Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Just a brief note on this day before the big day. I hope your year has been as fruitful as it has been for our family. I am reminded again that "sometimes the facts don't count." While the world is in economic turmoil around us our peace and security is found internally. That doesn't mean that life is always easy, it does mean that the things that are really important; loving and being loved, family, ease of conscience, and pride in what we do and how we do it - these are things we control, not the world.

In this holiday season I hope you have that internal security and peace, and that the next year gives you opportunities to share it with the world.

OK, so I'm an idealist. Like that's news?

I will be back with more posts after the New Year. For those of you who read Essential FM Report, you can fill the time by checking out my article in the current November/December issue... "FM Trends Continue to Change How We Work, Where We Work, and in Some Cases...Why We Work."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Collaboration Technologies Are Fundamentally Changing How We Work

Everywhere we look we see new technologies. Wikis and blogs, Google, SharePoint, LinkedIn and a thousand of their cousins represent in some ways the maturation of social networking technologies originally pointed primarily at younger generations. Paired with that maturation is the development of sophisticated IT tools, so sophisticated that anyone can use them. Together these two trends result in an environment that breeds collaboration, the effects of which are far-reaching.

Web based collaboration sites have enlarged the number of people who can participate in any given project. The only delimiter, it seems, is how early (or late) you are willing to set your alarm clock. As a result, projects now include participants from around the globe. In addition, a move towards increased cross-functional engagements is expanding the knowledge base of FM’s to include Human Resources, IT, and other functional areas.

The improved quality and affordability of video conferencing is making it easier to build human connections that develop trust. Today, high-definition sound and image systems are available for as little as US$30,000. Even top of the market systems, such as Cisco’s Telepresence, make sense in today’s tight economic climate. A US$300,000 room can pay for itself in less than a year given high travel costs. Add to these cost savings additional productivity, improved morale, and reduced carbon footprint of the business and you have a very strong case to support the investment. The proof of course, is in how the market votes, and it is voting. In March, 2008 International Data Corporation (IDC) projected the global telepresence market would grow to more than 8,000 systems and US$1.7 billion by 2012. In August Cisco announced that its telepresence business had quintupled over the previous year. IDC has since hedged its projection in light of the global economic downturn, but spending in this category is still on a sharp upward climb while other IT sector spending is slowing. But you don’t have to shell out US$300,000 to access this sophisticated technology. Cisco has now partnered with AT&T and British Telecom to make high end technology solutions affordable for smaller users. The communications companies own the equipment and end users pay a small monthly fee of approximately US$10,000 per system, opening the door to virtually all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Growing Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

There is an increasing emphasis on what is now generally labeled “CSR.” This emphasis takes many forms, including shareholder and external stakeholder interests, increasing legislative requirements, and corporate desire to do (and receive credit for doing) “the right thing” for the environment. But CSR goes far beyond the bounds of environmental interests, although that is where its original basis is found.

Green is good business. Whether their focus is construction, operations, technology, or any of the other competency areas, FM’s and the product and service providers who support them have gotten the message and are acting positively. This was not always the case. In the early days many FM’s tried to look the other way, fearful that “Green” would be just another fad. Many simply didn’t want to deal with it. Reality, however, has a way of changing our perspective. When Green moved from being a fringe agenda item to being a centerpiece of boardroom conversation priorities changed. That change came about because leaders were successful at doing two things – communicating the bottom line benefits and positive societal impacts of Green; and nurturing the grass roots support of the ideals, ideas, principles and purpose of the movement. Green is now seen as a societal and moral imperative and has the unwavering support of a growing critical mass, enjoying large corporate support because it has healthy implications to the “Triple Bottom Line.” Importantly, the pathway to Green offers lessons learned to other societal issues.

