Gerald Dobbs discusses the achievements and challenges that have been important elements of his career in field management.
Gerald Dobbs, field manager at the University of Texas at El Paso, discusses the accomplishments and challenges that have become important elements of his career in field management, including building a team, being a cheerleader and treating people with respect.
FacilitiesNet: When and why did you enter the facilities management and maintenance profession?
Gerald Dobbs: In the fall of 1988, I was offered a job as the first landscape superintendent in the landscaping department at Virginia Tech University. For several years prior to a job offer, I followed the advice of a professor from the horticulture department at a university. He said that for me to be truly successful in landscape maintenance and management, I needed to learn how to dig trenches properly, respect my co-workers, and learn from them the secret to success in the trade.
FacilitiesNet: What was your biggest challenge when you started your career? How do you deal with it?
Dobb: Here are the three toughest challenges I faced:
Chasing jobs and money. This means taking the time to prepare documentation and make the case that my staff is ready and eager to undertake any landscape installation and maintenance work. As a result, we are the service provider of choice for our customers. Whenever there is tough work to be done outdoors in landscape and hardscape areas, we are the first ones called to do the job.
Create an environment for success. Early in my career in landscape management, I learned the importance of taking time to meet each employee in my department and to learn about their knowledge, skills and abilities. In many instances, I’ve found employees placed on work assignments that don’t take full advantage of what they have to offer the organization. I will meet with the same employee to discuss the best approach to getting the job done. Since their input is very important to me, I give them permission to raise a yellow flag if they think of a better way to get the job done or if there’s an unexpected issue that needs to be considered and resolved.
Become the head cheerleader of the organization. Over the years, it has been my pleasure and responsibility to share with management the wide variety of work my staff completes. I make a habit of writing a document summarizing the achievements of each member of my staff over the year and attaching it to their evaluations. To my surprise, these letters were highly valued by the employees.
FacilitiesNet: What did you want to know about facilities management and maintenance that you have learned?
Dobb: What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s one thing to say we should treat the people who work in our department as valuable assets to the organization and another thing to practice this on a regular basis. It is important that the new manager takes the time to meet with each employee not only to introduce himself or herself but to learn more about the employee’s knowledge, skills and abilities. This will be the time when each employee will learn what knowledge, skills and abilities the new supervisor brings to the job.
FacilitiesNet: What lessons can you offer people starting facilities management and maintenance?
Dobb: It is important to remember that we report to our customers, staff and upper management. This means we need to improve our communication style on all three levels. I personally like to visit my customers and talk to them about their concerns and upcoming projects. If I can’t meet them in person, I’ll call them. There is something reassuring about meeting someone in person or talking to someone on the phone.
Resolve employee and management issues as quickly as possible with honesty and frankness. Willing to work towards a solution to fix the problem as quickly as possible. Don’t let the problem drag on.
Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facility market. He has over 25 years of experience writing on facilities maintenance, engineering and management.