6 May 2014
Imagine if the Queen was introduced to the Facilities Management Sector at a garden party.
"And what do you do?" she'd be highly likely to ask. (She has something of a reputation for it, after all.) What would happen next is, of course, the root of FM's most obvious problem. Because unfortunately, "How long have you got, your Majesty?" is unlikely to wash as a response. (And anyway, she'd probably need to crack on, what with David Walliams standing next in the line with a new play to promote.)
The fact is that the definition of FM does not fit neatly into a single sentence, even were it to be agreed upon by all. More's the pity, but that's just the fact of it.
So it's interesting to note that, rather than continually attempting to repeat the supernatural feat of attempting a one-size-fits-all definition in a single handy sound bite, much good work is now being done to invite not just the wider business world but the general public itself to engage with the profession and work out FM's broader value for themselves.
We all know there are a myriad topics, from worker wellbeing to the parameters of an IT-enabled integrated construction chain, that afford this sector an opportunity to get its message out - "this is who we are, this is what we do, this is the difference we make". But what's interesting now is that it's not just a question of talking at these audiences anymore; FM is increasingly working with individuals and associations that represent other aspects of organisational performance, with the aim of getting the value of FM to 'rub off' on them and, indeed, through them on to others. Talk to the C-suite through those who already talk to the C-suite.
The new format of this year's ThinkFM conference is a case in point. Previously, the annual BIFM conference spoke best practice to current FM practitioners - with a number of external observers delivering a helicopter view of how FM affects them. But the speakers at this year's event (taking place next week at Kings Place in London) have each been selected to ensure that the dialogue goes beyond the conference hall, the 10 presentations all linking FM to the things that matter elsewhere, from energy, sustainability, worker wellbeing and the very nature of the future built environment. Explaining FM's impact on business, the economy and society is the event's strapline - it promises to be a groundbreaking event.
The new format for ThinkFM follows on from other important stakes in the ground that aim to set the parameters of facilities management in the minds of uninitiated yet interested parties, not least the launch by the BIFM in February of its professional standards framework. Indeed, with the weight of the sector behind them, these standards could do much to concentrate international minds on the UK's market leading position in FM best practice - a patriotic showcase of UK sector leadership that can resonate with wider target audiences.
Taken together, these initiatives demonstrate how the sector is moving on from the trap of constantly looking at how it conducts and explains itself to itself, and on to much healthier activity in which the supposedly 'invisible' value of FM can be seen as clearly present in its association to other core organisational departments.
Martin Read is managing editor at FM World