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"The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) has failed in its mission in 'Advancing our Profession' ". So confessed Chris Moriarty the BIFM Director of Insight whilst speaking about Workplace at the Euro FM conference this year. For 25 years the UK based FM representative body has been telling us that they were 'Advancing our Profession'. Yet our colleagues in IT, HR and Finance have no idea what we do.

In fairness, Chris went on to applaud the good work that the BIFM has done in terms of qualifications and professional standards, but this was an admission by the BIFM of their failings as a leading representative of FM interests on the global stage.

 In the post, BIFM Sees Workplace as a New Direction for Facilities Management I wrote about the need for BIFM to make a strategic move following the merger of the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the middle of 2016.

The role of the professional bodies in FM has a rightly come under review recently. Whilst the RICS have saddled up the strategic FM Pony. Its 'strategic partner IFMA is little more than a retail outlet selling training courses and qualifications. The role therefore that BIFM is to play is a crucial one.

Professional bodies need to stand for something, they need to represent the future direction of their industry whether this is a collective view or not. As members, we can choose to follow or vote with our feet and leave. Representation is not always popular but the trade associations need to provide leadership and direction. This is something is sadly lacking in most of the other FM Professional representative bodies with the notable exception of Euro FM.

 So as the first step in their catharsis, the BIFM has this month, changed its name to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM).

 So, what’s in a name?

 Names and words are important, as Chris explained. "Words have meaning and they create an emotional response in us."


Even everyday names have an impact, such as the jeans we wear, Levis’s v Armani. The car we drive, BMW v Mercedes. The computers we use Dell v Apple. The social media platforms we use, Twitter v Instagram. All these words create an impression and an emotional reaction in us.

The marketers want you to have an emotional reaction to these words, this is what they are designed to do. Corporations have spent millions of dollars trying to achieve a desired emotional reaction. But brands mean different things to different people depending on whether they have bought into that image or not.

The same is true of professions. We all respond in some way when we think of politicians, journalists, doctors, car dealers or property realtors. Closer to home, we all have an emotive response to our colleagues and their effect on the company that we work in.

  • Marketing - The ponytail colour by numbers crowd?
  • Finance - The bean counters who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing?
  • HR - The airy-fairy agony aunts?
  • IT - The gadget nerds who block access to my social media channels?

I am sure you all have your own thoughts on this. The important point though is that these disciplines create an emotion in us. So, what do you think Facilities Management means to them? What do they think about us? What do they call us when we are not around?

In his presentation, Chris summed it up perfectly. He mentioned that the only time the word facilities is used is when a visitor to a building asks to use the ‘facilities’. So, is a polite euphemism for going to the toilet really what we want to be associated with? Are we to be saddled with the janitorial image forever?

While I have nothing against the janitors of this world, they do a very important job. Without them, our facilities would flush to a halt. But FM is more than just being the loos and lightbulb brigade surely?

No matter how noble these important roles are, if we continue to be defined in this way we will have failed our potential. We will have failed our Clients and we will have failed to capture the much-needed younger generation of talent that we need if we are to be able to unleash the potential of the workforce.

Cinderella Service

In the 1970s Michael Porter promoted the outsourcing of non-core activities in his Value Chain model. Since then the FM industry has proudly promoted ourselves as 'non-core'. Unfortunately, this has been a self-fulfilling prophecy as non-core activities are perceived to be less valuable and less critical than core activities. The Customer's focus is consequently on cutting the cost of the facility, rather than improving its economic value.

 As if that wasn't bad enough, we have also nicknamed Facilities Management the 'Cinderella' service, proudly boasting that our invisibility is our superpower. This has led to the fact that nobody knows we exist. Is it any wonder then that we are something of an afterthought until something goes wrong?

As Facilities Managers we have well and truly shot ourselves in the foot in the way in which we have promoted the industry. Facilities management can be a sexy profession. We just need to un-ashamedly brand ourselves as such. 

This failing is not resolved by prefacing Facilities Management with the word 'strategic'. Strategic is the most overused and most misunderstood term in business today. As Facilities Managers we have harped on about our strategic focus and how we deserve a place in the boardroom since the 1980s. Enough already!

Strategy is about looking over the horizon, not putting out fires at your feet. All strategic Facilities Management plans take forward view of the assets. Rarely though does this take into consideration how these support the constantly changing business needs of the organisation over this time span.

Changing the FM Brand

So how do we change the Facilities Management brand? How do we tap into the younger generation who want to utilise the tech skills that they have grown up with and immersed themselves in?

All we need to do is look to the West Coast of America. The high-tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo etc are on the front lines of the war for talent. It is in the heat of this battle, that the Workplace is being used to leverage competitive advantage. The Workplace is the weapon of choice in delivering and supporting the company culture. The Workplace is being used to attract the talented lifeblood of these global leaders.

It is not by chance that these Workplaces have had thousands of column inches and images posted over the web. Workplace is at the forefront of their brand and represents the image these organisations are punting.

