Insight Blog

Transitioning to a New Facilities Lead

Transitioning to a New Facilities Lead
Our experience in representing higher education institutions in conducting facilities management (FM) executive searches has taught us that it’s common for leaders in this field to have had significantly long tenures at their respective institutions by the time they leave or retire. Often, strong relationships and partnerships have been cultivated between these leaders and the department, vendors/suppliers, and end-users, leaving everyone to wonder what the new hire will be like and how he/she is going to pick up where the departing incumbent left off. 

As Jim Lord, Executive Director, Northeast, states, “Many of these are relationships that are only forged in fire.” That is, these individuals have helped one another resolve an emergency and get through an extremely difficult situation, strengthening the bond between the professionals. Consequently, the new hire will need to know and understand that history, and construct new meaningful partnerships that continue to serve the institution well. 

To overlap, or not to overlap

With this in mind, when your institution becomes aware of a retirement or upcoming departure, you may want to consider whether it would be beneficial, or possible, to have the new hire shadow his/her predecessor for a period of time to allow the ‘passing of the torch.’ Here are a few questions that can help you determine whether or not an overlap would be beneficial: 

Is the predecessor on board with and able to introduce the new hire? 

This is extremely important as the introductions and handshakes are a signal to all who trust and respect the predecessor. Therefore, demonstrating that he/she is on board with and enthusiastic about the new hire, and facilitating a proper introduction, can be quite impactful. 

Are you planning to reorganize the department when the incumbent leaves? 

If you’re planning to restructure or reorganize the department, then you may not want to overlap as it could downplay the introductions and set a tone for the staff, end-users, and vendors/suppliers that things will continue ‘business as usual’ in a negative environment. 

Does the department’s culture need a facelift?

If so, then it may be difficult to involve the departing incumbent in the transition because doing so could indicate maintaining the existing culture.

How old are campus buildings, and do they have challenges due to aging?

Older institutions typically have numerous maintenance issues, some of which aren’t known to anyone other than the FM lead. Having the new hire learn ‘where the skeletons are hidden’ so to speak brings an awareness of the challenges they face in devising a plan for the future and ensures those hidden issues get addressed. 

When is the incumbent departing?

Consider if there is there enough time to conduct the search, make the hire, and provide overlap.

How long would the overlap be?

It’s important that the overlap be an appropriate length of time, and to make a decision on the time period before the new hire comes on board. Once determined, it is best to outline the timeline to all parties, including the team, to mitigate any concerns and to have a clear goal to work towards. Understandably, the new hire may want to jump in with both feet and, with too much time in the shadows, that could create anxiety for both the predecessor and the new hire, and it may also cause confusion for the existing staff.  

Know your audience

You may not realize it, but one benefit of an overlap is that doing so can make the experience a less jarring change for a department that typically relies heavily on their leader. Also, the likelihood of the team being receptive to change increases dramatically if you have, and take, the opportunity to overlap. That ‘getting to know your audience’ stage is fairly important to the new hire as well. He/she then has the opportunity to spend time learning the personalities of the team members, all the while internalizing that information and formulating ways to respond to and energize them when they assume their new role. After all, they are to become allies working together, and the introduction shows mutual respect between leaders that translates to garnering respect from the team. 

Introductions to vendors and suppliers is equally important. After all, many of these relationships are built on similarities in personalities. That’s not always the case, but it’s a possibility, so it’s better to be safe and try to maintain those strong partnerships. Passing the torch allows vendors and suppliers to bear witness to the fact that the new hire has been made aware of the history of the said partnership – with details on the challenges and the positives. 

Possibly, the most imperative introduction is to that of the institution’s end-users, including faculty, teachers, students, researchers, athletics, and other administrative departments. Facilities-related roles are critical to providing environments conducive to instruction and learning, research activities, and student life. It is important for individuals in these capacities to ascertain the objectives of the end-users, to balance those needs and wants with the realistic options that will align with cost and schedule parameters, and to articulate the reasoning behind final decisions. Therefore, meeting as many end-users as possible during the transition period provides ample time for perspectives to align. 

Implement your strategy

Should it be determined that having the departing incumbent involved in the recruitment and transition process, our consultants recommend considering the following: 

  • Involve the incumbent in the hiring process as much as it makes sense starting with refining the position description and objectives of the role. 
  • Allow the incumbent to be involved in first interviews as these meetings are usually centered more on the technical aspects of the role. To ensure unbiased feedback, have an additional team member in the meetings. 
  • Let the incumbent spend time with finalists on campus and conduct campus tours as cultural fit becomes the deciding factor. 
  • At the end of all rounds of interviews, give the incumbent a vote. 

Keep in mind these are general guidelines for aiding in a facilities leadership transition, and some of these points can be applied to most leadership roles. If you have additional suggestions that have worked for your institution or organization, email us at - we’d love to hear from you! If there is an upcoming retirement within your organization, and you’re not quite sure how to handle the transition, reach out to one of our recruiters and get their take on the situation. We’ve seen many an organization go through this same process, and our insight can help you make this change a positive experience.