“Social Accounting” is a term FM’s should become familiar with if they aren’t already. Familiar with, comfortable with, and competent at, one suggests. Social Accounting refers to the ability to apply meaningful measures to the impacts of corporate social policy. While relatively easy to do when talking about energy reduction and the like, it may be harder to do when talking about other policies. Indeed, debate about the motivation and benefits of some policies may cloud the issue. For example, if a company decides to include a day care center in a new facility is that a decision driven by a desire to do something good for the workforce, the environment, or the company? The answer, of course, is that it is good for all three. Concrete information can be easily developed to support each case. Hours saved commuting to/from childcare, reduced carbon footprint, and improved staff morale and productivity are all measureable and verifiable. And that is the key – measure and verification. Data, facts, understanding, and wisdom are the elements of driving and sustaining change. FM’s have a responsibility to all of their constituents to be able to quantify the societal implications of corporate policy and initiative in real life, meaningful, and actionable terms.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Operating Budgets In Tough Economic Times – To Be or Not To Be A Cost Center

Most businesses these days are facing economic uncertainty. Financial prudence, always important, is especially so in difficult times like these. Businesses that are market driven need to read those conditions and react quickly and forcefully – there is no question about that. However, a rush to act can lead to a mistaken strategy which will have its own consequences.

One strategy I have seen contemporaries opt for when the budgets get tight is to convert to a cost center business model. I much prefer indirect charging methodologies because they have one huge advantage – they let me make value choices.

When operating as a cost center the facilities organization is limited in its ability to create enhanced value. You can do only what customers pay you to do, and they are likely to ask you to do less, thereby stranding resources you depend upon. Life is tough, and sometimes tougher.

I much prefer a model that gives me control of my budget and allows me to make strategic decisions. In fact, I believe tough budget times offer business leaders one of their premier opportunities to make a difference. This is an opportunity to be a thought leader, to suggest paths and strategies that others have not thought of, to demonstrate your strategic value to your internal customers by presenting creative solutions and options to help them solve THEIR problems. You can only do this, of course, if you actually understand their business. But assuming you do, having control of your budget allows you to create value for them and for your own organization. Yes, budget control numbers will shrink even in non-cost center environments. The difference is that you get to decide how to allocate your resources.

One of your most important contributions to the enterprise is in knowing your customer’s business, looking over the horizon, and creating options that protect and help them before being asked. In other words, by being proactive, responsible, and leading through assumed entitlement.

It’s much easier to do, and a lot more fun, when you hold the money.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Alternative Workplace Strategies

In previous posts to this blog I have mentioned the growing importance of Alternative Workplace Strategies (AWS). While not every organization will be a good candidate for aggressive AWS promotion, many are. Any business that is mainly consultative or application based has opportunities to utilize AWS to its advantage – but it is not without its challenges.

One of the most obvious benefits is reducing the real estate footprint, and therefore, a major cost component (usually the second highest behind labor). Easy to say, not always easy to do. Aside from the costs and hurdles associated with transitioning to a AWS profile, stranded lease commitments being one example, there is also the need to establish new routines, revise policies, and hard wire new ways of doing business into the system.

Despite these issues, however, Alternative Workplace Strategies are becoming more common. There are a couple of reasons for this shift. First, younger generations of workers understand that there are fewer of them than older generations that are now exiting the work force. The laws of supply and demand are in effect, and they are using them as leverage. AWS and Corporate Social Responsibility rank 1-2 when Gen X and Y workers are asked how they decide between competing job opportunities. Secondly, the continuing shift to an information and service based economy in tandem with the growing sophistication of remote access technologies is increasing the proportion of the work force which can actually do its work outside of the traditional office.

Not surprisingly, one area of current interest in the AWS community is developing metrics that prove the performance of the system with objective data. Some standards are beginning to emerge, such as

  • Days worked at home
  • Home/remote office configuration
  • Cost of deployment
  • Productivity measurement
  • Reduced space and occupancy costs
  • Worker’s Comp claims (risk management)

When designing and implementing alternative strategies, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Design incentives that are driven by AWS metrics
  • Technology must be able to monitor performance
  • Remote workers should be willing to give up dedicated office space
Importantly, think about the personality and character traits that enable a worker to be successful working remotely from other associates and supervision. Working from home or other remote sites may require a different personal “wiring diagram” for employees than more traditional arrangements. At the same time, socialization among staff will always be important. AWS programs require that you be more intentional about creating these opportunities.

