Building job security: Take charge and become a “value-added” manager

What's the toughest part about the facilities business? When everything works, no one notices. Maintenance is ahead of schedule, pumps are pumping, lights are burning, and wheels are turning. From that perspective, everything is great.

By Nick Campbell, Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ April 1, 2000

What’s the toughest part about the facilities business?

When everything works, no one notices. Maintenance is ahead of schedule, pumps are pumping, lights are burning, and wheels are turning. From that perspective, everything is great. It takes a lot of effort to reach this point. The rest of the plant takes our efforts for granted.

What’s the best part about the facilities business?

Everybody’s got one. Whatever kind of plant or operation, there are literally thousands of buildings that need professionals like us. That’s the paradox: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Ours is a ferocious world. Competition is fierce. Six billion people and many of them are after your job. Whether we’re talking about facilities management or basic career survival, here are some ideas to help everyone increase their effectiveness in leadership, career achievement, and job satisfaction.

Add value

Everything you do should pass the “add value” test. Here is a binary solution set that leaves no gray area. Does the performance of this particular task at this particular time add value to my job, career, company, or family? That question can be difficult to answer, but it is a very crucial one.

Face it, much of the time we spend on a daily basis is wasted on what Steven Covey calls “the not urgent, not important” quadrant. Examples range from the phone call that interrupts a project design meeting, to the stack of mail that gets resolved at 9:00 a.m. when we really should be out on the production floor, to the endless sitcoms at night when we scheduled some research and technical reading.

This concept extends to our lives away from the job as well. Relaxing on the porch with a good book might be the best use of your time on a rainy Sunday afternoon, as long as you’re not supposed to be finishing chores. At the same time, vacations can become an unproductive attempt at leisure if you spend 2 hr a day checking e-mail and phone messages.

Create job security

Like it or not, these aren’t the “good old days” anymore. Whether we are blue-collar mechanics or the chairmen of the board, we can’t depend on lifetime employment. Our parents went to work in the factory and were fairly ensured the job would always be there. Retire after 30 yr with a gold watch and ride off into the sunset.

No longer. Job security as a function of service duration is a thing of the past. That everlasting job can’t be provided by the boss, the company, or even the industry. The great news is that we can create our own job security-but we can’t wait for someone else to arrange it.

This notion became readily apparent to me last summer during a Bell Atlantic strike. I remember it very well because my wife and I were moving into a new house and the final step was the telephone connection. On the evening news, one of the telephone workers was screaming, “I want my job security!”

Is there anyone who doesn’t want job security? I doubt it. The difference is that, instead of waiting for this elusive security to be granted by others, the truly successful people in the workplace have learned to develop their own.

How? By becoming so indispensable that your boss or your company cannot afford to let you go. With companies pinching the bottom line like never before and competition at suffocating levels, organizations are looking hard for people who move the company forward. These people become the leaders. As for those who drag the company backward, these folks soon receive an early (and unsubsidized) retirement.

Become a customer service agent

Everyone who earns a paycheck is in the customer service business. Whether you are an engineer, CEO, or the guy making coffee at the local convenience store, someone out there is paying your salary. If that boss/client/customer is happy with our services, we will have more than enough work.

Look, for example, at Hale-Built, a small paving company in central New Jersey. This organization goes the extra mile on a routine basis. How? Employees show up early, stay late, and provide more than the customers expect. Owner Glen Hale is one of only two employees who drive the backhoe. Instead of sitting at the office counting profits, Glen is actively involved in every operation. He gives customers what they want, he gives employees what they need, and everybody wins.

Several years back, when I was in danger of losing my job, I realized that I had to become more indispensable to my boss. Otherwise, he could easily afford to let me go. My performance was down, my positive attitude was nonexistent, and the writing was on the wall.

So I changed. Instead of being just another engineer, I became the best customer service agent I could possibly be. My job description was rewritten into two words: “problem solver.” Any time a problem arose, I would solve it. Whenever a coworker in the department needed a solution, I would provide it.

As soon as I understood my utmost responsibility was to give solutions to my customers, several things happened.

My performance skyrocketed. I

became much more effective on the


I actually began to have fun at work.

When a coworker would tell me how

much they appreciated my efforts,

my attitude soared.

Best of all, I received a two-level

promotion! My boss said the reason

was “my willingness to help every-

one else succeed.”

When I began looking out for everyone else’s interests, my own needs were met. And then some!

Be open to new ideas

Business as usual is a recipe for disaster. General Electric CEO Jack Welch once said, “When the rate of change outside an organization is greater than the rate of change inside, the end is near.”

The only way to survive and thrive is by paying attention to new ideas from any source. Look at the engineering slant: differentials make the world go ’round, literally. A high pressure at one point in a pipe and a low pressure at another point create a high differential and high fluid flow. Electricity is similar: high difference equals high potential equals high current flow. Know-ledge transfer works exactly the same way.

The opportunity to experience a high potential for ideas comes when we pay attention to wildly different points of view. That bizarre idea you just heard must be working for someone else; otherwise, you wouldn’t have heard it!

Remember Sam Walton? He would routinely take ideas from his truck drivers and shelf-stockers, because they were closest to the action. These folks saw the nuts and bolts of the operation. And you can’t argue with success, because at last count, Wal-Mart was pushing $140 billion in sales!

Our chosen line of work is a difficult one, yet we have greater opportunities than ever before. Industry is looking for leaders to move into the next century. As plant engineers and facility managers, if we can maximize the service we provide to our customers, we’ll never have to worry about the future!

Nick Campbell is a staff engineer with Johnson & Johnson who says he has learned how to succeed in the workplace while enjoying the ride. After graduation from Annapolis, he served as a naval nuclear engineer. He recently gave a presentation on “Nuclear Powered Leadership” at the Association for Facilities Engineering annual meeting in Chicago. E-mail him with questions about the article at or visit his web site at www.