Skip to main content

UC Irvine: Empowering Managers to Help Teams Find Deep Energy Savings

By design, there are no policies around A&BS surveys and interaction agreements. A&BS administers the survey as a matter of good business practice, but believes policies around these practices can in fact inhibit the innovative results they are looking for.

Surveys are only administered to A&BS groups with at least three staff, and only to full-time employees who have worked in A&BS for over 12 months to ensure that teams have the resources to participate in voluntary feedback programs.

Surveys are typically administered to approximately 600 individuals each year. AB&S staff are not required to complete the survey. However, A&BS offices that have a staff response rate of 80% or greater receive a box of chocolate, which has proven to be a significant incentive. 

Although not a requirement, A&BS strives for overall survey ratings of at least 3 out of 4 for all managers, and an average of 3.3 out of 4 across all managers.

Excellence by the Numbers

A&BS administers an annual survey polling staff on the management and leadership behaviors of their supervisors as well as workplace respect and teamwork behaviors within work groups.  In the two decades they’ve conducted the survey, A&BS has analyzed results to determine the impact of manager actions on teams’ effectiveness. This analysis uncovered a waterfall of outcomes linking strong managers to exceptional outcomes from teams across A&BS – from low on-the-job injury rates, to construction projects that are on time and on budget to early achievement of campus energy-reduction goals.

Through extensive analysis of survey results, A&BS has determined that 6 leadership qualities and 19 effective management behaviors correlate most strongly with high workplace respect, which in turn correlates with high workplace cooperation and with workplace effectiveness measures. Based on this empirically validated performance model, A&BS believes that good managers who are also good leaders mean good outcomes for UCI. A&BS has developed a detailed white paper outlining the logic and statistics supporting this claim.

Performance Improvement Model

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1030","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"float: left;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"446"}}]]

The effective management behaviors and leadership qualities were culled from more than 160 managerial attributes that management writers, consultants, and speakers asserted affect positive organizational performance. On close examination, UCI understood that few management behavioral models were comprehensive and fewer still were empirically validated. Advised by behavioral scientists and statisticians at the campus and elsewhere, A&BS constructed a validated performance model that narrowed the list of attributes to about 30 that actually contributed significantly to causation of desired teamwork. These effectiveness measures are used by UCI and are a normative subset derived from Baldrige principles.





The 19 effective management behaviors most strongly correlated with workplace and supervisory effectiveness are:

Values New Ideas

My supervisor:

  • rewards initiative;
  • will try new, potentially better methods;
  • treats new ideas with respect.

Values Others’ Views

My supervisor:

  • involves subordinates in important decisions;
  • takes time to listen and understand;
  • provides feedback when subordinates share ideas.

Appreciates Differences Among People

My supervisor:

  • recognizes that individuals’ needs and abilities differ;
  • values the experiences and perspectives of people from diverse backgrounds.


 Takes Action to Solve Problems and Conflicts

My supervisor:

  • takes steps to improve bad relationships;
  • takes action to resolve interpersonal conflicts;
  • finds win/win solutions;
  • learns from his/her mistakes;
  • sorts essential from unimportant information.

Communicates Expectations

My supervisor:

  • communicates what he/she expects to be accomplished;
  • provides understandable performance measurement data.


My supervisor:

  • maintains consistency between words and actions;
  • acts in ways that build respect in him/her;
  • models the behavior he/she expects from others;
  • recruits and promotes fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age.


[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1031","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"363","style":"float: right;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"308"}}]]The following six leadership qualities evidenced a very high correlation with the effective management behaviors (suggesting that strong managers are also perceived as strong leaders):

My supervisor:

  • Appears self-confident;
  • Remains confident despite setbacks;
  • Talks optimistically about the future;
  • Conveys a strong commitment to goals;
  • Communicates an inspiring vision for change;
  • Presents convincingly when speaking to a group.

Fortifying Managers

A&BS compiles results of the online survey and provides a report to each manager in the division (see sample report). The report notes how managers were scored by their subordinates for each survey question. It also notes the manager’s historical ratings and the average rating across all managers for each question.  In most cases, simply showing managers where they rate on various measures is enough information to help them focus on skills associated with lower ratings and see improvement the following year.

Survey results are not difficult to understand in terms of either desired or deficient management behaviors. Generally, any indicators that drop more than .2 points from the previous year could signal a problem. Most supervisors can readily understand, learn, and change behaviors if they are motivated. Occasionally, a manager will be quietly assigned an informal “coach” or mentor with high survey scores. On rare occasions when a manager does not trust the survey results, A&BS invests in a 360 evaluation, which almost always reveals behavioral issues consistent with the performance model. Throughout the administration of the survey and discussion of the model and how to interpret and use the results, the emphasis is on learning and improvement rather than appraisal and criticism. Survey results are not connected to annual performance reviews. 

Creating a Culture of Excellence

A&BS also believes that the organization must be intentional about creating a workplace culture of excellence. For some teams within A&BS, the writing about workplace culture at is literally on the wall. Interaction Agreements that define expectations for workplace interactions involving employees in Facilities Management and Environmental Health & Safety are posted for all to see. The agreements define expected and discouraged behaviors in areas including conflict management, internal communication, and decision-making (.e.g., “We share successes with each other. If a department or supervisor has a success on a process or project, he/she openly and willingly shares the information with other departments and managers.”). These expectations may seem like second nature, but Marc Gomez, UCI’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management and Environmental Health & Safety believes that publicly posting the agreements serves as a daily positive reminder of the culture of workplace respect they strive to achieve.  Specific points in the Interaction Agreements are revisited in the group’s regular newsletters. The agreements are always posted in a visible area where staff will see them frequently.