One of the largest and best known global CRE service firms operating in the Los Angeles market is a prime example of successfully implemented AWS strategies. They have several hundred staff members working in the metropolitan area, yet their real estate footprint is only 10,000 sq. ft. Think about the competitive advantage that represents the next time you are tempted to dismiss AWS as just another business fad.

Monday, October 27, 2008

PM Lessons from the Front – International Projects In Underdeveloped / Emerging Regions

A friend recently completed development of a new office in one of the former Soviet republics. The country is now independent and younger generations are extremely entrepreneurial, and the workers are talented. This particular company was using a firm there to provide programming services and liked the product so well they decided to buy the company. That’s when the fun began. They learned lessons that will be valuable to anyone leading projects in emerging regions. You will find their experiences to be very educational.

“Class A Building” has more than one interpretation: The building the company was located in was billed as “Class A” but seemed to be everything but. It was a Soviet era building that the owner had thrown multiple colors of paint on, and the ‘hood’ wasn’t that great. Employees insisted on leaving the facility before dark, and even during the day had to navigate through a perimeter of intimidating types. Needless to say, building systems were far from dependable. They were finally successful in finding a suitable new building using the following strategies.

  • They focused first on finding a Landlord they were willing to work with, then looked only at those properties
  • They insisted on buildings that housed other multi-national firms on the assumption that those would have better standards and that the firms could band together to leverage the Landlord when needed
  • They didn’t back down in the face of last minute gamesmanship

It’s a dangerous business environment out there: As you would expect, multiple business challenges arose. A complex legal system contributed to confusion and misunderstanding, and several parties engaged on the project tried to use the tenant’s supposed naiveté against them. Business ethics that we take for granted were in short supply. They expected to be tested on deal points, and they were. They did not anticipate the level of opportunism they would find. In one example, the Landlord put forward multiple contracts at the lease signing, some of which were obviously tax dodges. When the tenant refused to sign with any but the approved entity an attempt was made to significantly change deal points. Only when they stood their ground (read, got up and walked out) did the deal come together on acceptable terms.

Cultural differences show up in unexpected ways: This was an office for about a hundred staff members. Before the new project was built they had been working in incubator space that was barely habitable, in a poor building in a dangerous neighborhood. You would think that a design for a modern and well equipped office in a new building would be met with enthusiasm. Not so. In fact, there was a staff revolt. What was the source of all this angst? In the old space, as crummy as it was, each one of them had their back to a wall. No one was left vulnerable by having people sitting behind them or able to walk behind them. Naturally, the project was completely re-designed to satisfy this “unusual” requirement.

Look for creative risk management solutions: In the end, this group decided to transition the entire staff to Independent Contractor status. This strategy saved taxes for both the company and the workers, allowed the workers to maintain their entrepreneurial spirit, and provided a buffer for the company name and reputation.

These are only a few of the tales from the dark side of this PM’s experience on the project. However, even these are enough to make the point. When working off shore the rules are different. Make sure you understand the written ones and the unwritten ones, accommodate culture early rather than late, and stand your ground when needed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Visionary Leadership Can Do

When a large and historically bureaucratic organization demonstrates visionary thinking and agility it’s worth taking notice. Add to that the fact that it is an education system funded by tax dollars and it is even more impressive. Take note, Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is energized, acting entrepreneurially, and changing the future of its students.

