Open-access content 3rd June 2009
Ian Fielder became chief executive of the BIFM five years ago. Here he talks to Cathy Hayward about his track record since taking the post and what the future might hold for him, the institute and the FM sector
by Cathy Hayward
4 June 2009
He acknowledges that although the institute has done considerable contingency planning the current economic situation is hard to read. "The Bank of England and the government got it disastrously wrong which is quite frightening but we are constantly reviewing the situation."
Membership is still increasing, but at a slower rate. "We hope to ride the storm but the worst-case scenario is that membership declines as it did in the late 1990s and we would then have to cut the cloth accordingly." Fielder is predicting a 3 per cent growth in 2009 - membership currently stands at around 12,700.
Certainly the institute is in a much stronger position to weather the economic storm than it was five years ago when Fielder took the helm. In many ways, the organisation bears little resemblance to the one he took over. "When you're on the inside looking out, you forget how fast things have changed. We've made an amazing amount of progress." Not only has the BIFM moved head office - from picturesque but impractical offices in Saffron Walden to modern Bishops Stortford premises - and launched a new visual identity and mission statement, but the structure of the institute has also changed - and continues to evolve.
The structure introduced shortly after Fielder joined, saw the creation of a board responsible for policy and strategy supported by a Members' Council, representing stakeholders, providing advice and guidance. The changes ensured not only that members were better represented but that the institute, through the executive which has day-to-day management responsibility - could get things done without placing excessive burdens on volunteers. "The whole purpose was to bring stability into the organisation and set the institute on track for the way forward."
Fielder considers this professionalising of the institute as the key achievement of his tenure. "I recognise that everything that was being done before I arrived was being done with the good intent but it was often done in an ad hoc and unplanned way. We can no longer afford single agenda issues that satisfy a minority of members. We have to supply the same service to every member." His greatest achievement, he says, is understanding what the institute is. "We're not a learned society or a trade body but a professional association. Once you understand who you are, you can set out your stall to everyone else."
Last month the BIFM proposed further changes to its constitution including replacing the member grade Qual with Certified; dissolving four of the standing committees and creating two new ones; introducing a group grade of membership; and introducing board regulations. These will be voted on by members at the AGM later this month. For Fielder, such changes are part of his continuous improvement mantra: investing in processes, procedures and work instructions to improve what the institute does on a day-to-day basis.
Understanding what the organisation is requires understanding where it is going. In 2004, the BIFM only had a yearly business plan, explains Fielder "so our horizon was only ever 12-months out." In January 2008, the BIFM launched its medium term strategy to stretch that horizon to the next three to five years.
Last year also saw another major milestone reached: in April the institute was recognised as an awarding body by Ofqual. Achieving awarding body status will allow the BIFM to apply for accreditation of its qualifications. Accredited qualifications can then be included in the existing National Qualifications Credit Framework. Achieving awarding body status, remodelling the institute's examinations for accreditation in the national framework, and developing new entry level qualifications will all cement the BIFM's position as a centre of excellence for FM education, says Fielder with some measure of pride.
Anyone who has seen Fielder at a conference will recognise an expert networker in full effect (he's even given talks in the US and UK about how to network) and a key tenet of the past five years has been the development of relationships across the FM sector. The BIFM has signed Partners in FM Excellence Agreements with six parties: the International Facility Management Association; the Facility Management Association of Australia; the Irish Property and Facility Management Association; The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers; the Electrical Contractors' Association; and The Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association.
The breadth of these relationships has caused a few raised eyebrows and Fielder acknowledges that relationships take investment. "The newer relationships take time to bed in. We invest the time with the knowledge that they will pay off in years to come. You can't just sign up and let the agreements lie on a table and they must have a benefit to the members." The current established ones are working well, he says, particularly in the current climate, when institutes need to benchmark against each other.
Fielder has been trying to develop relationships with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply for several years but admits that the BIFM is still seen as the new kid on the block. "There is a distinct lack of understanding of who we are and the crossover between HR, purchasing and FM. But I'm not giving up on that intention." A new people management special interest group may help here. At the same time he wants to focus on the relationships aligned to FM such as with Asset Skills, the Construction Industry Council, the Chartered Institute of Building and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Fielder acknowledges that that he has graduated from an FM expert to become an expert in running a professional association - and this is very much where he sees his future: "I'm flattered that people think I have a deep knowledge of FM but my strength is as a networker and keeping up-to-date in the industry by networking. I've migrated over the past five years from FM to PAM. I certainly didn't expect that five years ago."
Envisaging the future for the institute and the industy, Fielder declares "continuous growth is our aim, over the next five years want to deliver a step change in growth, and not just by traditional organic growth."
The profile of FM will continue to rise, he says, with the term becoming part of the daily lexicon. At the moment FM still fails the elevator test - which is to explain what job we do to a complete stranger in less that two minutes. There will also be scope creep. "What's not in FM today will be tomorrow and there will be more understanding of the role of FM at board level."
But there are threats to the sector he warns. "The dilution of FM is one, as FM diversifies there is a danger that it becomes business infrastructure and people lose the focus on FM and the focus goes to BI, HR and IT and procurement take the lead. But at the same time we shouldn't be too precious about the term FM."