The Future FM: Learning to adapt in the face of change

David Kentish joins other experts in discussing how FMs can learn to adapt in the face of change. This article originally appeared in FMJ September 2016 edition.

Once upon a time ago, the world of work was very different to how it is today. Thirty years ago, managers had offices and secretaries. Back then, it was all pencils and pencil skirts… and big hair. Air conditioners were called ‘windows’, letters were written by hand and drinks arrived on tea trolleys. Dolly Parton wasn’t joking about the 9 to 5 thing either – it really was the way to make a living. Life was slower; and those big ole chunky computers, powered by mice running around in wheels inside the towers, were even more so.

And now? Well, archaic hierarchies and office walls have been torn down so managers work among their teams and get their own coffee – bye bye, trolley dollys! We’ve swapped the filing cabinet for the cloud; PCs for tablets; and the bricks we used to call ‘mobiles’ now run our lives. The days of the standalone desk are numbered; and the traditional office is in danger of doing a dodo, as co-working spaces are slowly taking over. The digital world demands everything in a heartbeat. Organisations are becoming increasingly power-hungry and there is further pressure on FMs to reduce cost by running sustainable buildings, while ensuring people can work effectively.

Pressure – pushing down on me, pressing down on you

Considering the world of work is changing at a phenomenal pace, there is understandably a heightened demand for talented facilities management (FM) professionals. As the industry is becoming increasingly recognised as being a vital contributor in the looming workplace revolution, FMs need to possess a wider array of skills than ever before.

So what skills does today’s facilities manager need?

“As an FM, you need to be comfortable with conversing with those at an executive level,” said Bruce Barclay, Senior Manager, EMEA Facilities Operations, Global Real Estate & Facilities, EMC. “You need to understand your client’s strategy, values and what it is that enables their business to flourish. What’s more, you need to be able to take your team with you.”

This is a testament shared by C-J Green, Group HR Director at Servest: “FMs need to possess the ability to bring people together. They need to understand and meet the needs of a number of different employees, not to mention stakeholders.”

“The key for any manager is that they need to know how to manage people,” said people development expert, David Kentish. “It might be obvious but this vital skill is frequently overlooked. Relationships are key in this industry and it’s about understanding the behaviour required to get the best out of everybody.”

No surprises, then, that the human element remains a critical driver in FM. However, considering that physical and technical infrastructures are becoming increasingly complex, FMs also need to manage a vast array of technology in the workplace, while adapting to the demands of modern buildings.

Duncan Short, HR Director at G4S FM, commented: “In addition to ensuring buildings run efficiently, FMs need to adapt to the changing nature of work, because different work models affect the way a workspace is used.”

In a similar vein, Karen Plum, Advanced Workplace Associate’s (AWA) Director of Research and Development, stated: “People working in RE and FM have to be cannier than ever before. In line with the shifting landscape of work, workplace experts need to understand more about people and what they need to work effectively”.

FMs need to know more than how to keep a building running; they also need to be aware and work with others in order to keep the people within a space happy, healthy and engaged.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” ~ Aristotle

Considering the modern-day FM needs a mixed toolbox, so to speak, is enough being done to train people with the right skills? FMJ has spoken to numerous workplace experts and the general consensus is… (you guessed it)… NOPE.

Paul Crayford, Director of EMEA Real Estate Strategy & Transactions at Aon, stated that there are plenty of learning opportunities out there but, considering that “so many diverse skills are needed these days”, deems the realm of FM training “a confusing place to find what you actually need.”

Co-director of Kentish & Co, David Kentish, suggests that before managers within organisations can point people in the right direction, it’s down to the individual to identify the training they require.

Promulgating that idea, several FM companies are now using profiling tools to help people take ownership of their own development needs. “At Servest, employees are encouraged to make decisions based on what is right for them at whatever stage they’re at in their professional journey,” commented C-J Green, Group HR Director. “To that end, we have recently implemented an ‘Insights Discovery’ programme, a basic profiling tool, used to help individuals determine their personality type and learning style”.

When it comes to offering in-house training programmes, it’s important to ensure there’s some kind of follow-on. “Some organisations simply consider training to be a ‘tick box’ and once it’s been ticked, it’s not revisited,” said Kentish. “It’s all well and good offering courses but if there aren’t the right processes in place after training, then you won’t keep people engaged and what they’ve learned will soon be forgotten.”

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation” ~ Benjamin Franklin

We’ve heard how organisations can encourage learning and development. But how do individuals go about improving their skill set?

“For someone who is committed to a career in FM, now more than ever there is the opportunity to self develop,” said Short. In agreement, Crayford argues that there’s a wealth of information online, such as white papers, industry reports and even YouTube videos. Crayford also praises the peer-to-peer arena, suggesting these networks can be as valuable as internal and external training opportunities.

The Young Managers Forum (YMF) was formed back in 2006 to create a platform for the facilities management industry’s younger generation. The YMF support the growth of talent within the industry. Recognising that young FM professionals need to develop multi-disciplinary skills, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) is passionate about increasing the capability of people in the sector. The consultancy is joining forces with the YMF to offer four complimentary study mornings. The rising stars as part of the network will be privy to new thinking about supporting the cognitive performance of their workforce, how to deliver workplaces that support the productivity of knowledge worker populations, and how managing a more virtual/agile workforce requires different approaches if it’s to be successful.

For those on the other side of ‘young’, there are still many associations that can assist with training, such the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM). BIFM supports members and the wider FM community with qualifications, training, and networking; and there is an array of courses on offer, especially for those wishing to improve their hard skills.

And for those wanting to develop their soft skills, there are ways and means. Having successfully delivered three “bootcamp” style training courses in agile working, AWA is planning a fourth for early in 2017. The two-day comprehensive course is designed to give FM and real estate professionals a solid grounding and understanding of how to deliver agile working in an organisation. The highly interactive course addresses practical, organisational and behavioural challenges in delivering agile working, drawing on AWA’s 20 years experience supporting clients and members of the Workplace PIN (Performance Innovation Network) – for whom it was originally designed.

Regardless of how individuals choose to better their career prospects, FM, as an industry, needs to recognise the fact that the skill set involved to do the job in hand is evolving. If the industry is to take the reins of the workplace revolution, FM has to think – and think hard – about the skills needed by the future generation of facilities managers; aka, the vanguards of workplace change.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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