Last January, this column noted the importance of establishing personal goals in addition to the typical work related benchmarks associated with a new year. While I doubt any of us can claim to have reached each and every goal we set last year (and if you did accomplish every goal in 2003, you might want to set your sights a little higher and “stretch” in 2004!), I hope we all took steps toward improving our personal and professional lives.
In almost 15 years of working for corporate America, I’ve learned that nothing stands still. Things are getting better or getting worse, but they are never entirely static.
As I worked through 2003, I began to recognize that my career direction needed an evaluation. In addition to managing the corporate headquarters I helped bring to life, I was frequently nursing it back to health after lightning damage, fire alarms, power failures, water intrusion, and other illnesses I’ve shared in previous months. Eventually, the demands of the job mushroomed to include procurement, corporate travel, food services, media production, and other administrative responsibilities.
While I enjoyed contributing and making a difference in these important areas of the business that directly affect profitability, they became the primary responsibilities of my position, leaving less time for maintaining an effective facility management program. In a tough economy, staff resources can’t always grow at a rate comparable to responsibilities. When this happens, inspired teams rally and short-term productivity miraculously improves! Teams known for excellence and “doing more with less” are often rewarded with more tasks and bigger assignments.
As workloads continue to increase (with limited staff and budget resources), managers are forced to compensate by working people harder and working longer hours themselves. When human limits and tolerances are pushed beyond sustainable levels (much like an engine running above its “red line”), the inevitable breakdown occurs; work gets sloppy in the interest of speed, customer service is de-emphasized, or operations actually become less efficient and more expensive because of priority discrepancies and turnover (the unwanted type).
Let’s be honest. When expectations go from “stretch” to “impossible,” it shouldn’t be surprising when morale drops, response times rise, customer service and quality become secondary, and we are forced to prioritize ruthlessly. We ultimately assume the figurative role of head firefighter, and we find ourselves putting out the hottest fires, reacting instead of leading.
When leaders and teams operate at this level too long, the fires in their bellies are snuffed out. Without the critical flames of motivation and the desire to succeed, employees stop giving 100% and leaders struggle to be creative and visionary, thus adding more inefficiency and ultimate cost to the bottom line.
Employees are frequently pushed to go above and beyond their limitations for emergencies and short-term periods. Initially, this builds character, generates pride, enriches the work experience, and actually boosts morale, especially when team members are able to accomplish seemingly “impossible” tasks! But when short-term demands become continuous expectations, negative long-term effects are created.
What’s the point? Well, since the summer of 1999, I had the good fortune of tackling many challenges, projects, and emergencies that pushed me on a regular basis. I was part of an incredible team, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be part of something so special. But for the past 12 months, I was running well above my “red line” with increased responsibilities and decreasing staff.
In order to focus on proactive facilities management, I asked for a reassignment. It required a step down on the corporate ladder, but I thought it would be a wise move to redirect my energy and get back to my roots.
My new facilities position was somewhat limited. The position didn’t cover multiple facilities or ambitious construction goals. That obviously limited the career advancement opportunities for someone considering facility management as his personal core business.
While pondering longer term career goals, I decided to dust off the old resume and see what other opportunities might be out there for someone with my skills and experience. Naturally, there were discussions with family members and trusted colleagues. There was also research of several sources.
Eventually, I identified a wonderful opportunity with a property management/real estate developer. Several meetings with members of the senior management team were followed by an offer. An important family decision had to be made.
By the time this issue reaches you, there will be a “for sale” sign in my yard. I will be getting familiar with a new team, new priorities, new facilities, and a new company in a new town!
I’m sure this adventure will provide plenty of opportunities for even higher “red lines,” new goals, learning experiences, and material for future columns. I wish you good luck while revving your engines and setting your goals in this New Year.
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.