“By working as a team, you can overcome any challenge over time,” said Lesley Groff.
Groff is the Senior Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds for UGI Utilities Inc., a natural gas and electric utility serving more than 730,000 customers in 45 Pennsylvania counties and one county in Maryland. Over her 25-plus-year career, Groff also held facilities management roles at manufacturing, healthcare, and public-sector organizations, including famed chocolate maker Hershey Co. and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Groff has been a proud member of IFMA since 1997 and held various leadership positions, including a two-year term on the International Board of Directors. She is also a qualified IFMA instructor.
Groff currently supports Community College of Philadelphia on the advisory board for its FM program, as well as regularly serves as a guest speaker for the Building Technician program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
In Facilities Management Advisor‘s latest “Faces of Facilities” interview below, Groff discusses teamwork, workforce issues, and the need to invest in an industry that has become an invaluable part of her life.
How did you get your start in the field?
My degree is a BS in Interior Design and a minor in Architectural Drafting. My first position in the industry was with Highmark Inc., where I started processing claims in hopes of moving into their facilities group. The Director of Facilities, through a series of unlikely events, offered me an internal project manager role, which was a great place to learn with a great team willing to train me.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?
Honestly, that’s a tough question—there have been so many. Looking back, I’d say my largest influence has to be my colleagues in IFMA at all levels of the organization across the globe. The willingness of the staff and industry peers to provide data, connect with new contacts, and most importantly, share lessons learned with anyone who asks is the foundation for my growth. If I don’t know the answer to something, IFMA is still the first place I go to with my question.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learned from it?
Interestingly enough, my biggest mistake was responding early in my career to other people’s opinions of what they thought of me and my knowledge. I found myself trying to convince others through words that I was qualified to be in the industry. I was fighting to be taken seriously.
Simply stated, I quit responding to the negativity and what people thought they knew about me and just performed my job to the best of my ability. My work ethic, treatment of others, and knowledge of the industry spoke for itself. The team members who treated me as insignificant—because of my young age, different experience, or education path that wasn’t their own—quickly found that it was not going to deter me.
Are there any unique FM challenges at your organization compared to some other companies?
We are a fairly new team within the company. The challenges are very much the same across the FM industry. My advice for all FM organizations would be to find your champions at every level within your business. Partnership, trust, and communication are earned. By working as a team, you can overcome any challenge over time.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?
FMs get to work with everyone, touch almost every aspect of the business, and provide support to that internal network. We become the ones with our fingers on the pulse of the organization at times. Most importantly, I love the people.
What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?
The industry is facing major workforce challenges as more FMs retire, but there aren’t enough trained and skilled replacements to fill the positions. I’d like to see all FM organizations and company leaders encourage and actively mentor someone in the FM industry with a desire to grow and advance at any level.
Create paid internships with purpose, and partner with FM programs at college levels to fill these positions—especially if you are opening new buildings, going through big organizational changes, or have a large FM group that can offer various skills and naturally teach people as they progress. Set a plan, and invest. By doing so, the positions will eventually be easier to fill.
Are you noticing any major industry trends?
How organizations are using their facilities continues to change with the push for home-based employees. However, the need for facilities seems to remain. Creative FMs, as well as FMs who are capable of increased communications, are even more important to businesses now. Change management from the FM organization is more relevant as we move forward into the new flexible workforce.
Without a culture that will nurture team bonding, retain relationships as turnover continues, and give confidence in each other as employees, though, I believe many will return in some fashion to the built environment to reconnect, as the offices provided increased communications.
What are you most proud of?
After being in facilities management for the last 25+ years, I’m definitely most proud of how the industry has evolved over that time and how more women are now embracing the opportunity to run facilities.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession or looking to advance?
Blaze your path. Become the “go-to person” by adding value at each opportunity. Yes, this means more work. Yes, this might take some extra hours. Join an organization, read the trade magazines, and ask mentors for help.
My advice to all who are looking for FM positions: just apply. Apply for the jobs you want, even if you think you are not quite qualified. Organizations will train you. Job postings are for the “ideal” candidate. They think they know what they want. They might not know you are EXACTLY what they need. Just go for it, and keep trying.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It is important to find a network of people. Find one person who will tell you that you are wonderful; another who can be your confidant; one who will push you to be better and grow; and yet another who will tell you the hard truth when you need to hear it.
Early on in my career, I learned that it takes a village to raise a well-rounded facilities management professional. I’ve had many peers and mentors—too many to list. I’ve valued them all and still to this day appreciate what each person has brought not only to my career, but also to my life. They are long-term friends. My village is amazing.
Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com