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19 June 2019
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A report by the IWFM addresses the importance of answering the 'why' of FM, Martin Read reports. 

© Getty
© Getty

4 December 2018 Martin Read

Lack of recognition, a voice, resources – FM, according to the first research fruits of the newly named Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, “appears to be trapped in a negative feedback loop” - the lack of one element leading to the lack of another, leading to the constant reinforcement of old stereotypes.

If the FM profession wants to break out of this Catch 22, it needs to consider which aspects of its culture are worth keeping – and which aspects to leave behind.


These are the main findings from ‘Managing Facilities of enabling communities? - Embracing culture to move FM forward’, produced by the IWFM in partnership with consultancy 3edges. Authors James Pinder and Ian Ellison have spent the last eighteen months speaking to facilities professionals.


Cultural competence

The suggestion is that a combination of the changing nature of work and the need to stay relevant will demand that the workplace and facilities management profession “will need to develop higher-order competencies beyond those represented in existing competency frameworks”.

Of these, ‘cultural competence’ – an understanding of what people need from you, why they do, and how you can best meet their needs - is key.

The idea underpinning the report is that, at its heart, FM is about ‘enabling communities’ rather than imposing solutions or engaging with end-users only when they have a problem that needs solving.

“If FM is about enabling communities, then the relationships FMs have with their customers need to reflect this,” the report suggests.

Authors interviewed not only operational facilities managers but a number of professionals with a connected interest, from architects and workplace consultants to IT and human resource specialists.

Ultimately, they established that FMs are proud of their chosen profession and enjoy the work they do, recommending it to others. But the sane people frequently cited ‘negative feedback loop’ - that they face a lack of appreciation and an ignorance of the value they generate, resulting in ongoing issues of identity and status.

FM’s culture iceberg

The authors considered the state of FM’s culture through two lens> Firstly, surface culture (observable behaviours, language, physical evidence) and secondly, deep culture (unobservable attitudes, beliefs, values and assumptions – “why we do what we do”. This deep culture, they argue, is the “larger iceberg mass hidden below the waterline” - and likely to be deeply ingrained. If FM is to change, they argue, “FM profession needs to determine which aspects of its culture are worth keeping and which aspects need leaving behind”.

The reasoning is that one reason for the lack of cultural change in the FM profession “is that previous calls for change have been preoccupied with changing what FMs do rather than why they do what they do.” This argument proposes that older assessments have focused too much on outcomes (behaviours and practices) rather than causes (the values, beliefs and assumptions that underpin those behaviours and practices).

One reason to seek change in this dialogue is that FM’s incessant negative feedback loop is only ever likely to be reinforced when client expectations 

increase and FMs are forced to do more with less.

Why are we here?

The question of why FM exists - the reason it does what it does - is, argues the report, a better question to be asking than ‘what’ or ‘how’

“Anybody who has attended an FM conference in the past 25 years or so will more than likely have heard people talking about the need for FM to have a voice in the boardroom – rhetoric that seems to have become embedded in the folklore of the profession,” they suggest.

“However, when you think it through, FM being in the boardroom is actually about the ‘how’, it’s not about ‘why.’ Similarly, talk about the need for FM to ‘be more strategic’ is not about ‘why’, it’s about the ‘what’.”

Break this habit, they suggest, and it becomes easier to focus on more productive approaches to changing perceptions of FM. For example, the argument that FM needs it profile raising “is not necessarily in service of customers – it’s primarily in service of improving the identity and status of the FM profession”. By focusing on its own problems, FM forgets the problems of its customers - yet only the latter group holds the key to breaking the feedback loop.

Emma Potter

Competencies as key

If FM is to break out from that loop and effect meaningful change, it will need to transition steadily; with so many people in the sector, ’cultural baggage’ is a given, while institutional structures will change slowly. Changing professional body competency frameworks is key, claim the authors, “otherwise existing unwritten rules will persist.”.

It’s here that the focus is placed on FM as being about the enabling of communities rather than the managing of facilities - essentially, a people-first not facilities-first distinction. The report establishes links between the profession’s existing cultural strengths (its technical competence and resilience, for example) and matches them to the desired cultural traits that should underpin them (its cultural competence and innovation, to use the two examples above).

Ultimately, the ‘why’ of FM – its motives and purpose – is what the report’s authors believe should be focused on. Most survey respondents focused more on the ‘what’ and ‘how’. 

“The reasons why we do things are hard to articulate because they’re often implicit or taken for granted. Perhaps a challenge for individual FMs is to reflect on what they individually stand for and the implications this has for what they do and how they do it. Indeed, a similar challenge could also be levelled at FM’s professional bodies.”