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How to influence, or even join, the top team

22 September 2014  

If FM wants to sit in the boardroom we have to show it we’ve earned our chair, blogs John Bowen.

In many of the business specialisms we talk about improving our influence in the boardroom; we want to have that presence among the movers and shakers and have a place at the top table, but how do we get there?

Now if you go into an organisation there are going to be some specialisms that are very prominent; finance has got to be there, as does sales and or marketing; IT will be in there too and probably HR (if they’ve got bored with calling themselves Organisational Development (could they OD on that?)). 

So you have maybe the big four, and other stuff will have got bolted on underneath with the possible exception of operations, and that is a loose sort of title for the people who really make the money in any business.

The heads of these functions will make up the executive board, but the people who steer the business will be the board of directors. For me, the difference between these two groups in terms of skills is that the board directors, although they probably got to that exalted position through one or other of the specialisms, are now really business people.

I could call myself a specialist (I don’t), but I have three choices; I qualified as a CIPS [Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply] member more than 20 years ago, and I have worked in facilities and property management. In these, of those specialisms, even as the top dog, I would still only be reporting into someone at executive board level at best, and it this glass ceiling that is one of the issues that both CIPS and BIFM have been trying to address in terms of raising the influence of their members. My third specialism is logistics; I am a member of CILT [The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport], and logistics directors are often main board members, so they have arrived.

Like many others in the senior volunteer ranks in these institutes, I have tried with local groups to get members to better understand the business dynamics so that they can see where they can make a contribution. We have to face the fact that decisions on purchasing and facilities issues are not just happening as some sort of divine process; they are being made in the boardroom and among the executive ranks.

The difficulties that we have in making our voice as specialists heard are twofold. People need to know who we are, and they need to understand what contribution we can make. But even when we bridge that gap we are still only seen as part of the engine room, the people who make the business run.

If we are truly going to make the shift in influence that we desire I think that we need to move away from seeing ourselves as specialists and become business people. To move what we do up to a strategic level we need, I believe, to join the people who shape the business, and that means that we have to learn their ways as much as teach them ours. Let’s bring the business skills of the boardroom to the specialisms; get people to understand how their business really works and how it makes and invests its money.

A place at the top table comes from contribution to running the business and that requires a shift from being a specialist to being a generalist with a specialism. We have no rights to be in the boardroom, but we can earn a place there on merit.

John Bowen is an FM consultant