LACCD operates nine campuses in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, serving 122,000 students. Sixty percent of its students are immigrants or from immigrant families, less than 14% of incoming freshman are proficient in English, and only 6% are proficient in mathematics. These stunning numbers paint the image of an equally stunning challenge. To meet this challenge LACCD has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at revitalizing the education process while demonstrating leadership in sustainability. These initiatives include building new facilities that support environmental goals and act as learning resources, achieving energy independence, changing the way infrastructure is conceived and deployed, and developing new technology standards and resources for educators and students.

Energy Independence: LACCD began projects this year that will result in all nine campuses being completely off of the power grid by the end of the year. To do this, LACCD partnered with Energy Service Companies (ESCO’s) who are capitalizing, installing, and maintaining a variety of energy technology projects. These include widespread use of photo-voltaic panels, small architectural-scale wind turbines, geo-thermal energy storage, and others. LACCD will then repay the investment using the money it would have paid to utilities, until the projects are paid off in full. After that, the only expense will be maintaining the system leaving the margin available for reinvestment in the educational system.

Infrastructure Upgrades: One example is the deployment of HD video teleconferencing at all nine campuses utilizing latest technology. These systems cost less than $30,000 dollars per room and deliver HD quality images and sound, allowing campus administrators, staff and students to conduct meetings and collaborate virtually. In the LA area that means time saved transitioning between sites, not to mention the reduced carbon footprint that goes with it.

Partnering With Industry: A powerful illustration of LACCD’s entrepreneurial spirit is its engagement with the automobile industry in the development of hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Chalk this one up to serendipity meets preparation and boldness. One of the by-products of the energy processes being deployed is hydrogen. Coincidentally, car manufacturers are gearing up to bring first generation hydrogen fuel cell cars to mass market in 2010. Those two facts present an opportunity that LACCD is taking advantage of in a couple of ways. First, with funding support from industry LACCD plans to build hydrogen fuel stations at each of its campuses, taking advantage of an available resource and market need to create revenue. Secondly, all those new hydrogen fuel cell cars are going to need mechanics, and LACCD is going to train them (again, with funding support from the auto industry). That helps those students and provides economic benefit to the entire region.

Education and Student Resources: New web-based tools help educators plan development pathways and track student progress. Students now have personal sites that include educational records, coursework, and social elements; all within a protected and safe virtual environment. These educator/student tools are being collaboratively designed along with leading institutions including MIT and Harvard, allowing LACCD to gain both from participating in the development process and from early deployment.

I don’t know about you, but I feel very good about the direction the district is taking, its forward posture and intelligent use of technology. I also feel very good about its stewardship of tax dollars. The district has benefitted from $5 Billion in bond approvals over the last several years and has demonstrated it takes its charter seriously. Kudos to LACCD for strategy well conceived and solid implementation, with special recognition to Gary Colombo, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness; Deborah Harrington, Dean for Institutional Effectiveness; Larry Eisenberg, Executive Director Facilities and Planning; Jorge Mata, Interim CIO, and Subodh Kumar, President of CFM Group, who is assisting LACCD with their strategic technology initiatives, for charting a successful path to improved educational outcomes while strengthening sustainability.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Interview with Dave Brady, President and CEO of IFMA

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) is the leading FM organization in the world. With over 19,000 members in chapters and councils around the globe its mission is to further the development of the FM profession, something it excels at. Training and certification programs, outreach and linkages to other organizations, and leadership on the most important issues our industry faces make IFMA a respected and trusted resource and partner.

Recently, Dave Brady, President and CEO of IFMA, joined the Board of the Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE). As noted in a recent post here, OSCRE is bringing together key players from all sectors of the real estate and operations community to develop comprehensive industry standards, common processes, and shared operational language.

FMandBeyond interviewed Mr. Brady to learn his perspective on OSCRE’s efforts and IFMA’s engagement in that effort, as well as to get his view of IFMA’s current health and initiatives.

FM&B: Mr. Brady, first let me say thank you for agreeing to this interview. Welcome to our little corner of the cyber-world.

