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Have you ever wondered why your board isn’t more focused on facilities stewardship? After all, your institution’s most valuable asset is its physical campus. So why is it so challenging to get board members to commit to the necessary funding to maintain this asset and drive high-priority projects forward?

It may be time to reshape the conversations you’re leading around facilities management. By applying the following three strategies, you can drive more productive conversations with your board and get more of your proposals heard.

1. Use data to drive solutions

You may already know that solid data is the best foundation upon which to build your case for facilities funding. And if your department is maintaining documentation on problems and performance, then you’re working with the right materials. However, gathering relevant data about the building or system in question is only the first step. The next step is to provide context to this data so that it leads your audience in a specific direction.

Remember, your board is balancing a range of cost centers as they weigh your request for funding. Your goal is to connect the dots between what your data reveals and how it could potentially impact broader institutional objectives.

So how do you do this? To start, it’s important to recognize that it takes multiple data points to create compelling context. A single data point on its own may indicate growth or decline, loss or gain. But what does that information mean in relation to the bigger picture?

Let’s consider an example. Perhaps your board is focused on the increase in the campus infrastructure investment as compared to peer institutions. When viewed on its own, this data sure might seem like reason enough to stem the tide on future investments. However, if the data shows that your campuses’ high-energy costs are declining in conjunction with these upgrades — and dropping below energy use of similar institutions — then you’ve built a much stronger case for making additional investments that can support longer-term benefits. Other data sets might indicate these investments are leading to more reliability networks, safer teaching spaces or more robust research capabilities. The point is that the board won’t have this context unless you communicate it.

2. Get to know, and address, your audience’s concerns

If you want your audience to commit capital to your facilities’ needs, then your argument must open by addressing their specific concerns.

A good first step for differentiating your request among the crowd of other department heads seeking funding is to get to know your audience’s language. Framing your data with shared terminology that speaks directly to your board members’ goals is a surefire way to gain their attention.

In your presentation, consider addressing:

  • How this facility improvement will impact the quality of education the institution offers.
  • Whether or not this project will support or allow for expanded innovation in the curriculum, student life or wellness, or research objectives (depending on the focus of your audience).
  • How this improvement might impact the institution’s relevance in the marketplace.
  • The ways the project might impact institutional financial stability or other risks.
  • How the project is connected to presidential leadership and strategic objectives.

By connecting your argument to your audience’s driving concerns, you’re gaining their attention and helping to speed along the right conclusion.

3. Get an advocate in the room

Before a proposal reaches the board, you have likely already coordinated with your financial officer and other key school leadership.  You can work with these partners to develop approaches to touching on key issues for board members.

Of course, speaking the language of your board will certainly become easier as you stay in regular contact with these board members. If they only hear from you when you request funding, you’re already behind.

As you establish relationships with board members, seek to understand their priorities and explore with them how your work can support this. If senior leadership and board members hear you talk about the ways in which your work will support their efforts, by the time a proposal reaches the meeting room you have already developed advocates who will be eager to see your work succeed.

Consider also reaching out to board members on a regular basis with results from tracking the performance of your funded projects. By sharing successes, you can build a board member audience that’s as vested in the Facilities Department’s success as you are.

Over time, this ongoing interaction can develop into regular engagement with board members. As you gain stronger understanding into how closely your projects align with board members’ goals, you’re likely to also find that your board members gain a stronger appreciation for how their decisions impact stewardship of the physical campus.

Pete Zuraw

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Pete Zuraw is Sightlines’ Vice President of Market Strategy and Development, and he has the responsibility for leading the company’s thought-leadership efforts and programming activities at various professional conferences and events.

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