14 March 2016
"What's facilities maintenance when it's at home?" The question jolted me out of my reverie as I heard it from the person sat in front of me on the bus. His companion had no answer and I was not inclined to answer, but it took me back a good few years, blogs John Bowen.
This time the question had been prompted by the sign of the side of the van that had drawn alongside our bus, but I can still remember being asked the same question by my boss a little over 25 years ago. At the time, I was running a big logistics operation and what had been known as the buildings team had moved from line management by the HR director to me as head of operations.
One of the first things that the person leading that team had asked for was to change its name and become the facilities management team. I had agreed and had circulated a note to my colleagues to let them know of the change.
That my boss back in 1989 didn't know what FM was (the inevitable jokes about my having started a radio station did the rounds for a few weeks) could easily be explained as a sign of the times. But to hear members of the public asking it in 2016 made me think about how little progress we have made as a profession in establishing ourselves in the nation's consciousness.
I would expect that anyone who worked in a reasonably sized office building to know what FM is because they should come into regular contact with their own FM people, but is there an opportunity for a wider level of PR coverage?
My other professional areas of IT, logistics and procurement are much more widely recognized, and get exposure in a number of areas of the media, but the only mention that I can recall of FM in the press over that last year was when one of our number had been a little naughty. Even there the mention was simply one along the lines of "John Doe, 51, a facilities manager from Hicksville" sort of sentence opener that you see in any sort of news item, but perhaps in that context the anonymity was welcome.
There has been a lot of work done to move FM forward and we now have a good career path with a range of competing professional qualifications that people can pursue if they wish. Many are doing so and the numbers of qualified FM professionals is growing. All of that is good, but I think that the opportunity of promoting FM to a wider audience is there for us to take and maybe we can get to the point where no one who spots a van with facilities management on the side will have to ask what it is.
John Bowen is an FM consultant