State of the operation: FM in 2015

With ThinkFM – BIFM’s annual soiree – almost upon us, here is a personal reflection upon the state of Facilities Management (FM) in the UK (and quite probably beyond), with a focus on the journey to come. I’ve been in – or associated with – this profession in varying guises since 1992, a year before BIFM was founded. Despite many of the strides it has made in this time, it has also shown itself capable of drift, and frequently displayed a lack of confidence. This post is positively framed, and sewn through it is an affection for a profession that has been extremely good to me. It’s now time to harness the talent within.

FM is still searching beyond its walls for a broader validation. Most recently manifested through a dialogue with the CIPD in a bid to shift the emphasis of the profession from asset to people, it has simultaneously required a claim to ground in the amorphous area of “workplace”. Unfortunately the FM sector believes it has far more to gain in credibility from the conversation than HR, a profession tangled in its own perpetual identity/value crisis and “seat at the table” obsession, and therefore dominated the recent 12-week online “workplace conversation”. FM still has a lot of work to do with HR to convince it of the value of a closer relationship – which is why it has chosen the workplace as the most likely “hook”. The accompanying problem for FM in this regard is that it doesn’t speak for workplace which I have argued is a discipline in its own right. If it wants to claim to do so, which is difficult in itself to fathom, it needs to legitimise the claim through understanding and articulating what it means and why it’s important to FM, and bringing together the right people to develop the proposition. On this basis it also needs to convince those in what one may call “workplace” roles that FM has any relevance – property, design, psychology, project management and communications amongst others. Not just the tired “HR and IT” call.

FM needs to evaluate what it wants from this venture into the world outside itself – the basis on which it holds a dialogue with the CIPD, and the areas it wishes to represent in holding such a dialogue.

FM (done well) brings incredible value to organisations. Perhaps with more self-belief in the contribution at all levels that FM can make, it can be confident enough to propose an external dialogue in which it can generously gift its knowledge and experience, rather than seek validation. This begins with understanding that being operational is not a negative. It doesn’t place FM “below” other professions in importance. Not everyone can be tactical, even fewer can be strategic within large organisations. A seat at the table is not necessary to make a significant contribution. Without effective operational service delivery, flexibility and resilience, organisations cannot function effectively, and some not at all.

FM needs to understand, harness and be visibly proud of the power and value of “operational”.

On this basis, FM is still searching for service excellence, after twenty five years of it being important. Back then we used to talk about the day when hotels and airlines would call practising FM’s or FM providers and ask them how it was done, when FM would be the gold standard. We’re still talking about it. The best hotels and airlines (amongst others) understand that the physical asset is the window on the service experience, the enabler, but not the end in itself. They also see the service experience as a weaving of so many vital threads, rather than a modular construction. FM departments and most of the FM industry remain organised along service lines, rather than on the consumer experience. This is the transition that FM still needs to make.

FM needs to see service excellence as its asset.

This brings us to the commercial reality. While FM may claim to have woken up to the realisation that it’s “all about people”, the commercial model of FM remains all about the asset. In the occupier sector (where we still “occupy” assets), FM still maintains, cleans, secures, landscapes and caters within buildings. While the end product contributes to conditions that enable wellbeing and productivity, services are specified and priced against the asset (with catering being the partial exception). In the institutional sector, it’s entirely and completely about the asset. One only has to look at a typical RFP for services, and the response, for evidence.

FM needs to understand that a people-focussed perspective needs a people-focussed commerciality – and start to think of how it will transform itself accordingly.

Where and how is the cerebral power of those in the industry being deployed to solve the above? It’s unfortunately still the case that FM needs more intellectual rigour. That means more – and more focussed – practical, creative, demystifying thinking, backed with credible data. It needs those interested in pursuing this to be persuaded into a community for the purpose. And it needs to be done for the good of the profession, not personal gain, profile or a consulting appointment – the industry has been at the behest of opportunists in the past, whereas now it’s time for those willing to do so to give something back.

FM needs to gather its thinkers, and appeal to their desire to improve the industry that gave them their careers.

All the while, the attraction of a career in FM is still undersold. While this requires more gusto in itself, the resolution of some of the above would help.  Yet the beauty and wonder of FM is that it is open to all – those with the passion and commitment to make a difference, and common sense to apply themselves to a profession that is always deeply in need of more of it. That means people of all ages, not just those leaving formal education. Invariably those with experience in a different field – usually as a consumer of FM services, and occupant of its assets – make fantastic practitioners, and don’t need to start at the bottom of the (footed) ladder.

FM needs to make a concerted appeal for new talent to people of all ages – which means it needs to understand itself to enable it to do so.

There is much to do – but it’s all within reach.


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