So the real problem here is how we as FM's talk about ourselves to our colleagues and the other professions in the workplace. It is here that the words we use are important.

FM Defined?

So what have we done? We have confused everybody by being unable to even agree on a definition of what Facilities Management is.

“A profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, processes and technology.”...International Facilities Management Association (IFMA)

“Facilities Management is the integration of multi-disciplinary activities within the built environment and the management of their impact upon people and the workplace.”...British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM)

 “Facilities Management is an enabler of sustainable enterprise performance through the whole life management of productive workplaces and effective business support services.”..South African Facilities Management Association (SAFMA)

Facility management is the organisational function that integrates people, place and process within the built environment, with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.…ISO 41,001 Facility Management MMS

Yes, there are similarities. Words such as integration, multidisciplinary, people, process etc. But these are written in language that non-FMers don't understand. Where do most people go for our information when they don't understand? .... Google!

So what does Google have to say about the definition of facilities management?....

"The maintenance of an organization's buildings and equipment."

This is hardly strategic, but this is where our clients are going to research what FM is. They are not reading the grandiose definitions put out by the associations that are supposed to be promoting FM and advancing our profession.

The Google definition is simple and understandable..... but is it accurate?

With respect that is irrelevant. Unless we offer a viable and understandable alternative, this is what other professions will define us as. What we say in long-winded statements on association websites is 'preaching to the choir', not defining what we do and the value we add to the people that matter....our Customers.

It is not anyone else's fault but our own that we are not being listened to, valued or understood. 

Back to the Future

Most Facilities Managers, are responsible for the Workplace. So, what is the definition of Workplace as far as Google is concerned?.... 

"a place where people work, such as an office or factory".

Now we're getting somewhere. Chris Moriarty tells us that when the BIFM surveyed its members about the use of the word 'Workplace' there were a number of reactions. One of the key issues was that.... 'it is just a fad', it will be shortlived and is part of FM in any event.

If you go to IFMA's website and look at its history this is the opening paragraph..."In the early 1970s, a move toward using systems furniture (commonly referred to as cubicles) and the introduction of computer terminals into the workplace helped set the evolutionary course of facility management. As FM grew, those tasked with overseeing the new workplace were in need of guidance."

What's more, it goes on to mention that....

 " December 1978 when Herman Miller Research Corp. hosted a conference, “Facility Influence on Productivity,” in Ann Arbor, Mich., USA.

Hardly a fad then! Workplace has been around for 40 years and was, in fact, the origin for Facilities Management. What's more, the productivity of the workplace and its impact on organisations is not a modern phenomenon it has been around since 1978.

As I mentioned in my post entitled Workplace: Back to the Future for Facilities Management, Workplace and productivity have been there from the start. We have just forgotten about them. We got so wrapped up in being invisible and non-core that we forgot that we are an important enabler of Productivity in the Workplace.

What is a Workplace?

So what makes up a Workplace? It is more than just the corporate office. As indicated by the Google definition, it is any place where people work. All work happens somewhere so, a railway station, warehouse, hospital, school or stadium is a Workplace.

Wouldn't our healthcare industry be better off if our hospital and clinical facilities were designed and operated with doctors and nurses in mind? Surely, they are people to guide us in terms of how patients should be cared for.

All workplaces and their users need the provision of a conducive space, environment, and services to be productive. Workplaces need to be viewed holistically to ensure that their spatial, cultural and technological components are aligned.  

We also need to recognise that there are fundamental differences in the focus of different Workplaces, their output and the requirements needed in servicing them.

Hi-Tech Workplace

These Workplaces are predominantly concerned with maintaining the physical ‘hard’ assets that support production. Whilst people will be part of this, the focus of the workplace is on physical, mechanical or electrical assets, their operation, maintenance, and lifecycle.

Typically, these workplaces include most industrial type premises such as factories, warehouses, power stations and more modern type premises such as data centres.

Hi-Visibility Workplace

These Workplaces need their Customers to access the facilities to be able to serve them and to generate revenue. The workspace is highly visible and central to their desired Customer experience. These facilities need to reflect a 3-D representation of their desired brand.

Typically, these workplaces include shopping malls, retail shops, schools, universities, hospitals, stadia and even public transport facilities.

 Hi-Touch Workplace

These Workplaces need to support the working activities of employees as their primary purpose. These environments are increasingly supporting knowledge workers. Knowledege workers need a variety of different work settings to maximise their productivity. The currency of these Workplaces is employee experience. The Workplace enables the human production line and the organisations competitive advantage.

Typically, these workplaces include corporate offices, serviced offices, homes and people working on the move.

Chris Moriarty finished off his presentation with a quote

"Be the change that you want to see in others" Mohandas K ( Mahatma) Ghandi.

This is what I want Workplacefundi to become. I want to contribute to national prosperity and productivity one workplace at a time.

I for one am positive about the change in focus. The IWFM need to lead the way and carry the torch into an era of renewed optimism and value creation for all Workplaces.

People  I  Place  I  Performance

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