Collaboration goes beyond working together across organizational boundaries. Collaboration is about fostering an organizational culture that enables people to:

  • feel safe exposing their own ignorance,
  • seek help from others who have more experience or information,
  • not worry about getting personal blame or credit as long as the team succeeds,
  • place little emphasis on defending turf,
  • challenge other’s (including supervisors’) views about how to get the job done in an environment of mutual respect,
  • put forward new ideas that may be unconventional,
  • challenge the status quo, and
  • share the view that outstanding organizational performance requires taking risks, making mistakes, and continuous learning. 

Numerous campus entities play a role in the school’s energy management achievements, including:  

  • Design and Construction Services
  • Facilities Management
  • Environmental Health and Safety
  • Transportation Services
  • Purchasing and Risk Services
  • Environmental Planning and Sustainability, and
  • Research centers focused on energy management

Excellence in Action

The A&BS division at UCI cites a number of examples where strong management and norm-setting fostered the kind of creative thinking and collaboration required to exceed expectations in energy-related tasks.

Smart Labs

UCI has had tremendous success in safely reducing energy use in its laboratory spaces. Wendell Brase sees this success as a direct result of a collaborative respectful workplace where team members are encouraged to ask questions and challenge the status quo. The Energy Team within A&BS first addressed the challenge of reducing energy use related to lab ventilation by creating pilot projects for lab building systems improvements that might be exploited. UCI then tested the results on a new building, applying the design-build competition process to outperform California’s Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards. When UCI first realized its goal of a 50% energy savings in a new building, the Energy Team tackled the challenge of retrofitting essentially the same technical solutions in existing buildings ranging from 1-48 years old. Facilities engineers, the energy manager, the campus fire marshal, safety and health experts, and other campus representatives met regularly for over a year to discuss what they wanted to achieve from lab ventilation and how to operationalize that goal. “Early on there wasn’t a lot of structure, but it developed over time,” says Gomez.  Team rules were simple: be respectful; keep an open mind; don’t be critical. Team members gathered regularly, kept action items and tracked follow-up. This long-term creative thinking exercise has a calculated energy savings averaging 60% in more than 13 research facilities on campus.

Outdoor Lighting

Transportation Services and Facilities Management were not sanguine with the typical 50-60% energy savings seen in parking structure and lot lighting retrofits, so the teams dug into the details and tweaked the solutions such that energy savings are nearing 80% over metal halide and high-pressure sodium predecessors. Next the team pursued energy reductions from efficient street lighting.  Transportation Services partnered with Facilities Management, and the California Technology Lighting Center to brainstorm ways to dramatically cut street light energy use while maintaining campus safety. The result was a pilot Intelligent Adaptive Street Lighting project. Street lights are fit with motion sensors and illuminate only when pedestrians, bicyclists or vehicles approach. Preliminary results suggest that if implemented across campus, UCI could reduce energy used for street lighting by 75% over the originally installed high-pressure sodium lamps. 

Leading in LEED

University of California policy dictates that Design & Construction Services is to achieve LEED Silver or better for new construction. UCI has taken that a step further, requiring LEED Gold or better. Even so, Design & Construction Services managers challenge the design teams to implement innovative design solutions to meet LEED Platinum certification, including finding new ways to save energy in designs and committing to strategies with longer paybacks. These high standards have resulted in UCI delivering zero LEED Silver, 8 LEED Gold, and 13 LEED Platinum projects since the UC policy was established.

The model has been shared extensively in the education community through conference presentations and journal articles. 

The key effectiveness measure for UCI’s Energy Team is the percent reduction in campus energy use since 2008. The campus also tracks greenhouse gas emissions from a 2007baseline with the goal of reducing emissions enough to offset campus growth and working toward the UC system-wide goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2025. 

UC Irvine exceeded its 20% campus-wide energy reduction goal in 2014 -- 7 years early -- and is on track to meet a 40% reduction goal by 2020.

The Sustainable Performance Improvement Model has a long history of success at UC Irvine, and of recognition from peer organizations. The National Association for College and University Business Officers awarded UCI’s Sustainable Performance Improvement Model first place in NACUBO’s 1996 Higher Education Awards Program. The campus also received the USA TODAY Quality Cup Award in 1998.

In addition, A&BS has attained exemplary results in such areas as on-time/on-budget delivery of LEED Gold and Platinum construction projects, low campus-wide accident and injury rates, low incidence of grievances and labor disputes that escalate to hearings, and numerous environmental awards including the state of California’s highest environmental award, the Governor's Environmental & Economic Leadership Award, in 2008 and again in 2013; the 2014 Climate Leadership Award for Organizational Leadership from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Association of Climate Change Officers, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and The Climate Registry; APPA's 2012 inaugural award for Sustainability in Facilities Management; and a 2011 Second Nature Climate Leadership Award. The Sierra Club has ranked UCI among the nation’s top 10 greenest campuses for five consecutive years.