One key recommendation in The Stoddart Review's 'Workplace Advantage' report was the potential for the role of chief workplace officer. Sara Bean looks at what a notional CWO would do - and how it might affect FM.
13 February 2017 | Sara Bean
A recommendation for the introduction of the office of the chief workplace officer (CWO) was one the most notable recommendations in 'The Workplace Advantage', the report from the Stoddart Review, formed by BIFM and founding partners to continue the work of industry doyen Chris Stoddart to raise awareness among business leaders of the importance of the workplace.
Bringing together input from CRE, HR, FM and IT, this role would be focused on managing the employee experience - seen by those it served as the person who facilitates their productivity.
The recommendation has prompted some debate in FM circles on how such a role would work in practice. Which of these four disciplines is best positioned to 'upgrade' to CWO position, and if it isn't the facilities manager, what is FM's place when feeding into a CWO function?
James Sutton, executive director of BIFM, explains that that the shorthand of chief workplace officer was used to promote the principle first that the subject of workplace's impact on productivity needs to be taken seriously at Board level.
He says: "The way in which it would work will no doubt differ between organisations, but there needs to be a clear understanding at board level and a clear route to or responsibility for the remit with the brief and empowerment to be able to implement and deliver workplace strategy.
"This poses an opportunity for FM to reframe how it is perceived in business from what is frequently seen in terms of costs, operational delivery and risk management to one that can drive high performance workplaces. There is a natural connection with senior FM practice and there are many FMs already leading the way in this area. This needs to be more common place in corporate strategy, structure and culture with the benefits of an effective workplace being better understood not just at the top but throughout the organisation."
Property and asset management specialist Polly Plunket-Checkemian, programme director for the review, says: "We weren't the first to coin the phrase, but it does run the risk of being sensationalist clumsy shorthand, which is what we've got a responsibility to avoid."
The report's overriding message, she says, is that of the changing role of FM. For instance, facilities management is no longer just about managing moves and changes, but about supply and demand. Instead of simply being custodians of the workplace, FMs are becoming portfolio managers with a variety of solutions at their fingertips to meet the requirements of the organisation - agility, talent attraction, engagement, productivity and retention.
She says: "The FM is evolving from being someone who is the recipient of a budget to being a budget holder. They're now required to integrate across an organisation with other disciplines which are in turn, also utterly reliant on the same changes, from the HR talent teams managing the practical implications of people to the IT department responsible for equipping these people with the technology needed for the digital workplace.
"This means that the FM is increasingly attuned to the needs of an agile organisation, becoming 'super-connectors' who cross over these business functions, developing integrated business cases and acting as the link between individual team/business unit needs and the infrastructure teams that deliver them."
While ultimately the CWO role would concentrate on how to ensure that employees had the best possible environment to be as productive as possible, the very suggestion that one person would take on such a role does still beg the question who exactly would that be and at what level of experience?
For FM Guru Martin Pickard the acknowledgement that one person could steer the workplace debate is a step in the right direction, and he argues that determining which discipline took the lead could be decided simply by the task or project in hand.
"It's all of the things that support, enable and facilitate an organisation and these will vary at different times. For instance, if a key factor is the design and operation of a new head office the facility manager is probably going to take the lead.
"At another moment in time, it might be about the restructuring of roles and recruitment and talent, which might mean it's more appropriate for it to be the role of HR; and at another time it might be about the introduction of new systems and technology with the lead taken by IT.
"It depends therefore on the needs of the organisation, because if you try to shoehorn everything into 'here's a model and how we do it', you'll fail."
HR professional CJ Green, who as group chief people officer at FM provider Servest has a good understanding of both the HR and FM disciplines, believes if an organisation has got its leadership pipeline right a CWO should be able to come from any function.
"I would say you barely get anyone more well-rounded than a FM person, because they have to be involved in so much and think in so many different ways. But I wouldn't say you could only take them from there.
"I'm very much of a belief that for leadership at a senior level you should be able to move people around because it is about much more than just a specialism."
Where Pickard does have issues, though, is in the use of the title chief workplace officer, which he believes confuses the picture as it seems to make it exclusively about the office. He would suggest titles such as employee engagement or employee experience officer.
What's in a name?
The review is enthusiastic about the way some leading global organisations are changing the way that functions and stages of the process integrate, citing Ericsson's appointment of a global head of workplace experience, Charlotte Ivars, who has a budget of SEK 2 billion. But Ivars hails from an HR background, not FM, so is HR the natural inheritor of the CWO role?
Not necessarily, says Plunket-Checkemian - each organisation is going to be different because it all depends on how it views its talent. "When talent is 90 per cent of the cost of your business and you've decided to maximise the experience of that talent when they're with you because you'll get greater engagement, productivity, retention, all the factors people are looking for, you'll be looking for a candidate that is hardwired to the needs of that talent base and to your brand. This doesn't preclude anybody from stepping into that; the issue here is reframing or looking differently at the tools available to make people as effective as they can."
HR isn't the only candidate for the role. Steve Henigan, principal of workplace practice at global design firm Perkins+Will, believes that the impact of technology and the subsequent reliance on IT is a growing challenge for FM.
"As we move more towards agile working, co-working space and away from bricks and mortar we're fast getting to the point in FM if we don't take the ball and run with it, then ultimately it's going to fall to technology and from an FM perspective if we're not careful and don't rise to the occasion I think we will end up reporting into IT."
The report's authors are keen that the proposed CWO role forces a debate, but accept that this might not necessarily mean a linear progression from one profession into another.
Lucy Jeynes of Larch Consulting is positive about the multidisciplinary approach FM could bring to a CWO role. She says FM has greater visibility of more areas of the business and their impact than any other discipline.
"We know a lot about buildings and space, design and the importance of workplace on productivity - we also know how to look at things such as food and sporting facilities and implement new technology to the impact of space. If the workplace officer brings together input from all those areas then, yes, FM could lead on that and FM is the natural function to lead it."
Case Study: Hanro Hennig, PokerStars
As James Sutton points out, FM professionals already boast a range of monikers; including leading lights in FM such as Neil Usher, workplace director at Sky, and Hanro Hennig, director of workplace operations for PokerStars, both of whom are featured in the report.
Hennig reported directly to his CEO for some time and he says it is this access to the heart of the organisation that is most important. His direct dialogue with the CEO helped ensure that his organisation took a strategic approach to workplace management, including the introduction of regular staff satisfaction surveys, data gathering and the subsequent formation of an action plan to address any issues raised. All of which was achieved with the support of the board.
He says: "The challenge in real estate is getting close to the board and reporting directly to the CEO made a real difference to me because they bought into the concept of creating a good workplace ambience and helped me to achieve it."
It's the seniority of the CWO or equivalent post that would be most crucial, says Steve Henigan, who also features in the Stoddart Review, and has the unusual job title of principal of workplace practice at global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will.
Hennig believes that once someone reaches a certain level in an organisation their most important skills are an ability to manage, to lead and to understand what is important to that business.
"It's more the ability to be a strategic thinker and articulate those key business messages to the board."