convey their thoughts with short, cryptic notations?  Natural communicators can paint vivid pictures in their listeners’ minds.
They are natural teachers:  If you have a candidate that is a natural communicator, odds are that they are also a natural teacher, because the two traits work together.  Great managers teach constantly.  They teach about the expectations of the company and they teach about new processes.  In fact, teaching just becomes their primary mode of communication.  Even during their interviews, they will teach you about themselves.  If you feel you’ve learned something during the interview, it’s a good sign your candidate is a natural teacher.
They genuinely want people to succeed:  Great leaders have a genuine desire to see their people succeed, and their attitude and behaviors express that they are willing to help others.  Inquire about the values that their stories convey to understand more about the attitudes that created their behavior.
They have business acumen:  The best facilities managers understand that they are part of a business.  Whether the organization is for profit or nonprofit, these managers recognize that they do not have unlimited resources and, consequently, they spend these resources to the maximum benefit of their organization.  They must understand and be able to work with concepts of return on investment, total cost of ownership, differences between capital, expenses and depreciation.
A great facilities manager can put a project like replacing older florescent lights with newer LED lights into terms that the CFO can understand.  They understand how their operations and decisions affect the business, and they easily translate actions and consequences into the language of engineering or business.  To assess your candidate’s ability in this regard, ask them to discuss their last successful project in terms the CFO would understand.
Their personal values match the organization’s values:  A facilities manager can actually possess all of the attributes listed above and still be unsuccessful.  In fact, if there is one determining factor for success as a facilities manager – indeed for anyone in an organization – it is whether their personal values match the organization’s values.  Particularly for managers that make decisions which materially affect an organization, as would be the case with a facilities manager in a mission critical environment, their decisions must align naturally with the goals and values of their organization – or they will ultimately quit or be forced out.  Assessing the personal values of a candidate is too complicated to quickly mention here, so we will tackle that subject in my next blog.
These are important qualities to look for as you go in search of a facilities manager, but there is one more when the facilities involved are mission critical.
They thoroughly understand risk mitigation:  When faced with mission critical facilities, the entire purpose for the facilities department is tied to the concept of risk mitigation.  The concept of risk mitigation is applied and considered in everything that the facilities manager does.  So with this trait, you should take a very direct line of inquiry and specifically ask them to describe their attitudes and understanding of risk mitigation and its importance to mission critical facilities.
The person that has control over some of your most valuable assets and resources should be chosen with great care, and your selection process should include techniques that quickly identify the presence or absence of each of these important attributes. While this blog is not meant to be an exhaustive list – in fact, I’m certain you can add to it – I have found that these specific traits are vital for any facilities manager.  Hiring a manager is always a daunting task, but I hope these suggestions will help you succeed in the effort. Many thanks to industry veteran Terry Vergon for allowing us to post this blog.  You can read Terry's other blogs by clicking here