DB: Ken, it is my pleasure to speak with members like you and to help get the word out on important IFMA initiatives like our work with OSCRE. Coincidentally, IFMA also is working to establish a greater presence in new media outlets, including blogs. We now have an IFMA staff member focusing on new media full time and we now have a presence on sites like You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Nevertheless, this is my first blog interview.

FM&B: Congratulations are in order. You were recently selected to OSCRE’s Board of Directors. What is OSCRE’s mission, and why is IFMA important to OSCRE and vice versa?

DB: Thank you. OSCRE’s mission is to effectively facilitate the standards development process among key real estate stakeholders—including owners, tenants/occupants, investors, operators, developers, service providers, consulting firms and vendors—to benefit stakeholders and enable the real estate industry to function more efficiently in the digital economy. OSCRE members in the Americas represent an excess of US $2.1 trillion in real estate assets, 12.3 billion square feet of floor space and 1.4 million association members.

FM&B: IFMA has several strategic partnerships both with complementary organizations like AIA and IIDA, and more FM-centric groups such as FMA, EuroFM, and BIFM. Why are these alliances important to IFMA in general and how is the alliance with OSCRE similar or different?

DB: IFMA’s vision is to serve as the resource and representative for facility management. Our mission is to advance the facility management profession. We leverage our capabilities through working with carefully-identified organizations with knowledge or resources that complement our own.

In this past year, we signed three new alliances. First, IFMA and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) signed a memorandum of understanding to advance the interests of engineering and health care facility professionals. This opens the possibility of doing joint research, educational programs, FM credentials, benchmarking and work on sustainability. Second, IFMA and the U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC) signed a memorandum of intent outlining collaborative efforts to promote sustainability, energy efficiency and environmentally-responsible building operations. Third, IFMA joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program as a partner. This is a fundamental commitment by the association to protect the environment through the promotion of continuous improvement in energy performance on the part of IFMA members and their facilities.

Also in the area of sustainability, IFMA has on ongoing partnership with the Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments and it continues to help the association advance the business case for operating facilities and workplaces in sustainable ways that minimize our footprint on the planet.

At World Workplace 2008 we also will be signing a memorandum of understanding with the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE) that has been in development for well over a year and we will be renewing a three-way Partners in FM Excellence agreement between IFMA, the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) and the Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA). In essence, this renewal is an expansion of this evolving tripartite relationship based on new opportunities discovered in working together these past few years.

As for the IFMA/OSCRE relationship, their CEO, Andy Fuhrman is a long-time IFMA member with many years working the facilities end of the technology sector. He also was active in the Silicon Valley Chapter of IFMA and in IFMA’s IT Council. Andy was integral in helping IFMA unbundle technology from its eight other separate competency areas to give it a deserved and unique standing. IFMA also was not one of the first formal members of OSCRE because as a global organization, it was necessary for it to stay connected with the various standard-setting organizations that had facility management within their perimeters. Earlier in the process, we were not sure which of the organizations would take the lead or reach a critical mass. When it became clear to the IFMA board of directors that OSCRE became both the lead organization and one that had international connections, IFMA joined as an executive-level member. We have been working with Andy hand-in-glove since.

FM&B: For those who do not know, would you briefly explain OSCRE’s focus?

DB: Technology is the newest FM competency and it is revolutionizing how real property assets are managed and how fast critical information can be shared. Previous to OSCRE’s initiatives, FM software used different platforms and there were no information exchange standards. Custom interfaces were necessary or time was wasted by manually re-keying information. Data standards enable facility professionals to readily share information with architects, designers, contractors, government officials and other stakeholders. OSCRE works both upfront and behind-the-scenes to tie it all together, both in North America and through its ties with similar organizations in other parts of the world. The bottom line is OSCRE saves time, money and effort.

FM&B: How can professional FM’s participate?

