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17 January 2019
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It's good to talk

11 August 2014  

Around the turn of the century, the late actor Bob Hoskins was employed by BT for a series of advertisements to promote the telecom firm’s tariffs.

At the same time, a football club of my acquaintance played an FA Cup preliminary round tie against East Ham United – no, that’s not a typo – and trounced them 10-0. 

East Ham’s goalkeeper for that match was the spitting image of Hoskins, and at first he was quite happy to engage in ‘banter’ with the crowd about his marked similarity to the cockney thespian. But the psychological impact as ball after ball flew past him into the net soon took its toll. Lying prostrate on the pitch, and distraught at the impotence of his defence, the Bob-alike keeper began remonstrating with his incompetent teammates. Why, he asked, couldn’t the centre half and the full backs communicate properly? This, decided the crowd, was the right time to deploy Hoskins’ BT campaign catchphrase. “Yes, keeper,” they goaded, “it’s good to talk.”

And indeed it is. Which is why, when trying to work out why so many client-supplier relationships falter, you have to ask – at what point did the talking stop? Because there’s certainly more than enough talk at the outset. Each party is keen to declare how tremendous their newly announced contract partnership is going to be; the client has done its homework and is keen to promote that fact, while the supplier is happy to express their delight at being chosen. It’s what happens once the contract’s up and running that’s so baffling. Clients can become suspicious of their service providers’ commitment, and suppliers can resent that suspicion. That’s a sweeping statement, of course, and other, perhaps less visible pressure points exist. But regardless of the catalysts, couldn’t they just have talked the problem through?

BIFM research, reported in this issue, suggests those organisations with a more positive view of the FM function in their organisation are also benefiting from more trusting relationships – with their own FM departments, and indeed with the service providers those departments contract with. It’s difficult to believe that regular talking between client and service provider, at both strategic and operational level and all stages in between, hasn’t helped to develop that state of affairs.

The porous nature of FM service delivery and its touching of all aspects of an organisation’s performance mean that any mistrust between the two parties could be born of a myriad things. Poor pricing by the supplier, perhaps, or an inadequate assessment of the FM service’s impact on external customers by the client. Of all the issues we cover, procurement of the FM service and its subsequent failure to meet expectations is the one that most people are happy to talk about. If the two parties involved could thrash out their differences in private, we’d surely hear fewer people discussing the problems of FM procurement in public. So of course it’s good to talk – but perhaps it’s who’s involved, and when they talk, that needs further thought.

A quick note here on the stunning news about the death of Chris Stoddart, a great friend to us at FM World and the BIFM. He leaves a huge hole on our editorial advisory board and will be sorely missed by all who knew and worked with him. RIP, Chris.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World