Navigating changing conditions and building trust

Facilities Management leaders hone their leadership skills using some unexpected tools with the guidance of UC’s Staff Success Center and build connections along the way

When snow begins to fall, Beth Rains knows it’s going to be a long day. As associate director of Grounds, Moving and Transportation, Beth and her team are responsible for snow removal — which calls for being up and at campus by 4:30 a.m. to hand-shovel sidewalks, steps and doorways throughout UC’s Uptown campus.

Rains started her career at UC more than 17 years ago as an executive staff assistant. While working, she went back to school earning associates and bachelor’s degrees in business. Rain's education and grit helped her rise through the ranks holding positions in payroll, receiving and maintenance, and operations, among others.

However, what has helped her navigate through more recent challenges as a director, is a leadership workshop offered through UC’s Staff Success Center. The center, established in April of 2018 as part UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here, provides employees with resources to support their professional enrichment and development in pursuit of UC’s Next culture.

photo of facilities employees participating in workshop.

Facilities team members participate in a group activity facilitated by UC's Staff Success Center.

To date, UC’s Staff Success Center has completed nearly 3,000 learning events. This includes instructor-led and eLearning offerings for UC staff members.

“I was promoted about one year ago and now have responsibility for leading a team of 40 people, most of whom are men,” says Rains. “This was an adjustment for all of us, and I needed to work hard to gain their trust.”

To help build trust, Rains used several exercises she learned during the leadership workshop course she participated in with her colleagues from facilities at the urging of their leader, Joe Harrell, associate vice president of facilities management.

The exercises focused on problem solving and collaboration using some unexpected materials, like marshmallows, to help develop teamwork and foster communication. Additionally, Rains works with Tanya Ladd, director of the Staff Success Center, to conduct quarterly engagement meetings with her team.

“We started out having everyone write down three things they wanted to change and why, and then at the next meeting we had them write down three things that were going well and why.”

She says Ladd would share what people liked and didn’t like to facilitate discussions.

“This gave me great insight into what they were thinking and feeling so I could change what needed to be changed. It also improved communication. They now know we are invested in them, that everyone has input and they play an important role in this department and university.

Beth Rains, Associate Director of Grounds, Moving & Transportation

Rain's team is responsible for the pleasing aesthetic of UC’s campuses, which is important for student recruitment and to members of the UC community. As a division of Facilities Management, Rains and her team take care of grounds cleaning, mowing nearly 74 acres, tree trimming and removal, planting and maintaining flower beds, watering 165 acres, moving offices and laboratories, and set-ups for special events as well as purchasing and maintaining UC’s fleet of 337 vehicles.

With trust established, Rains says her team is more engaged. “If they have a problem they come and tell me, and I ask them why they think something is not working and what we can do to fix it. They realize change is good and it’s okay to try things out.”

Rain’s colleague Michael Hoffman, director of utilities, is responsible for the management of UC’s electric and gas. Hoffman joined UC several years ago following a long career with Duke Energy.

facilities members participate in group exercise

“No matter what level you are in an organization or what type of role you have, we are all in the business of leading people and groups. There are people who have excellent technical skills, but there is a gap when it comes to leadership skills. And we need to change that.”

Hoffman says participating in the leadership workshop was a positive experience.

“There was discomfort in the beginning because it wasn’t your typical on-the-job training, but as the day progressed and we participated in various team activities, you could see people open up. We had to learn to listen and communicate, and learn when to sit back, and when to be more assertive. It forced us to work as a team.”

Hoffman says the experience gave every member of the facilities management team the same set of tools to use and work from to help drive change in themselves and the teams they lead.

" Driving change is important because we have leaders who have been in their positions for 10, 15, 20 years and others who are new. We can’t always do things the way they’ve been done, and we need to be aligned in our behavior and thought strategies.”

Hoffman adds, “It’s a lot like turning an ocean liner. It is slow going, but that’s what needs to happen for it to be really transformative."

Learn more about UC’s Staff Success Center programs and services in support of UC’s research and service mission and Next Lives Here.

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