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How to Create a Positive Work Environment For Your Facilities Team (NFMT 2019)

April 1, 2019

Are you struggling with finding the right people to join your team? Mike Cowley, president of CE Maintenance Solutions, at NFMT 2019 discusses the best interviewing practices and tips for creating a more productive and positive work environment for everyone.

You might have top-of-the-line equipment and a host of automated controls in your building, but without the right people on your team, all those bells and whistles become obsolete.

At NFMT 2019, the facilities management education and training conference in Baltimore, a session packed with industry professionals tackled the topic of hiring the right people and creating a positive and productive work environment.

The packed session featured Mike Cowley, president of CE Maintenance Solutions, relaying interviewing tips, current hiring hurdles faced by the industry, and ways you can change the behavior of your employees for the better. Cowley has worked “in all kinds of facilities,” from ballparks and chicken nugget plants to hospitals and office buildings. When it comes to personnel, he’s seen what does and doesn’t work.

[Also from NFMT 2019: 5 Keys to Success When Purchasing New Technology]

Some leaders, he says, “probably struggle with, ‘If I could just have a better team…’ That can be from skills, effort, knowledge, or their own management or leadership style.” When someone doesn’t behave or perform well within the team, “that can be devastating to an organization,” Cowley adds.

5 Ways to Find the Right People

When it comes to hiring facilities employees, Cowley says the process is much different than it was when he began in the industry decades ago. “Things are changing,” he explains. “One of the biggest things I see companies struggle with is they’re not changing fast enough to [attract] the younger people.”

He says he’s seen recruits who are especially looking for IT mobility (total flexibility to go anywhere they need to and do their jobs with Wi-Fi, tablets, etc.) and opportunities for upward mobility.

So when you finally sit down with a promising potential employee, how do you proceed? Cowley relays these five tips for finding people who are right for the job and weeding out those who aren’t:

1. Develop comprehensive duties and requirements prior to the interview.

“If you don’t know what you want your employees to do, how are you going to pick the right person?” It will also well prepare the recruit for what he or she is expected to do.

2. Review their resume in detail and check for accuracy.

Cowley says many times he’s discovered that an applicant lied about his or her education or experience. When reviewing references, explicitly ask a past employer: Would you rehire this person?

3. Include a facility tour in the interview.

Do this to “make sure [the applicant] knows what they’re getting into,” Cowley says. “They might have to work in a hot place, on the roof, at night, in the cold. The better they know what they’re doing, the better off you’ll be down the road.”

4. Take note of the questions they ask in the interview.

Do they seem meaningful or probing? The right questions can sometimes indicate ambition in an applicant—ambition that could push you as well.

5. Test them.

This could be anything from an aptitude test to a skills or craft test to a hands-on example. “We had this problem yesterday. What do you think we should’ve done?” Cowley offers.

[On topic: Attract Millennials and Gen Z to Facilities Management]

5 Steps to Create a Positive Environment

To measure the performance of your facilities team, Cowley recommends looking at things like attitude, percent of work they’ve planned, proactive vs. reactive work, cleanliness and organization, and safety incidents. Once you’ve identified the problem, these five steps can help create a more positive work environment for the whole team:

1. Be confident in your leadership and set an example.

“Remember that this is your team,” Cowley says. “Don’t say one thing and then do another as the leader. Ask yourself: Are you the best leader you can be?”

2. Communicate the vision and culture of your company.

And communicate it regularly. Ensure all employees see it and understand it. “Live, eat and breathe it,” Cowley says. “Safety is a perfect example.”

[Related topic: Reduce Janitorial Staff Turnover]

3. Set attainable goals.

Don’t be afraid to change them as needed if they’re not working. Consider raising the bar.

4. Train continuously.

Cowley says that 5 to 10 percent of your total man-hours should be dedicated to training. Supply your employees with all of the knowledge they need, and reward knowledge growth. 

5. Praise in public. Discipline in private.

“Expect a lot from your people, and then reward it when you get it,” Cowley says.

Overall, paying attention to results—as opposed to a “yes man”—is paramount. You have a lot of responsibilities as a facilities manager, and managing your personnel is one of them. Make sure you’re setting the example as the leader and know when to make changes when things aren’t working.

With a positive work environment, it makes it all the easier for the right people to want to join your team.

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About the Author

Sarah Kloepple | Associate Editor

Sarah joined the BUILDINGS team as an associate editor in August 2018. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, where her focus was magazine writing. She's written and edited for numerous publications in her hometown of St. Louis.

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