One Man’s Experience with Engaging Building Operators

April 30, 2015 By Guy Porlier

Guy Porlier

This column offers a variety of anecdotal advice that may prove useful if you find yourself integrating a new product within a group of skeptical building operators.

The deal is done. The ink is still fresh, and you have a new client. Later, as the technical lead, you are formally introduced to the individual who just put said ink to paper. You begin to ask them technical questions and you discover they’re not quite versed in specific aspects of their system. But they will bring you to the people who are.

There is still another sale to make

A lot of weight is placed on first impressions. When you enter an operations room for the first time and are presented as the person who will be changing things, the best first impression you can hope for is “he seems like a nice person.” Your sales team believes the selling is done — but as for you, you will forever be selling to the group before you. For this reason, it is paramount that you quickly understand the pain points of this team and clearly present them with the methods by which you are going to solve them. Additionally, where your path forks from your sales team is that all those PowerPoint presentations, case studies and white papers that got the purse strings to open have no weight here. This group needs to see, live and experience a product or solution before they will trust it. You need to ensure that the operators have a positive experience. The following four points are crucial from the perspective of the operator:

  1. What is about to occur?
  2. How would my old system deal with this?
  3. How is the new system dealing with it?
  4. Why is this better?

The last point may seem unnecessary but is, in fact, the key. The benefits of your solution may be clear to you, but having now changed an aspect of the system that the operators understood so clearly before likely causes a large amount of anxiety for them. It’s important to allow time to talk through these benefits to understand and address the concerns of the operator. Having this discussion also gives you insight into how the operators internally conceptualize their systems. This information leaves you better armed for future work and development at this site.

You are a disruptive force to be reckoned with

The goal with any new offering is to produce a product so unique that it turns an industry on its head. This is commonly referred to as “a disruption” to the market. Operators are bombarded with a variety of tasks, related and otherwise, and rarely reach a moment of stability in their day. Now you’ve arrived and force them to relearn and reimagine their entire routine. (I like to think I could stomach this kind of thing, but I’m the type who feels out of sorts when I don’t get a hold of “my” coffee mug in the morning.) To see yourself as anything other than a nuisance for these operators at the outset is highly wishful thinking. The goal is to illustrate where you are making their work easier and ensure that message gets out in the quickest, clearest way.

Speak their language

An equally critical aspect of implementing change is to understand how the group of operators communicate about their system. This is a job for the passive observer. Do they turn to the Engineering As-Builts, or to a work order template, or the BAS floor layout? Whichever they gravitate to is the format that you should try and imitate in any documentation, training or reporting you present to them. Equate what your system is/does in these terms. Eventually, you want your system to become the new standard, and this is the bridge that will allow that to happen.

You are “the Other”

Some of the best coaching I’ve received on this topic comes from my wife. Who better to understand where I struggle in these situations than the person who routinely hides my coffee mug to show me that all is not ruined by a small, inconsequential detail going astray. She also happens to have a degree in anthropology, which is likely more relevant to this topic than my idiosyncrasies. She introduced me to the concept of “the Other.” Essentially, groups and societies function on the principal that we are all united under matching beliefs, customs, rituals, etc.  Those who challenge these aspects are “the Others,” and can quickly be idolized or demonized. (I’m certain you don’t need me to list historical instances where this may have been the case.) When integrating yourself and your product into an established team, it’s important to keep this in mind. In this situation you are “the Other” and will be heavily scrutinized. The solution for this is absolute transparency. Your statements must be clear, understood and, most importantly, accurate. It’s a slow climb, but if you do what you say and say what you do, you stand a good chance of being accepted into the team.

Guy Porlier is a systems integration specialist at New Brunswick, Canada-based SHIFT Energy. He has a bachelor of applied science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is also a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) with the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE).

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