A seat at the table – enhancing the role of facility managers
On the face of it, it’s a simple enough question. How can facility managers leverage their operational excellence into making a strategic impact within their organisations? But recognition of the value of FMs from within their companies or from the wider industry still isn’t at a level that can see their career paths and prospects take that next step – potentially all the way to the C-suite.
Recently a third tranche of the ‘Raising the Bar’ research, a collaboration between the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, IFMA (International Facility Management Association) and Occupiers’ Journal, identified a number of challenges facing FMs and the profession.
Melbourne-based FM consultant Martin Leitch, a contributor to all three of the reports to date, says the hope
is that through building recognition among business leaders for the role FM currently plays – and could play with a greater strategic remit – will result in enhanced visibility for the profession and a clearer and stronger career path.
‘Raising the Bar’ has the goal of ‘scrutinising the complicated label of facility management and how its perceived focus on the built environment detracts from its strategic impact on both workforce and workplace’. Leitch says that doesn’t equate to redefining the role of the FM, but rather working towards broadening the remit, upgrading its status and, potentially, attracting new recruits.
“We’re not saying the role of the FM needs redefining,” Leitch says. “What we need to define is how business in the future is going to maximise the value of their facilities and support their strategic business objectives.”
‘Raising the Bar’ has split FM into its operational side, which makes the buildings work as well as workplace management. The crux for current facility managers is gaining the recognition for operational matters that would see them considered for workplace management roles. “Facilities professionals have traditionally been operational and tactical; workplace managers are tactical and strategic – there’s clearly a path for FMs to travel to further their careers and play a more strategic role within their organisations.
“The two are not mutually exclusive; it’s a shift from operational to strategic, from technical to managerial. That’s not to say workplace professionals all need to come from a facilities background to create an effective environment, but we are looking at what needs to be done from the FM side so that their work can be seen in a strategic context.”
The emerging workplace management role has been more aligned with C-suite thinking and function. “That role should be at the same level in an organisation with other senior executives,” Leitch says.
FM consultant and FM magazine contributor Graham Constable says the report is required reading for the profession. “It’s unique in its focus and objectives if one accepts the premise that FM is largely, or should be, a business-enabling profession requiring business recognition, business skilled people and business-oriented focus,” he says.
“It will motivate discussion around the past, present and future challenges, corresponding solutions and the future direction of the industry and profession. Lastly, and by no means least, it will impact both the pipeline for and the futures of people who choose to work in FM.”
Donald MacDonald, who runs an eponymous consultancy specialising in strategic FM and asset management, agrees. “As a facilities management consultant, it is essential to be able to provide research-based advice to your clients,” he says. “I have on more than one occasion issued along with my strategic FM review report a copy of ‘Raising the Bar’ to support my advice and give my client a better understanding of the strategic context.”
More qualifications? More outsourcing?
One of the issues that arose from the first ‘Raising the Bar’ report in 2012 was senior FM professionals still being mired in operational issues, leaving them no capacity to address more strategic work. An action from that was to outsource a number of operational services.
The report clearly identifies that heads of facilities, and senior FMs, need to reduce the time they spend on day-to-day operations; rather, they need time to become more strategic and gain that focus. For any head of department to spend 50 percent or more of their time on operations is excessive.
“For senior practitioners to move to that strategic step, it will require a change in recruitment and a shifting of resources, along with the right educational and training pathways,” Leitch says. “If we’re going to free up people to fulfil a more strategic role, we need to have clear alignment between training and career.”
While the British Institute for Facilities Management (BIFM) has a range of educational programs, including a recognised tertiary qualification, similar offerings in Australia are a little thin on the ground.
“BIFM’s reach goes from school level up to postgraduate,” Leitch says. “It’s a model I’d love to see rolled out in Australia and anyone who knows me is aware I’ve been banging on about this since I arrived in Australia 13 years ago. It represents a great alignment between educational streams, career pathways and industry body accreditation.”
The report identified a continuing push for more outsourcing of FM activities.
“This pressure brings with it a potential divide between the strategic (in-house) function and tactical delivery,” it says. “In this scenario, tactical and operational delivery, managed by a service provider, can become a commodity proposition, while the in-house function becomes one of relationship management, interfacing with the business, and participating in strategy formulation and implementation.
“Global outsourcing is seen by many FM leaders as a growing market, with more and more organisations integrating systems and processes horizontally, while managing vertically. This is the theory that may not always be achieved if the focus is just ‘cost reduction’.”
The report says ensuring operational excellence by delegating it to specialists and holding them accountable through formal contract would free up the FM leadership team to concentrate on strategic opportunities and to participate in strategic conversations with the C-suite and other functional leaders, helping to break down internal silos.
Cost centres and budgets
A heightened strategic role and greater input into decision- making will have an impact on budgets.
The report states: “The dominant cost focus on FM works to preclude exploration of value-adding initiatives in a strategic, long-term planning perspective. Delivering cost savings or simply doing ‘more with less’ is all too often what makes FM relevant – and that is seen as a block on FM from having a more strategic role in their organisation or those of their clients.”
