Reflection on facilities management and the people I’ve met along the way

facilities management there and back againI’m in reflective mood. Yesterday was #WorldFMDay, I thought I should reflect on my affection for, and criticism of, Facilities Management (or Facility Management). It is merely one person’s perspective. But it may provide a viewpoint, perhaps useful (or not) for the younger professionals joining our sector. There are some great, varied, and sometimes well-paid careers ahead for people who pick up the education and variety of skills needed in today’s FM market. And to keep my friends happy, I’ll take the widest definition of FM that you may find! It is different in almost every organisation, and only limited by what one chooses to add to the FM portfolio. And the confidence shown in FM by the leadership of that organisation. That confidence is in the people who lead, manage and deliver FM – and there are some great leaders, managers and ‘do-ers’ around the world. It is a truly global sector.

People often fall into facilities management …today, it could be a career of choice. And should be.

I didn’t “fall into” FM, as many did a couple of decades ago (today, young people coming into FM can justifiably see it as a career of choice – it wasn’t in the early 1990s). I read about it, and saw it as a new and interesting sector. It wasn’t an FM practitioner who brought me into FM, but an architect and academic, Dr. Frank Duffy CBE, past President of the RIBA. More importantly, Frank was co-founder of DEGW, arguably the first workplace consultancy (see Reading University’s DEGW Archive for further information on this incredible firm). I was lucky enough to work right in the core of his international office, a desk or two away from Frank, Colin Cave (CEO), Professor John Worthington (when he was in :), and to sap up knowledge like a sponge for a year or so.

But I wasn’t an architect, designer, planner or social scientist (of which, DEGW had many greats over the years). I was a graduate Building Surveyor (“a what, sorry?” they said, in Germany or the USA, where I first travelled with the DEGW Workplace Forum). At the time, FM was being defined (it had been in existence for around a decade, publicly at least), and what I was reading was more about “workplace” than FM. That is what appealed – the whole workplace, and its contribution to organisations. A long way from surveying (and still is today, one could argue).

 

The Total Workplace….FM and organisations

I had Frank Becker’s 1990 book, “The Total Workplace – Facilities Management and the Elastic Organization”. Duffy and Becker were good friends, and I was fortunate to meet and talk with Prof. Becker on a couple of occasions.

I left DEGW, to join Symonds FM, in the office of another great FM thinker, and London Business School MBA, Oliver Jones (a far more successful businessman than the academics at DEGW had unfortunately been). Then I was offered my first company car ? and more money in 1996, to join Procord (an IBM management buy-out of the property and FM department – one of the first large and successful ventures of its kind).

Procord (later Johnson Controls Integrated FM… much later GWS – Global Workplace Solutions …and recently acquired by CBRE) was a “total workplace” provider. And again, I was fortunate enough to get to work with top minds like Barry Varcoe (who later went on to run CRE & FM at Royal Bank of Scotland, and Zurich Financial…and is now an academic at Oxford University! If you’re in FM, you can get to Oxford…! (but only if you have a brain like Barry’s).

 

Occupiers …it all comes together ‘client side’

It was only really when I had my ‘baptism of fire’ at Barclays Bank in 1999-2003 that I learned the fundamentals of how all the areas of property, capital projects, policy, planning and facilities management came together. And that all of it is led by the occupier organisation – in this case, a large High Street bank. It was all very structured and orderly, and I found it hard going for at least a year. A great team of people, led by another first class mind in Peter Jones (now an MD at G4S) and working alongside someone I learned a lot from, Debi Rowland, now a Director at Sodexo.

 

Ten years… half in consulting/supply-side… half with an occupier, client-side

I think that would be my recommendation for anyone coming into FM …and I would recommend anyone to join FM (though I have argued elsewhere, it is becoming “Workplace Management”…that’s for another day!). There are two sides to FM, and both are vital. Supply-side, working for an FM service provider or consultancy, provides a commercial understanding, and often leading practices. And client-side, working in an occupier team, for only one client…you are the client…provides a true understanding of how FM (and all its peer-group support functions) work together. And how they work with the ‘core’ front-line customer-facing units.

 

That was appreciation…now onto criticism; constructive, and necessary

I have not used the word profession above. I have mentioned ‘market sector’, or ‘management discipline’. And for good reason, I think – FM is not there yet. Not unlike many sectors which are only 20-30 years old, the FM sector has not done enough to become a profession…yet. And I’m not, here at least, getting into the issue of whether FM becomes “Chartered” or not (that is a British institutional thing, which albeit now global, is not the only way to become a profession). I don’t have space here to do this subject justice, but made a start in a 2013 blog.

FM needs three things to happen:

  1. the pursuit of excellence. And self-criticism, openly and honestly, with the aim of achieving perfection. Like a surgeon – not slapping themselves on that back and saying ‘how great we are’, but rather, analyzing what could be improved. And being constructively critical of what is wrong with FM.
  2. more continuous learning – and sharing that learning. That means a desire to research, to collaborate, to publish learning for the benefit of other professionals, for the benefit of the profession as a whole, and its customers.
  3. FM must consider society, and the environment (human and natural) as its customers – not just the organisations that pay directly for its services.

As I said in the 2013 blog article, there is hope for FM to become a true profession if we focus on these things:

FM has a promising professional career ahead, making a difference to society, by lifting the human spirit through people’s surroundings and a passion for service. And making a difference to the environment, by providing facilities that do as little damage to the planet as possible, and also give people the opportunity to ‘work, rest and play’ with less need to consume resources for travel.

So, I join into the spirit of #WorldFMDay – we all need to celebrate our successes. And I thank all those of you I have met along the way, over 20+ years, some mentioned above, but many more not. And I hope that, after the celebrations are over for another year, we can all focus on more reflection, self-criticism, research and learning – that will be the route to the true profession of facilities management.

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Paul Carder has over 20 years postgraduate experience in the corporate and consulting sectors, specialising in real estate (property) and facilities management/ workplace strategy, outsourcing, performance management and measurement. A former Doctoral Researcher and Tutor at UWE Bristol, he is a freelance commentator and consultant on workplace issues as well as one of the publishers of Work & Place and Occupiers Journal which works with several partners around the world. paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com

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