Open-access content 3rd July 2012
Joanna Lloyd-Davies explains why you should enter this year's BIFM awards.
5 July 2012
In the wake of the election in Greece and BIFM's ThinkFM conference, some thoughts come to mind about markets and professions.
On the morning of ThinkFM, Greece was moving towards a pro-bailout coalition, providing at least temporary relief for the inter-connected economies of the Eurozone, Europe and the wider world. However, the social effects of austerity in Greece are palpable.
Professions are inextricably linked to the economic and social environments in which they exist. Of course the customer is important.
However, Sahar Hashemi, the entrepreneurial co-founder of Coffee Republic, the UK's first coffee bar chain, quoted pre-eminent automotive industrialist Henry Ford at ThinkFM: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."
Following the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recessions, there is now renewed interest in the debate that contemporary philosopher Michael Sandel refers to as having a market economy and being a market society, or in other words, the moral limits of markets.
Commoditisation has long been a topic of debate in FM. What is generally accepted is that some things, such as human beings, cannot be valued by a pure market approach.
The economic and social debate recurs to some extent with regard to the definition of professions.
However, here the discussion is usually around professions being controlled and structured by occupations and peer groups, rather than by a free market and consumers or by bureaucracy and management. Of course the real world is often messier that this categorisation suggests. There are likely to be other hands at work that shape the professional world in addition to Adam Smith's "invisible hand" that guides markets.
Professional bodies themselves are also subject to different forces and have to strike a balance. On the one hand they have social missions, such as BIFM's "to advance the facilities management profession". On the other hand, professional bodies have to be financially sustainable through serving members and usually commercial customers, too. This gives rise to a mix of approaches and structures in the professional body sector.
At ThinkFM, Oliver Jones drew attention to Kim and Mauborgne's idea that "blue ocean strategies" creating uncontested market space where the water is clear and benign, have advantages over red ocean strategies where competition is rife and there is "blood in the water" - something worth thinking about for all kinds of organisations.
ThinkFM provided a space to meet and to engage in the social process of learning both in scheduled sessions and more informally, and included ideas to take away and use in our businesses.
ThinkFM provided a forum for thoughts, a marketplace for the mind and an "agora" for advantage as the ancient Greeks might have called it.
Stephen Bennett is strategy director at the BIFM.