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17 January 2019
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Back to the floor over the pond

27 October 2014  

My passion for going back to the floor has been covered here before, but over the past month I have been able to experience a little of it during my travels Stateside, blogs John Bowen

One of the things that surprised me was the reaction of colleagues. The US, in general, is a lot more egalitarian than we are in the UK, perhaps, but my enthusiasm for swapping a suit and tie for T-shirt and denims was regarded with more than a little horror. And although I know that there are many senior managers here who would not dream of spending a day a month on the front line I was not expecting quite the level of disbelief I encountered over the water.

For me the point of doing it is to see what life is like for the people who are earning the company’s money; does the equipment we buy for them do the job? Do the processes work? What do they really need? And so on. Actually doing the job opens your eyes to how you can do it better and as long as you approach your time on the front line with the right attitude you – and the organisation – will benefit from it.

Something else that struck my over there in the home of litigious society was how different the approach to health and safety seemed – because it was like going back 40 years or so for me. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but in that there was a lot more common sense and far less process. I appreciate that this is a general impression, but it seemed a much more practical way of working (or am I just showing my age?)

Lacking any relevant trade tickets my experience was limited to general labouring and assisting the tradesmen, but learning about some of the differences in the plumbing and electrical systems to those that I am used was interesting as is the aspect of dark corners of risers and areas of the grounds that might be harbouring insects and reptiles that can kill you. Pressure washing roads and sidewalks with kit that is about four times more powerful than the one I have at home was an experience, as was my role in the refurbishment of some restrooms. Guess who got to replace 50 toilet seats with new ones doing the necessary cleaning up as he went?

But that is what it is about for me; having an understanding of what it is that you are asking of others to do. Most people who go to work do so because they need to, and it is a bonus if they enjoy it because many jobs are not that attractive. As a leader you need to have more than just your imagination of what life is like on the front line; you ought to know, and if you do you can make a difference.

John Bowen is an FM consultant