Facilities management – earning the right to drive strategy

By on April 14, 2010 in Property & Real Estate

One of the biggest challenges facing facilities managers is their ability to demonstrate their own strategic importance. RODNEY TIMM from Property Beyond offers some tips to help facilities managers achieve the corporate recognition and involvement they deserve.

All too often, management fails to be convinced that facilities managers can provide more value than merely making sure facilities operate adequately, are serviced appropriately and cost as little as is possible. Acknowledgement that well-structured facilities strategies can provide strategic advantages to an organisation is seldom recognised.
Why are facilities managers struggling to build this credibility? Based on the evolution of the service provision, a confused perception of the industry prevails. Practitioners come from many different service offerings: janitorial and soft services; engineering and building maintenance services; accommodation transactions; workspace design, management and churn; financial budgeting and cost management; capital works project management; and many others. Skill levels tend to vary significantly across these disciplines.
In addition, facilities managers have reporting lines that vary dramatically from one organisation to another, reporting through to a range of different operational and business support functions. Unlike many other professional service offerings there are no statutory requirements for types of training and skills, despite the size of budgets controlled and the enormity of the associated risk management obligations. When facilities operate well, no one seems to be aware of the facilities management role; but when problems are experienced, facilities managers are quickly deemed to be operationally incompetent.

The facilities management brand linkage to strategy in the industry and organisations is weak, confused and misunderstood. This lack of strategic credibility is compounded by a lack of corporate knowledge illustrating the linkages of facilities initiatives to improved organisational outcomes. And without a clear brand linked to strategy, important relationship models with business unit leaders are difficult to build.
Branding is far more than a name and a logo. Branding is all about how customers think and feel about services or products being provided. Brands are formulated in the minds of customers as composites of all past experiences, encounters and perceptions. While products and services do stuff, brands satisfy needs. It is evident that branding of facilities management related to strategic decision-making has been neglected. And with the trend towards the integration of facilities with property transactions and management functions within organisations – which makes compelling sense and is difficult to argue against – the branding challenge may even be greater and more confusing.
Past experiences tend to determine the level of the facilities discussion with business unit leaders. Everyday mundane service level expectations of staff will impact the facilities management brand at the strategic level. Do not expect positive responses to strategic facilities initiatives, if the air-conditioning is not performing to reasonable service levels. Based on past performance what is the facilities management brand within your organisation? Is it based on the poorly performing air-conditioning and slow response to fix a flickering light? Or the office relocation with no communication planning, when everyone lost their offices for open plan workstations and got nothing in return? Or, is it based on the clever workplace strategy that resulted in greater productivity, individual work style choice and significant bottom line savings?
The facilities profession has been evolving: from a janitorial, order-taking and administrative function; through to a controlling order-giving function; to a two-way dialogue about needs and responses; and, more recently, in some organisations to the role of catalyst to drive change and competitive advantage. Make sure your brand is not stuck in the past.
It is not difficult to see why this situation persists. No matter what the mandate, facilities functions continue to be ‘commoditised’, with reporting requirements linked to lower levels of the business hierarchy. Often controlled by the procurement function in an organisation, facilities and support services are seen as commodities to be procured at the lowest cost levels! Few in management seem to understand that savings in costs are not the primary ‘value add’ facilities opportunities. Few in management seem to understand that gains in productivity and cost savings in the rest of the organisation through innovative facilities strategies are far more significant. This commoditisation of facilities has come about through divergent service delivery, poor branding, and lack of evidence to show that real estate can make a difference.
To be effective at the strategic level facilities managers need to have control of the business assets and budgets – but business unit leaders are reluctant to give up this control. They seldom believe that facilities managers know the business, have the capability to think strategically and will do the ‘right thing’. Even with formal strategy mandates facilities managers will soon learn that they still have to ‘earn the right’ by demonstrating improved strategic outcomes. And as business unit leaders become aware that other business units have improved their performance based on facilities initiatives, they too will expect and want the same.

The ideal facilities relationship model is focused on establishing a structured, meaningful and collaborative approach to the alignment of business and facilities strategies. This approach is pivotal in guiding facilities operatives into broader awareness and better understanding of the business language, parameters and needs. To be effective, relationships need to be both formal and informal, linking into all levels across the business units. The relationship should not be based on either an ‘order taker’ or ‘order giver’ mentality. Facilities management should not be perceived as ‘policing’ the use of the company’s asset base, nor should it be seen as passive support waiting for facilities requisitions.
To move to the role of business catalyst, facilities managers need in-depth understanding of the business unit directions and focus on partnering to co-create business and integrated facilities strategies. Mutual trust is the foundation stone. Awareness that facilities are different but help is at hand underpins the need for facilities management skills. Awareness that the facilities team understand the business opportunities and threats promotes an open dialogue. The challenge, then, is how to manage these internal relationships and to be able to continue to deliver services at the right time and the right place.
Customer relationship management models are used in most industries. In their broadest sense they are all about managing all interactions and business dealings with customers – be they external or internal. The focus is to improve customer service and meet their needs. Typically, the system’s architecture is based on three components: being operational – automating basic customer facing business processes; analytical – analysing customer behaviours and needs; and collaborative – facilitating interactions with customers through all channels.
A collaborative ‘partnership’ relationship model would have some key characteristics. Great people chemistry as the starting point will ensure a good fit between contributing parties. Clarity of purpose and expectation management with explicit goals and benefits will result in each party having the same understanding of the expected outcomes. In a ‘win-win’ relationship it is expected that strategic synergies will be achieved with business units together sharing benefits fairly. This may be reducing facility risk levels, increasing business productivity gains and/or entrenching facilities cost savings where appropriate.
Facilities management service performance measures need to shift away from measuring inputs to measuring meaningful outputs. This will lead to substantiation of broader business gains generated from facilities and workplace initiatives. In an ever-changing business world, the job is never done. The facilities functions should be adapted continually to contribute to improved organisational performance. But the brand must retain its integrity in being operationally efficient but not losing sight of strategic possibilities. Internal promotion is paramount to remaining relevant. Successes need to be shared.
Most important in this re-positioning of the brand is for facilities managers to understand business. Firstly, they need to understand the ‘business of the business’ they are supporting by thinking about facilities constraints, possibilities and strategies to support competitive advantage. But, secondly, for facilities managers to remain relevant they need to understand the business of their offering: how they are defining their business; how are they structuring their operations; how are they communicating; and how they are supporting their customers’ needs.

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