Published in FMJ 2010 by MPP

Claims of high value returns on investment in facilities management are sometimes at odds with the reality of what some people consider to be a commodity service with a poor reputation for delivery. Martin Pickard of The FM Guru Consultancy asks the question:


Devotees of  Facilities Management  excellence often make claims that a  good FM strategy  can be one of the contributing factors in the success of a client organisation. Some FM service providers go even further with attestation of valuable benefits ranging from the removal of all financial risk to the saving of the planet itself. Other FM proclamations are more modest, with many happy to adopt the most humble of supportive servant-like attitudes in their efforts to provide an invisible back room, non-core service offering.

This confused positioning is one of many image problems suffered by the facilities management profession and by the facilities industry itself. When comedian Dara O’Briain defined FM at the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) dinner in 2007, he talked about an army of “Fairy Folk” magically maintaining the workplace while everyone else was asleep. This low-profile, lowvalue view of FM is in direct contrast to the value-generating, world beating image in the glossy brochures.


The  BIFM calls itself the “natural home of facilities management” and says on its website that “Effective facilities management, combining resources and activities, is vital to the success of any organisation. At a corporate level, it contributes to the delivery of strategic and operational objectives.” This statement is one of many that appear to promise high levels of effective contribution from application of the FM discipline.

However, the BIFM revised its definition of Facilities Management  in 2006 to adopt the European Committee for Standardisation  description of FM as “the integration of processes within an organisation to maintain and develop the agreed services which support and improve the effectiveness of its primary activities”. This sustaining position is much more akin to the back-room view of FM than their other more assertive statements and is closer to the messages regularly broadcast.

The only trade association representing the enormous and influential industry, the Facilities Management Association (FMA) takes a similar sustaining position, describing FM as “taking control of ‘non-core’ services, freeing organisations to do what they do best while the facilities managers take care of the rest.“ This aptly describes the role of many facilities service providers who specialise in relieving businesses of distracting commodity management but hardly inspires investment in FM excellence.


Meanwhile the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has launched a campaign called Professionalising FM with the stated aim of helping FM professionals to “demonstrate their critical role in improving strategic business performance.” This follows on from the RICS publication in 2009 of a guidance note on The Strategic Role of Facilities Management in Business Performance and may reflect the RICS position as the only UK Institute currently offering Chartered status to professional Facilities Managers.

The RICS and others who have promoted the higher value of facilities management take the delivery of commodity workplace services as a foundation stone upon which more significant contributions can be developed.  The challenge is one of evidence and measurement. In 2004, Professor If Price of Sheffield Hallam University argued that to move the whole FM discipline forward to one which is seen as business critical rather than as low risk support services, then facilities managers need to produce the evidence which demonstrates the contribution to business.

Business critical issues like efficiency, productivity, sustainability, reputation, risk and the battle for talent can all be directly enabled by an effective facilities management strategy.  These are issues that can keep the most senior board member awake at night and will certainly grab their attention long before a report on planned maintenance or space utilisation. High performing FM professionals consistently position their reports within these zones of business activity.


Unfortunately it is much too easy to find examples of facilities management in action that does not even approach such lofty heights of strategic ambition. There is a stereotypical image of a facility manager tucked away in a basement office surrounded by boxes of toilet rolls, key cabinets and air conditioning filters responding to each complaint with a sigh and reinforcing FM’s negative reputation with every failed promise and faulty light bulb.

Meanwhile some service providers are only too happy to deliver mediocrity to undemanding clients who don’t know to expect any better. Outsourced service contractors with no written specification, no performance measurement and no informed client function can operate under the radar for a very long time enjoying a very comfortable existence while pocketing operating margins worthy of the greediest investment banker.

When a support function like facilities management shows itself to be incapable of keeping toilets clean,  lifts operating or vending machines stocked, the organisation’s executive are hardly likely to invite them to participate in the corporate strategy process or to engage with them in any meaningful dialogue. If the service cannot be trusted to deliver on core facilities functions the organisation is more likely to restrict the FM operating remit to those areas where they can do least harm.


Unfortunately situations like this are far too common leaving facilities management with a negative reputation in the minds of the general population. Those who do provide a more professional service generally go relatively unnoticed despite the valiant efforts of organisations like the FMA, BIFM and RICS.  There are many organisations where FM has been turned into an art form delivering a polished and professional performance each and every day just like the service in a five star hotel.

In these centres-of-excellence client expectations are regularly exceeded and continual effort is made to improve results and to contribute to core goals.  The culture and values of the organisation are well understood and reflected in the FM operation with appropriate language, processes and service offerings. Results are measured by their impact on core goals not by  square feet and every FM team member understands the contribution that they are making towards achievement of a greater vision.

This contribution oriented approach can be realised in a host of ways.  Examples include the FM in a manufacturing business who speeded up the production line by clearing packaging waste in a more efficient way; The facilities team at a shopping mall who reduced service charges by harvesting rainwater and turning cooking fat into bio-fuel; or the office manager who reduced sick absence with a campaign incorporating healthy eating, personal fitness and improved air quality.


There is no reason why every organisation could not benefit from the contribution that can be made by professional facilities management but unless we want to rely on the efforts of a few visionary FMs, a number of fundamental things need to change in our operating environment before that can happen.

The first of  these must be a  series of  campaigns like that of the RICS  aimed at raising society’s awareness of the excellent work that facilities people can and do perform. If clients do not demand a higher level of performance from their own facilities people and  from their  contracted service providers then those who aspire to deliver this way will always be undermined by those who do not.

The second change has to come from individual FM practitioners who must embrace the professional mantle and stand up to be counted. Organisations like the BIFM still represent only a small fraction of  all those who are daily responsible for the delivery of catering, cleaning, maintenance security and other support services in UK plc.

Responsibility for the last ingredient for change lies with the facilities industry itself. It is telling that the trade association representing such a vast multi billion pound industry has to operate with such minimal infrastructure. If the major players in the FM sector properly supported the FMA with the resources at their disposal the sector would be a force to be reckoned with.

Until  these fundamental shifts occur, much of facilities management is likely to continue its Cinderella existence operating largely unseen and undervalued in an increasingly commoditised market. Meanwhile those who truly understand the potential of professionally delivered FM will continue to enjoy benefits that their competitors cannot even dream of.

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