Facility management as a profession: Fighting perceptions
MICHEL THERIAULT of Strategic Advisor questions why facilities managers don’t get the same time, attention and resources that their colleagues do and provides his opinion on how to get facility management to be taken more seriously.
For facility management to be a profession, not just a job, we need to make changes in what we think our role is and how it’s perceived within the companies and organisations we serve. We’ve come a long way from the ‘master builder’, where one person could have most of the knowledge needed to build and maintain structures that house people and processes. The high cost of the built environment as well as the increasing technological complexity and much higher risks have transformed the role and elevated its importance within companies.
Yet, even though the value of what we manage is often second only to employee costs and the working environment has an important influence on the value companies get out of their employees, manufacturing or other core business processes, facilities managers don’t get the same time, attention and resources from senior leadership in their companies that their colleagues do.
I started asking myself why this is the case. Facility management has made progress, but we still have those fundamental issues. I keep hearing the usual reasons why we haven’t been able to shift the profession. We usually blame it on:
- the fact that we are a cost centre
- how hard it is to demonstrate our value
- not being at the boardroom table
- people who don’t understand our business, and
- many other things that are supposed to explain our collective failure to get funding for initiatives, staff, systems, maintenance and capital needs.
In a way, all these reasons have an impact, but the real reason isn’t always whether we can make the case or not, it’s whether our case is better than that of our competition.
SCARCE FUNDING OFTEN LOST TO THE COMPETITION
Remarkably, the competition isn’t with other companies or even other facilities managers. We compete for scarce funding and resources with our corporate colleagues, and often we are simply being outmanoeuvred and outscored in the corporate arena. These colleagues are leaders of other departments such as human resources, finance, research and development, marketing and sales, logistics, operations, manufacturing and more – either providing internal services like we do or delivering the organisation’s core business.
To succeed, facilities managers have to be as good as or better than their colleagues in executive meetings, with business cases, communications, presenting compelling data and selling their position.
Yes, we are often the underdog, with a service and responsibility that is taken for granted, supported by a well-developed skill at ‘making do’ with the resources we are given in a way that means the success or failure of our role isn’t clearly visible.
The simple reality is that other managers and leaders within your organisation are typically better equipped to compete than facility managers are, getting a greater share of scarce corporate resources as a result. Managers with the most compelling case get their initiatives supported and funded. We need to be the ones who get the support and funding more often than we are. This will result in a redefinition of our image and importance within our organisations.
BUILDING BUSINESS SKILLS VITAL FOR ADVANCING FM
The cause of this is also part of who we are and where we came from. By its nature, facility management has a technical element, whether you manage leased space, owned space, a single building or a multinational portfolio. Those technical skills and knowledge, all with an expanding set of issues and responsibilities, is what facility management is at its root.
Unfortunately, it’s often at the expense of other much needed business skills that enable success in the corporate arena. They were seldom taught to facilities managers or, if they were, nowhere to the same level as other areas of business. The good news is that more and more facility management related courses and programs include leadership courses, but the typical facilities manager still isn’t developing these non-technical skills that are so important to build their career and support the profession. This is actually made worse by the passion many facilities managers have for the technical part of their job and the lack of time, funding or interest in developing business skills.
The need for improving business, leadership and management skill sets at any level within the facility management department is the most important requirement to drive a shift in our profession. At a minimum, it’s a key requirement at the top level of facility management in a company. Whether it’s a one-person facility management department or the vice president of facilities, everyone, even specialists, should have these upgraded skills.
TECHNICAL SKILLS VERSUS BUSINESS SKILLS
Most facilities managers end up being a ‘Jack of many trades’, if not of all, and a master of a few. The important issue is that while complexity and scope increases in our field, the facilities manager becomes more of a ‘generalist’ and relies on the expertise of other specialists for technical knowledge, while developing increasingly important business skills.
Yes, the facilities manager needs to have a solid, broad understanding of the built environment and technical issues, but not at the same level of detail that they needed to in the past. Since we have progressed from the ‘master builder’ concept to a team environment, we need to rely on others who are masters of their own trade or domain, whether they are on your staff or are contractors and consultants.
The modern facilities manager must also be adept at the business, strategic and leadership parts of the role. They need to compete in the corporate arena for attention, support, funding and, yes, respect for the profession. They need to be able to interface with the boardroom to deliver services that not only support their company’s core business, but also build a facility management department that is, in turn, well-represented, resourced and supported by their organisation. Technical background and knowledge is good, but business and leadership skills are what most facilities managers at the senior levels used to achieve success and get where they are.
Michel Theriault is an author, international speaker and principal of Strategic Advisor, a facility management consulting firm. He focuses on management, leadership and strategic issues, helping facility managers analyse, justify, plan and implement their initiatives with a strategic approach. His book, Managing Facilities and Real Estate also emphasises strategy, management and leadership in the facility management role.