Jonathan Burbee, Director of Business Development, Gordian

Senior facility leaders are increasingly present in the executive suite, reflecting the functional, financial and brand value of the organization’s building portfolio. Some organizations are even designating Chief Facilities Officers or Chief Real Estate Officers. However, it is crucial to ensure that these leaders are not only invited when there are issues or crises but are also welcomed as integral members of the team on a regular basis. This article summarizes dozens of conversations I’ve had with senior facility leaders, as well as non-facility experts, regarding the attitudes and approaches that contribute to strong facility leadership in the executive suite.

Trust is Critical

Trust like any leadership function, trust is paramount for effectiveness. Facility-related matters can be daunting for some executives due to safety risks, financial implications, and the technical and legal expertise involved. To establish trust, the Chief Facilities Officer must position themselves as a trusted partner who delivers solutions and openly communicates where assistance is needed. Facility leadership is far from facile, but it can be facilitative by connecting facility issues to the rest of the system.  Framing facility conversations in strategic terms and connecting operational objectives to the organization’s overall goals reinforces the value-added contributions of the department.

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Communication is Vital

Effective communication is the linchpin of trust-building. Facility-related information can often be technical and complex, making it challenging to convey clear and actionable data. While some public sector organizations continue to rely on traditional briefing notes to summarize information and document decisions, the best Chief Facilities Officers can skillfully convey issues and the implications using engaging visuals and plain language.

Daily Operational Considerations

With a solid foundation of trust and effective communications, the Chief Facilities Officer can work strategically with the C-suite. They can help leadership view an optimized portfolio as an asset contributing to organizational priorities, rather than merely a cost center. Initiatives can be prioritized and resourced, and roadmaps can be created to guide long-term efforts in the built environment. However, it is crucial not to overlook daily operational matters, as they can significantly impact the organization’s reputation and strategic influence in the C-suite. Operational necessities, such as service-related maintenance and repairs, must be addressed through a robust service model to maintain the confidence of senior leadership.

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This is particularly true in environments where leadership only engages the facilities function by exception, for instance when something is broken. Accolades do not pour in when the lights are on and the water flows from the taps, no matter how much skill and effort might go into ensuring that building occupants get safe and reliable power and water. Regardless of how strong the facilities program may be, service-related maintenance and repairs are what make reputations that can support or detract from strategic influence in the C-suite. To maintain the confidence of senior leadership, it is recommended to invest time and effort to establish and monitor a strong service model to address operational requirements.

A group of people having a discussion

Exceptional Circumstances

While the Chief Facilities Officer should absolutely oversee daily operational services, they would not be expected to execute them. This expectation is no different than that of any other executive. Exceptions to this rule arise during crises such as natural disasters or emergencies. In these instances, the Chief Facilities Officer’s enhanced situational awareness and leadership are critical. These moments provide opportunities for facilities organizations to demonstrate their value to the broader organization and make informed decisions in a pressure-packed environment.

In Summary

The Chief Facilities Officer deserves a place in the C-suite. Earning and maintaining that place depends on their ability to gain the confidence of senior leadership through effective communication of risks and opportunities. Using data to demonstrate operational improvements and employing effective service models day-to-day and during a crisis reinforces the Chief Facilities Officer’s strategic value to the broader organization.

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