DB: Joining IFMA’s IT Council is a great starting point. This concentration of members within the association undoubtedly is more focused on OSCRE’s work than any other segment or combination. Additionally, as previously mentioned, OSCRE workgroups provide opportunities to contribute. These groups are listed on the OSCRE Web site and include: Commercial Information Exchange, Commercial Property Information Exchange, Lease Abstracting, Real Property Appraisal Reporting, Real Property Unique Identifier, Space Classification Standard Code List and Work Request and Work Order Fulfillment. IFMA members who would like to contribute something or participate in any of these groups need only contact IFMA Director of Research Shari Epstein.

FM&B: What do you see as potential benefits of IFMA’s engagement with OSCRE, both for the FM profession at large and for the individual practitioner?

DB: Facility management as a profession has been getting progressively closer to certain other disciplines such as IT, finance and human resources. There are many more overlapping areas of responsibility. OSCRE’s work adds credence to FM’s argument that excellent strategic facility planning has huge bottom line implications. Finance and IT also are C-suite functions. For the individual FM practitioner, embracing OSCRE standardization initiatives can place him or her closer to top management.

FM&B: Let’s turn our attention to IFMA in a more general sense. As I post this to the blog IFMA is in the midst of World Workplace 2008 in Dallas. What would you like to say to our readers about IFMA’s health, opportunities, and aspirations?

DB: IFMA is in excellent financial health, both from a cash flow perspective and long-term investments. Through the implementation of strategies outlined in the association’s balanced scorecard we also continue making significant investments to improve the quality of programs and services. Right now we are about a third of the way into the 2008-2009 fiscal year and these investments in people, resources and technology have positioned us well. As an example, membership is the lifeblood of associations and IFMA’s membership grew by 662 over the previous year.

FM&B: Looking at the near horizon, where does IFMA leadership see the greatest opportunity to influence and why is this particular area of interest important?

DB: Through IFMA’s involvement with Global FM, a consortium of national and international FM-related organizations, there is great potential for FM to contribute to the emergence of various nations— whether largely service-based or industry-based. There is special emphasis on the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Strengthening connections between North and South America also is important. The first user of IFMA’s online education was an FM professional in Croatia. The world indeed is getting much flatter.

FM&B: Turn that coin over now. What are the biggest issues IFMA needs to deal with organizationally and what strategies/actions are you using in response?

DB: Organizationally, IFMA responded by integrating globalization as one of three overlying themes in our balanced scorecard and strategy map. We have added staff dedicated to international development, are strengthening ties with IFMA’s international chapters, forging or strengthening global alliances, offering more products and services beyond North America, hiring bilingual or bicultural staff, working with partners in emerging markets like China and thinking less like Americans in our approach to the business of the association. IFMA Chair John McGee, a former chief operating officer with a major global company, also brings a new level of strategic thinking to the association. He is Irish and has worked in Europe and the United States. Right now he is leading a new strategic initiative called “Vision 2015,” working with the board, staff, members and thought leaders to define what IFMA wants to look like in the next several years. Once defined, the vision will set the course for all our planning efforts.

FM&B: Building relationships is certainly an important objective and beneficial inside the profession, but how are these relationships paying off? Are there instances of IFMA’s engagement with new organizations or governments resulting in changed policies?

DB: Nearly eight years ago IFMA established a formal presence in Washington, D.C., primarily for the purposes of monitoring workplace-related issues, educating policy makers and advocating positions in support of, or in opposition to, legislative initiatives affecting FM. However, that presence also helped IFMA get closer to its members who worked in the federal government and to heads of facilities in all the various agencies and service areas. IFMA has especially strong ties with the Federal Facilities Council, U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. Department of State and the Society of American Military Engineers.

FM&B: Sustainability and energy are likely the two dominant strategic issues our profession faces, and they go hand in hand with each other. Tell us how IFMA is leading the dialogue on these concerns.

DB: Sustainability and energy indeed are large and important issues for the profession and for IFMA. Right now, we are working on various initiatives with organizations like the U.S. Green Buildings Council, Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments and others. To better understand the challenges, opportunities, current initiatives and future potential, we engaged one of our IFMA Fellows on a project to survey and map the sustainability landscape. We will be analyzing the findings shortly in order to integrate what we hope will be unique approaches from the facility management perspective.

