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Selecting a strategy

7 May 2013

(First published 14 February 2013)


How much of your time is spent on ‘strategic FM’ activity?


Given that so many facilities managers complain about being a slave to their operational prisons, unable to step back and plan ahead, it sounds like a very pertinent question. But it can only be useful if we’ve adequately defined the parameters of an FM’s strategic role. And that’s a much trickier thing to pull off.

An alarm bell goes off in my head whenever a presenter has to explain the word in question with a slide that shows its dictionary definition. It suggests that while we may all be talking about the same topic, we’re coming at it from different angles.

So it is with ‘strategy’. We could be talking about the strategy needed to integrate FM into the wider organisation, or whether the FM function has its own strategy, or how FM feeds into an organisational strategy, or global asset management strategy...
How about the question of whether facilities management is accepted as a strategic tool by organisations? Ask three people and you’ll get three different answers.

There is a danger that in speaking so frequently about achieving FM’s rightful status, we devalue certain words through their constant repetition. All this synergising, leveraging and, yes, strategising could be making the eyes of those we need to convince glaze over.

FM is not unique in this. Click on any piece of industry news and there’s a good chance the ’S’ word will turn up somewhere in the story. Just this morning I’ve read about how “the strategic management of health resources across the East of England has failed”. And in the same piece: “MPs said there had been a ‘complete lack of strategic oversight’ of NHS services in the region.” Take the word ‘strategic’ out of both sentences and guess what? They still mean exactly what they were written to mean. Nothing is gained from the use of the word ‘strategic’.

True, other sectors suffer from this use – and abuse – of language. Yet we in FM, may be disproportionately affected by it. There’s no question at all that FM needs to shout about its successes, particularly when those successes see FM accepted as the department of organisational empowerment it aims to be recognised as.

But communicating this shouldn’t involve plundering a buzzword dictionary, it should be a question reporting the simple common sense. Rather than talk about the strategies, let’s talk about the bald, fundamental business logic of the work being undertaken. How embarrassing and just plain backward it would be to not integrate FM into corporate decision making, whatever the project.

Right now, many companies are doing fantastic work restructuring their FM departments, aligning with other corporate real estate functions and working alongside IT and HR in projects that show just how FM can shine. Shouldn’t we just concentrate on the basic facts of these stories, rather than complicating them through use of weasel-word adjectives that only serve to confuse the message?

Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m off to the kitchen to implement my hot liquid consumption strategy: it’s time to leverage a beverage.

Martin Read is managing editor for FM World