Leitch says having a greater role in strategic planning would help to break down those barriers. “The knowledge level of FMs is not being utilised by the wider business. If it’s not being recognised, then FM professionals have to be the change. They need to be a lot more assertive in communicating the value that they bring to the organisation.”
MacDonald believes ‘assertive’ is the wrong word. “Eloquent and articulate are better words. FM needs to realise that it deals with all the distractions that core business is not interested in. In dealing with them it needs to be able to communicate its successes in a manner that resonates with core business.
“Asserting them is not enough; they need to be communicated effectively and that means by using the language of the core business and aligning its successes to the KPIs by which core business is measured.”
Constable believes that being assertive is one of a raft of behaviours to be adopted by an engaged FM professional.
“If the FM individual has the collective business skills and understanding that, say, a successful commercial and/
or operations director possesses, then the FM professional can speak the same language, can understand, plan for and effectively address the business challenges and risks being faced on a daily basis by these business executives and leaders.
“The FM professional becomes by definition an extension to the executive’s team able to harness his/her own and team’s abilities to mould durable and effective solutions to business challenges.
“But FMs also need to demonstrate how they’ve had an impact on things that are important to the C-suite, both strategically and operationally. Review and tailor your performance measures in a way that consistently shows
the impact you have. At the same time you need to know, understand and map the C-suite business priorities as well as link your activities to their goals.”
Investing in FMs – chicken and egg?
While the number of workers who identify as facility managers continues to grow in Australia, is the groundswell big enough to implement the right education and training pathways to develop the workplace leaders of the future?
Relative to the US and UK, FMs remain a relatively small community. Leitch wonders if there is enough critical mass to support advanced qualifications.
“Perhaps we could have a more risk-averse approach to training and education. It’s hard to get organisations to invest in training and I’m not certain we’ve got the right offering in terms of training in Australia. We need to identify the driver that will make organisations see value in spending money on developing their FM professionals.”
A further stumbling block in Australia is the lack of mandatory continuing professional development. “I’m not sure we’ll see much change until CPD becomes mandatory to maintain the quality of FM professionals in this country,” Leitch says.
Again, it goes back to promoting the value of FM. “Unless a contracting employer insists that FMs are qualified, we’re in a bind. The end user will need to demand it, or a service provider will not offer it and professional bodies won’t have the impetus to deliver it.
“It would be a great thing to have a system in place so that organisations can gauge the quality of the FM they’re getting, as well as the confidence that they will receive a better and more cost-effective service that will save them money in the long run.
“I believe there is an appetite out there for training, but we need budgets and a commitment by organisations to greater development to achieve that.”
Constable says the profession needs to look at the ‘whole idea of learning’. “If you believe that professional development is something that is ‘done’ to someone; i.e. being sent on a training course, then there’s probably never enough opportunity in the mind of the recipient.
“But if you view professional development as the result of a desire and motivation to improve, the integration of learned lessons and experience, seeking and having the opportunity to work with exceptional role models in environments that challenge you personally and professionally, gaining (and probably paying for) additional qualifications from formal training/education and then working hard to master the unknown, then there is more than enough professional development opportunity for facility managers in Australia,” says Leitch.
Career paths – are FMs pigeonholed?
FM consultant Graham Constable says while he understands the reasoning in the report behind the career paths of ‘facility professional’ and ‘workplace professional’, he doesn’t necessarily agree with the terminology.
“When the focus on sustainability and green buildings began a few years ago, one could argue that the profession could have been split similarly with ‘sustainable professionals’ preceding the workplace focus.
“The point I’m making here is there is a risk this recommendation could fragment and distract people’s minds from the overall focus of the professions, which has always – since I can remember – been about enabling business endeavour. I think splitting along the lines the report suggests could further pigeonhole the profession and may create a pathway that can’t foresee or plan for the next business disruptive influence.
“The report rightly highlights that the profession faces an exciting opportunity to ‘play a significant role in contributing to organisational effectiveness and business success’. Some enlightened FM practitioners and teams have been doing this since the early 90s and this has been encouraged by some enlightened client organisations.
“But if you look at the origins of the development of workplace strategy and design, this expertise was unwittingly outsourced by the professions years ago to savvy architects, particularly in Australia. The FM profession and those
on its periphery dabbled with physically colouring in and measuring hard copy architectural designs to measure costs of space, but the architects saw a business opportunity in developing their CAD skills. That business has grown hugely and the FM practitioner has been sidelined.
“I think career paths need to be focused on gaining as much expertise on and exposure to all the business disciplines a commercial and/or an operational executive is expected to possess – strategy, finance, HR, marketing, technology and leadership.”
Donald MacDonald has a different take. “The FM career path is wholly aligned with the success of the industry as a whole,” he says. “Facilities management adds value by removing the distractions of non-core business from the host organisation, freeing it to concentrate on its core. The more effectively and efficiently and elegantly facilities management does this, the greater will be the confidence of the host organisation to pass more and more to the facilities manager to deal with.
“Facilities management is still finding its feet with regards to accredited courses; however, the scope and extent of the role is in the FM’s own hands. The only FMs that need to be pigeonholed are the ones that allow it to happen by not challenging the status quo and seeking out new opportunities to add value to the organisation that employs them.”
This article also appears in the June/July issue of Facility Management magazine.