First impressions count, but there's also a need to sustain an organisation's brand identity across departments and in front of end-user customers. FM can perform well in this role - and even better when collaborating with other departments. Adam Leach reports
11 September 2017 | Adam Leach
Facilities management is not really the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about branding and brand values. One is far more likely to think of something akin to the branding agency Perfect Curve, as portrayed in the BBC mock-documentaries Twenty Twelve and W1A, or famous real-life rebranding exercises such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers becoming simply PwC.
So yes, perhaps FM is far from the first thing that springs to mind in such matters. Yet think a little more on it, and the lines between the two become a lot clearer.
As a function, facilities management intersects with every department, every day, making it well positioned to ensure consistency across the board and communicate messages quickly. It is the first point of contact for clients and visitors at the front desk, the function responsible for the areas they walk through and the services they use - be those lifts or meeting rooms - and the last they encounter as they depart.
In a sense, FM is ideally suited to assist in promoting and managing the culture and values of an organisation across all of its workplaces; put another way, through the services it provides and those services' impact on colleagues and end-user customer alike, the brand is its business.
From ensuring that uniforms are being worn, or staff are professional and presentable in appearance to ensuring a clean, clear and well-functioning workplace, an FM team's existing responsibilities already cover a wide array of the issues that are central to making sure that an organisation's brand, culture and identity are preserved and presented at their best to both internal and external parties.
If a management consultancy sells itself on its slick and efficient solutions to its clients, then ensuring a slick and efficient experience when they visit is down to FM. Similarly, if an organisation prides itself on its environmental stewardship and commitment to sustainability, that value should be reflected in the services FM provides to it.
As Alan Williams, director of Servicebrand Global, attests, the function is ideally placed. "I think that FM is in a position to really strongly reinforce the organisational brand to the employees."
In his eyes, the function's role in the area is split across three different levels. First, within its main domain of the built environment, ensuring that everything is in working order and that staff and guests are able to walk and work around the building as designed.
Second, he proposes that its responsibilities also lie in the types of services and the way in which they are provided marry up with the values espoused by the company. If it prides itself on delivering beyond expectations to its employees but offers no onsite catering, then there is a mismatch, and it is incumbent on FM to resolve this.
Finally, and critically, Williams stresses the importance of how the FM staff conduct themselves and deliver their services. If a company is innovative, its FM function must be just as innovative in how it fulfils its responsibilities. Equally, if the company has made sustainability a strategic priority, so must FM.
Asked for an example of where he has seen an FM team deliver on its brand protection potential, he suggests a popular British smoothie maker. "I think Innocent is a good example. They are really well regarded for their physical workplace environment and it strongly represents their brand. They're making conscious decisions and saying that when they are putting up a new building it really strongly needs to reflect the brand and this is the way we are going to do it."
Matching marketing to FM
Drawing on a personal example, Williams explains that while working for a large corporate, the FM team installed three huge cyan vases in reception to reinforce the company's corporate colours, subliminally reminding visitors of its brand.
However, while he has encountered and worked within organisations that have actively capitalised on FM's potential to promote the organisational brand and culture, he has also encountered many that are missing the opportunity.
"I remember when I was working for an investment bank that was opening a new building on Canary Wharf. We contacted the marketing department and asked if they'd like to be on the steering group for it and the marketing guys said 'why?'. They just didn't get why it was a brilliant opportunity to position the brand with the employees."
And here is one of the main cruxes of the matter. FM is capable and can certainly be valuable in brand promotion and protection, but that ability is heavily dictated by its relationship - and ability to collaborate - with other departments.
"It requires more collaboration with FM from other departments," says Williams. "So marketing should be embracing FM and asking, how can FM make our brand stronger in the eyes of our employees and similar with HR on how FM can make the employee experience better? So working more hand in hand with other parts of
Referring to the examples where he had seen FM both capable of delivering on its objectives and exceeding them, Williams stresses the value that was delivered by having a senior leader within the team who was skilled at talking to the senior leadership team of the organisation and getting them on board with his plans. This is a critical factor in enabling FM to move up from just being the people who ensure the workplace is clean, tidy and functioning, and into the more value-adding areas.
The human touch
But FM is only half of the equation, with the other side being those departments that must collaborate with them. Offering a view from the world of human resources, leading consultant Perry Timms explains that while he has seen and capitalised on the potential of FM as a partner, many in his discipline are still failing to.
"I still think there's a lot more daylight and not quite the same level of understanding that people like me who have worked with FM a lot and have a greater appreciation of its challenges and also its impact," says Timms.
"If you talk to a lot of HR people and ask who should you be bothered about in terms of creating strong relationships, then I think most would say the top team, the operations lead and the IT guys. FM would still be way down the list because I think it'll only occur to them if the environment is in itself appalling, or they're moving or rebranding," he adds.
Timms is adamant that it is in both functions' interests to work more closely.
"The fact is, both FM and HR are essentially looking for the same thing - for employees to be happy and comfortable in their working place. On that strength alone, we ought to be collaborating a little more and learning from each other."
Whether it is with HR on employee welfare or catering to staff needs and comforts, or IT and ensuring that the technology needs around the building are serving to support the organisation's identity, FM already has daily interaction with the departments. But to enable it to deliver overall value, it is incumbent on both it and the other departments to work more closely together to achieve that value. Unless, that is, it does not come from a departmental level, but the organisation as a whole.
The holistic case for FM
In his role as a senior facilities professional at Dell, Bruce Barclay has seen the FM function start to rise above its traditional tasks and competencies to gain more high-level value within organisations that appreciate their value.
"The best leaders realise strong brands aren't built by the marketing department alone; every employee in every department has a role to play," says Barclay. "This particularly includes FM personnel as they interact with stakeholders across the business - from the receptionists and security guards greeting people to the interactions of the catering, hospitality, cleaning, AV, and maintenance teams. FMs need to ensure that their service is aligned with this business need. They can play a key role as brand ambassadors."
Be it a brand ambassador, a brand protector, or just an FM function that fulfils its purpose to the fullest degree, there is undoubtedly a role and a part to play for the function in promoting its organisations brand, culture and values. From those first steps through the door, to each and every room and floor, FM is at the centre of it all and must capitalise on that.
Other departments such as HR and IT may become wise to this on their own, and offer up a seat at the table of their own volition. Alternatively, it may be the organisation as a whole that wises up to its value in the area. However, to give itself the best chance of success, FM should not wait and instead make its own moves, promote its own brand if you will, and prove its value beyond the traditional perception.