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18 January 2019
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Following the leader

20 August 2015 | Martin Read

Who manages the entry / supervisory level management selection process? Other managers? 

Well, OK - but what if those managers themselves are unable to spot true leadership talent, themselves the product of a hastily convened management selection process? Are these really the right people to make such important recruitment decisions? And if not, isn’t the whole process flawed?

Our recent BIFM Leaders Forum event fleshed out some interesting issues, in particular frontline management’s impact on the quality and consistency of customer service. Not for the first time we found ourselves discussing the importance of that critical first tier of facilities management, the team leader role. It’s here that those first and potentially definitive interventions with end-user customers occur. But it’s also where the decision to select team leaders can be all too casually made; an opportunity to reward loyalty or dedication, perhaps, or a circumstantially convenient way of addressing the needs of a frustrated individual, one who’s proved good at dealing with customers, but hasn’t had to manage others.

What’s often missing is early identification of an innate capacity for leadership. Spotted at this first level, such a talent can be nurtured, with leaders who rise up the ranks themselves more suited to identifying others with the same leadership ‘gene’.

The higher you rise in a company, the fewer management roles exist. There’s also considerably more professional support to be called upon to make sure the best recruitment decisions are made. The more senior the post, the fewer the relatively fine determinations between candidates with comprehensive skills sets and experience.

But at the other end of the spectrum these are, in fact, considerably more complex decisions. You’re looking to choose potential leaders based on the existence of innate capabilities that are far more difficult to identify at such an early stage. What’s more, choosing this new management blood needs to be done more routinely, in particular in FM organisations where so many local or even seasonal factors can influence the longevity of those promoted to management roles.

People want to take on a management role because the word ‘manager’ or ‘team leader’ is seen as an instant personal as well as professoonal status bump. Yet concentrating on what we’re actually good at is often the wiser choice – one we as individuals don’t realise until far later in our careers. Corporate support through training on specific tasks can help, but it’s wasted if that natural ability isn’t there in the first place. 

The English language, said Carillion’s Jamie McDonald, “seems to endow the word leadership with a special significance, bringing to mind important, top-level management – which is just wrong”. Instead, “everyday management is just as important – and it’s the stepping stone to leadership”.

With FM’s staff turnover, it’s inevitable that putting the necessary resource into this level of management is a problem. There’s clearly work to be done to help identify true leadership capacity at ground level – but if the views of our Leaders’ Forum panellists are a guide, it’s work worth conducting.

Martin Read is managing editor of FM World