Workplace culture: In and out

by Marie-Claire Ross
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Facilities management may be a behind-the-scenes industry, but both customer and employee satisfaction are vital to its success. MARIE-CLAIRE ROSS looks at why trust is important for FMs, their teams and their customers.

Trust is a foundational element of all high-performance cultures. According to 20 years of research by Great Places to Work, workplaces that score high on trust also finish first in profitability, revenue growth and stock performance.

But not all high trust companies are equal. The more consistent and inclusive an organisation is on key factors related to trust, and the more diverse its demographics, the more likely it is to outperform peers in revenue growth. Organisations that rate in the top quartile for trust enjoy three times the growth of companies in the bottom quartile.

Creating a high trust culture boils down to every employee knowing they can rely on every person around them. It means everyone is committed to performing at a high level and helping their peers achieve as well. People are more willing to experiment, share information and talk openly about issues.

Employees who don’t trust those around them close down. In a low trust environment, the safest choice is to find excuses and rein in effort and commitment. It means employees won’t contribute in meetings, raise issues or try anything new. It stops innovation and team cohesion, and increases the likelihood of psychological illness claims.

One of the reasons for differences in employee experiences with trust across an organisation is because of naturally forming silos. Cohesive teams tend to form an in-group bias, which makes them unintentionally exclude other departments. Even in healthy cultures employees may want to cooperate, but they can’t seem to, despite themselves. Their team’s goals and priorities always get in the way. It means they often break their promises – missing deadlines, going over budget, failing to adhere to specifications or customer expectations.

According to a study in Harvard Business Review, managers say they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of insufficient support from other units than because of their own teams’ failure to deliver.

At its most basic form, trust is a promise that an organisation’s people will deliver on time, to the right level of quality and on budget without hurting the environment, company brand or other people.

The good news is that facilities management professionals can show other departments how it’s done. After years of managing shared services from IT, HR, procurement and finance, facilities leaders know how to integrate different stakeholder requirements.

But there is one important factor that facilities management leaders need to focus on to unite and align different teams.

In my work helping leaders build trust in their organisations, the companies that build trust most efficiently are the ones where leadership empowers employees to provide the best customer experience. Everyone, including those in support functions who don’t deal with customers, is focused on delivering on the customer brand promise.

This provides a sense of purpose that unites colleagues in an organisation.

As a facilities leader, how do you focus on the end customer and help the frontline deliver? The customer must be at the heart of everything you do – even when you don’t deal with them.

For your team to be reliable and deliver the best service to other teams, it’s important to ensure your team members are focused on the customer brand experience. This ensures you will deliver the best service to internal customers and be in alignment with their requirements.

Here are four steps to enhance how your facilities management team delivers.


As part of on-boarding new members to your team, ensure they spend time learning about the basic levers of how the business operates. For example, the demographics and psychographics about your customer, your brand promise, who your competitors are and the overall organisational strategy. Where possible, have employees spend time with customers asking questions or observing how they make choices.

Say your organisation has a customer service phone line – have team members spend time on the phone, helping customers through their issues.

Ultimately, organisations have to solve customer problems to stay in business. The reality is you can’t make good decisions if you are siloed.

In addition, encourage team members to spend time with internal customers. The goal is for your team to get to know how other groups think and behave and why. For example, have your team members:

  • do work experience in a different department for a week
  • understand the goals, language and priorities of other teams and how their work benefits the end user
  • present back to your team what they have learned from their immersive work experience
  • do a show and tell of the role of facilities management to other units, and/or
  • write a letter to the FM team as to how they will create customer value through connecting the external customer experience to other internal customers.


“Of all the things I have done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them towards a certain goal.” – Walt Disney

It is one thing to teach employees about the strategy and how the company improves customer lives, but it’s another thing to empower people to make customer-friendly decisions that protect the business’ long- term health. This requires continual teaching, coaching and discussion of how to apply the right decisions.

In the book, Judgement on the Front Line by Chris DeRose and Noel M Tichy, the authors write that a common problem-solving framework engenders trust and enables those at senior and mid levels to act as coaches instead of dictating answers.

For example, the Ritz-Carlton uses a five-step decision-making framework to teach employees how to make the right decisions for customers. Every day, at 9am at every hotel around the globe, a leader facilitates a 15-minute line-up meeting to continually embed and coach employees on how to solve a customer or service challenge. Housekeepers right through to floor managers convene to review guest experiences, resolve issues and identify ways to improve service.

Speed up learning and improve autonomy by creating a framework that employees can use to make individual decisions without having it answered by the hierarchy. These problem identification and correction frameworks can be created for a variety of situations, from handling an internal customer enquiry right through to increasing innovation.

People thrive in their jobs when they have autonomy and the power to control their work environment. It also sends the message that leaders trust employees to do the right thing, which is one of the most important building blocks of trust. Without autonomy, employees feel devalued and suffer poor mental health.

What decision-making framework can you develop with your team members so they can make the best customer judgement calls?


The most critical function in supporting your team is often the most difficult. It involves providing your team members with regular feedback and, in turn, they provide feedback on their progress, bottlenecks and even challenge your ideas. Leaders need to focus on faster feedback loops to accelerate progress towards goals. In team meetings, encourage colleagues to regularly trade ideas on how things are going and what can be improved.

Making feedback a daily occurrence emboldens people to challenge, share and learn. It requires leaders who have the emotional fortitude to admit they don’t have all the answers to tolerate a diversity of viewpoints and ask tough, incisive questions. This requires leaders who see everyone as equal, rather than old-style leaders who look down on those they consider beneath their rank.

But it also means having open, transparent and honest conversations and being willing to talk about the difficult stuff. Otherwise, how do you work through problems or resolve conflicts if no one wants to talk about them?


In today’s fast-paced business world, the more trust you have across your organisation the faster you can operate. Eliminating differences in employees’ experiences across the organisation and bringing out the best in everybody from the factory floor to the corner office is every leader’s responsibility.

As a facilities leader, improving trust within your own team will improve how other internal teams feel about facilities management. This requires clearly understanding and being in alignment with the optimal customer experience the frontline needs to deliver, so you can reverse engineer the right systems and solutions that support the customer brand promise.

Ultimately, your organisation is in business because it serves a customer need. It may feel that all facilities management does is organise workspaces and services, but for your team to find meaning in their work and for facilities management to be highly regarded internally, then truly understanding the customer is critical. ●

Marie-Claire Ross is the chief corporate catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author and consultant focused
on helping leaders put the right processes in place to empower employees to speak up about issues, challenge each other and share information. If you want to find out more about building trust, download the free insights paper ‘Building Trust – How High-Trust Companies Deliver Faster Results, Increase Profitability and Loyalty’ at

This article also appears in the August/September 2018 issue of Facility Management magazine.

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