Under the emotional curve: where now for BIFM?

I started my journey in property in 1992, with my first role in FM – just as the BIFM was forming. It felt like the start of something significant, a new profession, and one that I could be part of from the outset. I tried to get a speaking slot at an early conference, and got told I sounded like an “angry young man”. I took this as a compliment, as it felt like that was just what the fledgling grouping needed. Needless to say it’s not how the organisers saw it. Somehow that seems to have characterised the path of the BIFM since – always drifting a little under the emotional curve.

I’ve always wanted the BIFM to work, and still do now. Following the latest sudden departure of its leader, a short Twitter discussion on “what next for BIFM?” ensued. Dave Wilson got his excellent ten points across in a sequence of tweets – mine follow below. Each is probably its own post, which isn’t going to happen, but the points are made in the spirit of constructive debate. I come in peace.

Create a physical presence. Move the HQ to the centre of industry and politics (that’s London) and create a visible centre, where members can drop in and work, where discussion and interaction is encouraged – and when tested, create similar outlets in the regions. FM is still firmly associated with the physical asset. It need to put its own on the map, where it matters and is accessible.

Create a leadership presence. The organisation needs a vocal, restless leader, actively supported by several key roles (finance, strategy and marketing). Take a look at what Peter Cheese has achieved at CIPD, his profile, energy, willingness to cross professional boundaries to get the message across.

Create a sense of pride. FM chose the name, its internationally recognised, stick to it and develop it. FM is an operational industry but an absolutely vital one. It’s not strategic, its rarely tactical – forget wasting energy and time banging on about the dreaded seat at the table but reinforce that without FM there is no table, no room to put it in, no food at the meeting, no lights, no ventilation.

Crete a mass core. BIFM has 17,000 members yet it claims that FM employs ten per cent of the UK workforce (therefore over 3m people) and is an industry worth £111bn a year. That points to massive under representation, and an equally massive missed opportunity. BIFM must boost membership, which will bring the much-needed resources to achieve much of that pointed to here.

Create an open debate. Welcome criticism and insight from within and without, set the agenda, create a programme of interaction (to start with) of the top half a dozen issues affecting FM and how the industry can respond and contribute, keep them visible and alive, tap into the wisdom and insight of members. Publish some of these as white papers – rough and ready, like demo tapes, thought-provoking brain food. Use social media (see below) to maintain the loop.

Create a social media presence. Creating an arena and a debate requires social media skills that are sorely lacking. FM’s social presence is a procession of black tie dinners and pictures of shoes and cakes (often indistinguishable). Social media can be used to boost interest and membership as much as anything else.

Create an arena…not a prison yard. The gift economy (no, not the gig economy, you’ve been reading too much web-piffle) is a rich source of insight, information, knowledge and perspective: BIFM needs to take part. Open the IP of FM to others, take down its borders and barriers, make sure FM isn’t just talking to itself. That’s still to say that BIFM and IFMA should be a dynamic and productive partnership. The ill-fated CIPD tie-up was exactly how not to do it: go and talk to others, but out of the committee rooms and stuffed-shirt environments. Try the café. Or the pub. Informality will breed ideas and energy.

Create a work ethic. Following from the above, FM can appear (see social media, above) like a merry-go-round of rewards being bestowed by the same people on the same people. Recognition should follow effort, achievement and ideas, not replace it. Less awards, less ceremony, less cheap chardonnay, more ground-building, more future and possibility focus.

Create a working balance. BIFM needs to finally recognise and learn to live with the fact that it represents the supply and demand side of the industry – that there will be tensions, but that there can be mutual interests. Like CoreNET other bodies, occupiers tend to be in the minority, and so the organisation needs a different approach to them to bring them in and make sure they feel heard and understood. They’re the ones placing the purchase orders on which the supply side depend.

Create an image. The red-white-and-blue all feels very tub-thumpingly predictable, and possibly in the present political climate a little misplaced. Credit where it’s due, mitie’s recent re-brand was superb, softening its tone and creating a very accessible creative feel. BIFM’s brand needs modernising, humanising, opening up.

As I stated at the outset, I want BIFM to work. It can work – but only if it wants to.

One thought on “Under the emotional curve: where now for BIFM?

  1. This is an excellent and well-judged post, and neatly summarises many of the issues engulfing BIFM.

    I wholly agree that we want ‘an effective’ BIFM to work but if there can’t step up to the issues you and others have raised, then it’s better they close and cease doing further harm to the industry through their lack of credibility.

    I would also add three further points to your list;

    * There needs to be financial probity – as a membership organisation, it’s unforgivable to squander money on wholly implausible interventions that were doomed to fail (or at best, under-deliver) from the outset.

    * BIFM needs to take a fresh view of the FM industry and recognise the differentiation between the ‘bins & bogs’ brigade vs the true broader integrated suppliers. Under the ‘right’ professional body leadership, these broader suppliers can truly start to offer a ‘customer experience’ to their clients and add significant extra value.

    * Lastly, I would contend that BIFM must lead by being able to articulate a genuine long-term career path – from apprenticeships to leaderships. There currently appears to be a hotchpotch of poorly executed, unconnected initiatives that serve only to confuse those in the industry and particularly those considering a career in the profession.

    Just my tuppenth but it would be nice to hope it falls on listening ears.

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