Monday, October 29, 2007

Giving Feels So Good

I've just returned from IFMA's annual convention and exposition, WorldWorkplace which was held in New Orleans this year. A lot could be said about the event, another impressive effort by IFMA staff, but what I really want to share is the Saturday experience. Out of the thousands who attended the week's events and toured the French Quarter, only 120 stayed for the volunteer work effort on Saturday. It may have been a small group, but we were a hard working bunch!

We took on four NOFD stations. Each team had eight hours to paint the interior of their station from head to toe, including the high bay "apparatus floor" where the equipment is parked. These stations were all in functioning neighborhoods which, I suspect, you would equate to second or third world country status. Their equipment is old, the protective turn out suits they wear when fire fighting are literally rotting, and the conditions they live and work in at the station houses are deplorable. Want to see mold? They can show you mold.

So what did we do? What did we accomplish? What difference did we make?
  • We painted and sweated for nine hours and were exhausted at the end of the day. Some of us spent a good portion of the day on top of scaffolding painting the high bay ceiling, some of us "cut in" around doors and moldy window frames, and others cleaned and painted.
  • We talked with the fire fighters. Heard their stories, their dreams, their frustrations...and shared ours with them.
  • We laughed, hugged, and cried...and they did the same.
  • Grainger and Bank of the West donated $35,000 to the FD's recovery fund, on top of the materials that were provided by donation.
For my money, that was the real event. Want to talk about a Value Add experience?
  • I got acquainted with people in IFMA from all over the country (and one wanderer from Australia) that I didn't know before.
  • I helped make a difference. At the end of the day this fire station was a different place, it had a different feel. We didn't solve all of their problems by a long shot, but we did something, it was important, and it was appreciated.
Kudo's to Will Rub, Bill Black, Francis Kuhn and the IFMA Foundation staff for putting this day together and giving us the opportunity to give back. It is two years since Katrina devastated the region and there is still much to do. It felt good to help out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Understanding Roles and Needs Key to Successful Real Estate Strategy

FM’s are often uniquely placed and uniquely challenged when it comes to RE strategy and tactics. We are on the inside and know our organization and its needs and culture. We know our own strengths and weaknesses, how accurate corporate planning tends to be, etc. And as FM’s we are expected to translate what we know into forward looking strategy and tight execution tactics. Many FM’s, however, are not that well versed in the RE arena. If you have “grown up” in the profession on the services or maintenance side and not the RE side of the profession, then you may feel a bit uncomfortable when given this task.

Understanding who the players in the game are and what motivates each, what they need, their strengths and weaknesses is a first critical step a successful RE transaction. This knowledge allows you to leverage individual strengths so that team results can be maximized. For example, strong alliances with brokers who have strong business acumen will increase your effectiveness in the strategy domain, especially if RE and/or finance are not your strong suits. One mistake too many FM’s make is shopping for a broker with the lowest commission on a specific transaction, instead of forming a strategic alliance with the broker who has the best business knowledge and market intelligence.

But the issue of role definition and selection applies to all RE participants, not just the brokers. Here is a good cheat sheet that provides an overview of RE project principals.







Food Chain


Reputation & referrals

Book of clients



Board of Directors


Deal making

Leverage over contractors, design

Document deal points

Increasing portfolio valuation

Complimenting architect

Driving the bottom line


Occupancy issues

Designs that work (end user defined)

Simplifying deal

Paying attention to tenants


All things FM


Who the know

Submittals, acceptance of work

Pre-negotiated Terms & Conditions

Access to capital

Project Management


Key Person Profile

Young lion, Harvard MBA

Firm principal or star associate

Seasoned partner, top regional player

Local principal with roots

Firm’s star associate



Sq. Ft. leased

Cover of Architectural Digest

Number of high profile deals

NOI, asset leverage

Annual volume

Bottom line

While the table is obviously not literally correct for every individual or firm, it is a good guideline that holds true more often than not. Which is simply another way of stating the age old truth…. Choose your partners wisely.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Outsourcing Best Practices

If you are about to go through an outsourcing exercise do a lot of research before getting too deep into the effort. Informing yourself is always a good idea, especially when dealing with something as important as deciding upon a long term relationship with a provider. Two of the best sources to start with can be found at and

You may be surprised to learn that The Outsourcing Institute’s survey of Fortune 500 CEO’s indicated that improving company focus is the number one reason executives opt for outsourcing, with cost control coming in second. I suspect many of us would argue that order, but the survey says what it says. Other top rated benefits include access to increased capabilities, accelerating re-engineering benefits, and risk sharing.

