Connections: Reflecting on the rise of specialists
In his latest instalment to the ‘Connections’ series, GRAHAM CONSTABLE puts forth the need for FM practitioners to demonstrate entrepreneurial flair on the agenda.
Marcus and Harry walked through the exhibition hall, searching for the café. The day had been intense, with attendance at a number of enlightening discussions and presentations.
They’d listened to expert panels commenting on everything from the latest in sustainability to planning, workplace strategies, empowerment, corporate productivity and agility, creativity and innovation in the workforce, smart buildings and IoT (Internet of Things) and customer/employee experience, and they needed a rest; it was an almost overwhelming plethora. Finding a quiet corner, they settled in and ordered hot drinks.
“I do wish these conferences would make a decent hot chocolate – something dark. This sugary powder, I mean no offence to the makers but…”
“Well, my cappuccino is just fine!”
“A happy customer then?”
Harry chuckled. “You realise it’s been a year since I met you at this very same conference?”
Marcus raised his mug. “Here’s to providence, Harry!” After a sip: “I’ll order a Coke next time.”
“So, which session did you learn from the most?” Harry asked.
“I learned from all of them; there are some good ideas here. Excellent thinking and many practical approaches to some key issues in our business. Much for my diary!”
Harry nodded. “I liked the session on wellness.”
Marcus nodded. “Me too. Tell me, did you notice something in common about all these sessions, in particular that one?”
Harry revealed his observations on the levels of knowledge of the session panel members.
“Agreed – not hard to miss.” Marcus pressed Harry further. “But cast your mind back over the year to everything we’ve worked together on. What’s hit you between the eyes today? ”
Harry smiled. “Not one of them is a facilities practitioner! ”
“Precisely! Each and every one of them is a specialist. There are workplace strategists, psychologists, project managers, communicators, change managers. There was even a neuroscientist!”
Marcus sat back.
“I wager most of them would, seriously, be underwhelmed by the stock narrative used for sourcing facilities managers these days.”
Harry looked pensive.
Marcus continued. “I mean, who wouldn’t be? The job spec would hardly draw them in.”
“Thanks Marcus for your vote of confidence.”
“Sorry Harry, I know I’m on a soapbox. And yet all these specialists see opportunities in our industry. In the very environments, we are supposed to be mastering. You know, creating conditions for business endeavour! Trying to convince executives of our professionalism and business acumen? Etc, etc.”
“You think the industry is outsourcing again, don’t you? ”
“I do.” Marcus paused. “People will disagree – fair enough. And competition is a good thing, but the FM industry is not even competing. We’re the ones that should be disrupting or at least prevailing.”
They both people watched for a while.
Harry asked, “Marcus, I saw you having what looked like an animated conversation over in the ‘Innovation Corridor’. Care to tell?”
Marcus nodded. “Mmm. I met this inventor a few weeks ago. His idea is truly exceptional and his product has enormous potential. So
I put his business manager in touch with a venture capitalist I know. Anyway, he’s here, exhibiting, looking for interest.”
“It all went very quiet until today. I happened to see his stall and enquired on the progress. His commercial manager told me: ‘They’re a bit out of our league.’ I asked him, ‘What league do you want to be in?’ It didn’t go down well.”
“What’s their product?”
“Go take a look – you’ll be astonished.” Marcus looked at his event program. “Pity really, an amazing opportunity.”
“Why don’t you invest in them?”
“I have!” Marcus smiled. “Like I have in FM all these years.”
Harry nodded. “What league do we FM-ers want to be in, I guess?”
“Yep. You got it, Harry.”
“So, are you into venture capitalism as well then? ”
“I’ve been helping a start-up for some time – very interesting project.”
“Nope. Although the experience has opened my eyes up to some related opportunities.”
Harry eyed his coach.
Marcus continued on his FM tack. “One last thing about FM. The recent ‘Raising the Bar’ report should be compulsory reading.” Marcus pushed his now cold drink aside.