To achieve these goals, concentrate on the “Two T’s” of outsourcing, technology and transformation. The former enables the latter and without the latter, your effort is in trouble. Why, you ask? Because transformation is the name of the game. If you are simply transferring the responsibility for performing the function without changing how it is performed, then it is likely that over time the outsourced option will become more expensive. Transformation is technology driven and provides time, cost, and quality improvements that you will not achieve otherwise.

Here is a starter list of things to be aware of, or beware of:

  1. Culture match between buyer and provider is a critical issue.
  2. Monitoring, compliance, and establishing a culture of best practices at the outset sets the tone.
  3. Don’t let providers pigeon hole you into their “standard” solutions. You are unique, they should align with you.
  4. Working with an outsource provider requires close oversight, but don’t micro-manage them.
  5. You should be allowed full visibility into their cost structure, including staff salaries and benefits.
  6. Beware of firms tied to one technology solution - are they selling you services or hardware?
  7. When evaluating providers, look at their turnover metrics. Turnover has a direct bearing on the quality of people and performance you can expect.

Things you might want to include in your contract:

  1. Require specific education levels and/or industry certifications of staff they employ on your account.
  2. Require that a portion of the annual savings be returned to the staff who work at your site, or to your organization.
  3. SLA’s and KPI’s rule the day. Make them the centerpiece of periodic business reviews and use them to determine penalties and rewards.
  4. Include reward/penalty statements in each SLA/KPI.
  5. Importantly, require the provider to report how they are meeting the SLA’s and KPI’s, not just the volume.
  6. Include a clause that allows you to arbitrarily reduce labor and technology costs by a set percentage without penalty (especially if the requirements may sometimes change, as in the case of copiers for example).
  7. Consider a clause that allows you to buyout unamortized technology costs and retain the technology in the event you terminate the contract.

That’s a good starter list, no doubt you have your own issues to consider. My closing caution is to remember that with outsourcing you are talking about a true business partnership. They are going to be in your house and working next to you every single day. Think carefully about the value proposition, the culture issue, and who you will be working with.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Recruiting and Keeping the Y Generation

Forget about “Gen X,” the new crop of young faces leaving college and showing up in your offices is commonly referred to as “Gen Y,” and they have different perspectives and needs from us “old heads” and even their close cousins, the X’ers. Given that the most important game in business these days is the talent game, it is important to understand Gen Y needs and how you can meet them.

Provide meaningful work that contributes to the organization’s mission. That may sound silly to you for an entry position, but it isn’t to them. And don’t assume that they will just “get it,” either. Tell them why they are doing what they do and how their work supports and advances important goals.

Mentor intentionally. The younger generation has a need to be and feel nurtured. Good mentoring will meet their need and simultaneously enhance their current and future value to the organization. And, don’t limit it to just one person. Mentoring by their first level supervisor can focus on tactical and organizational issues while mentoring from a more senior executive will help them feel validated and provide a more strategic view to their future.

Help them develop networks. Encourage their participation in professional associations and design networking events for your company. Importantly, Gen Y’ers want to know where the people who used to work for you are now. Have their careers been successful? The answer to that question will carry a lot of weight as they evaluate your organization and you while deciding to join or stay.

Focus performance reviews on the future. Poor performance or “issues” should be dealt with immediately, either at the end of the project or as soon as possible. The annual performance review may need to look back to those briefly, but should generally be a look forward. Discuss next steps in their careers and what it takes to accomplish those. One good way to do this is to think about their resume. Since their need is to be nurtured with an emphasis on career development, then put your coaching and feedback into that mold. Have them bring their resume to the review meeting and spend time discussing how what they have done over the past year enhances their resume. Use it to demonstrate your concern and interest in their development.

Bottom line, this generation of workers needs and wants to be nurtured, and they want to know how you are advancing their careers. You should not accept sub-par performance from them any more than you would others. But they are different and your method of communicating with them needs to adapt to the way they listen.