“Anyway, you’ve come a long way since we first met. You should be very pleased.”
“Thanks, Harry. I’ve appreciated having you coach me.”
“How does L’Oréal say it?” He grinned. “You’re a good operator Harry and a willing learner. Tell me, where’s your focus for the future? ”
“I thought you’d ask. I really like two areas. One is commercial – I like the financial side of FM, the numbers. And the other is strategy around the workplace. It appears to be drawing the most interest at the moment and is wide-ranging in coverage.”
Marcus nodded. “Agreed and I can see why you’re interested. You’ve shone in these areas in recent months, none more so than working as your client’s eyes and ears. You’ve done well to unify what could have been a troublesome group.”
“Thanks, Marcus. I focused on their strengths – I get it; it’s almost like a second skin!”
“I know what you mean.” Marcus paused. “And Harry will you continue working as an employee or are you going to grab the entrepreneurial seizure you had a few weeks back? Remember?”
Harry laughed. “I do. I bought the Entrepreneurial Myth book by the way. Very interesting. I like the idea of branching out on my own, but I need to build up my networks some more, methinks.”
Marcus nodded. “It’s certainly easier while you’re earning. Every person you meet is a potential ally.”
“Any tips, Marcus?”
“Sure. Networking is as much about giving as it is receiving, if not more in the long run. I remember picking up some work from a client who was a third-level referral. I tracked the chain and found I had made my original contact nine months beforehand. All I did was offer some free tips on one of his issues at work. Oh, and once you’ve done the work try to get a referral or at least a reference.”
“Another thing, remember to always demonstrate you are adding value to those things that are important to your clients. Show them you understand and are living the very reasons why they selected you in the first place. Then deliver an exceptional piece of work, but don’t lose money over it. They won’t be impressed if you can’t manage your own finances!”
“How do you work for a client you become disillusioned with? ”
Marcus’ eyebrows rose. “Where did that one come from, Harry?”
“Sorry, but I’ve often wondered how to deal with that kind of situation.”
“Well, it’s a fair question for a wannabe consultant. Let me see. I certainly won’t sacrifice my personal values if I’m asked
to do something I disagree with. However, to get to the crux of your question, as a consultant you need to be sure you don’t let your mind play tricks on any of your day-to- day observations. This can lead to misguided beliefs and clouded reality. I’ve observed client behaviours and decisions in the past I could have misconstrued. I didn’t because I always tested my initial observations; this is
important before they take root and become falsely self-evident, which is a pitfall to avoid.”
“What I’m really saying is: put yourself in your clients’ shoes and try to see their points of view. I always seek out independent verification, from others. I can’t rely on inference at all.” Marcus shook his head. “And thank goodness I don’t. I would have lost some very good clients otherwise.”
“Thanks Marcus for your honesty.”
“Well, I did tell you I hate conference hot chocolate, didn’t I?”
“Another question for you.” Harry grinned. “What are you going to be doing in the next 12 months? Have you met another Harry at today’s conference?”
“One’s enough!” Marcus laughed. “Only kidding. “I am looking at something challenging, a little bit different.”
“If I did I’d have to…” Marcus groaned. “I know that’s an old joke.” He changed tack. “Let’s stay in touch and as soon as all my arrows are in the right direction you’ll be the first to know.”
“You’re killing me Marcus.”
“And I haven’t even told you!”
Harry laughed. “OK, no worries. Anyway, will you give me a reference?”
“Sure, you’ve earned it. Have I earned one from you?”
“You’ll need to see my boss Alan to answer that.”
“OK, I’ll set up a meeting?”
Harry stood and shook hands with Marcus.
“Right, I’m off to the Innovation Corridor.”
This article is part of Graham Constable’s regular column ‘Connections’, published in Facility Management magazine. You can follow Marcus and Harry’s journey in every issue of FM.