FM&B: Do you see movement here? Are we making progress, stalemated, or losing ground?

DB: We admittedly are behind, but running full speed to catch up. Early on, many in the FM profession did not fully understand the sustainable movement or the course set toward triple bottom line reporting. In those days, during the genesis period, facility managers tended to focus on the cost side of the balance sheet. They were expert cost cutters and budget managers, working only on one side of the balance sheet. They didn’t see the full picture and how it all came together. No one anticipated the speed to which governments, companies and other organizations began adopting sustainable principles. They did not see how sustainable workplaces can attract and retain talent, save money, increase productivity, lessen the footprint and enhance the brand. Now there is a collective understanding and the evidence is irrefutable. FMs, however, largely were not in the board rooms when the business cases for sustainable initiatives were being made, likely by people closer to the CFO or the design or architectural firms they hired. IFMA is working to get the FM to the table to outline the strategic reasons behind what should be good business decisions.

FM&B: What do you see as the next big policy thrust or practical emphasis in sustainability, and how is that expected to benefit?

DB: The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 was signed by President George W. Bush in December and it has far-reaching implications. Though it focuses on federal facilities and is directed at agencies, its mandates very well could be replicated in other legislation that would reach commercial enterprises. EISA requires the reduction of fossil fuel-based energy consumption by new and renovated buildings to zero by 2030. In the interim, a 30 percent reduction in usage is required by existing buildings prior to 2015 and a 55 percent reduction in usage by new buildings also prior to 2015. Everyone in the FM community knows that reductions can be made, but there is uncertainty that new and appropriate technology and know-how will come online in time to meet the mandated ultimate goal of zero. Companies that develop products and systems to meet these goals will make billions. We believe the engagement of the facility management profession, beginning right now, can expedite development of these critical solutions.

FM&B: Dave, as this is posted you are in Dallas and WorldWorkplace 2008 is underway. It is a hectic time for you and staff. Thank you for taking the time in the run up to that event to answer these questions. As a long time IFMA member I am pleased to see and hear the direction IFMA is taking.

DB: Our membership is the heart of our association. It is always a great pleasure for me to speak with one of them. This is truly the time of year I look forward to—it gives the association a chance to regroup with everyone that makes the facility management profession successful. I look forward to seeing FM’s from around the globe in Dallas. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reach out to your readers as well, and to share IFMA’s vision with them.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Best Practice – Business Continuity Planning

Like many firms we have recently been focused on tuning up our Disaster Response / Business Continuity Plan (BCP). We are now better organized, trained and provisioned to deal with disruption, regardless of the cause. While not perfect we are far better off than we were just a few short months ago.

Incidents that might disrupt business operations come in all forms and sizes. Long term power outages, natural disasters, workplace violence, extreme weather, terrorist actions, pandemics, concerted cyber attacks and a host of others have the potential to cause disruption and economic harm and displacement.

Naturally there is no “one size fits all” plan to protect against the ill effects of any of these. Corporate goals, culture and client demands are just some of the factors that influence and contribute to a good BCP. When developing a BCP it is best that it be done as a collaborative effort with all business units working as a team. Plans that are developed independently by separate business units will tend to have gaps, overlaps, poor coordination, different assumptions, and even different languages.

Once the cross functional team has been formed they need to be given particulars about planning assumptions and expectations, and it is best if they have a reporting relationship direct to the C-Suite. This helps moderate organizational rivalries. Executive sponsorship and oversight is therefore critical. CEO’s and CFO’s must establish parameters they can both support (such as cost of plan development, provisioning, and training) and be intimately familiar with the resulting plan so they can lead the corporation in an emergency.

Remember, even the best planning is useless if the plan is not well communicated, understood, and followed. The best way to ingrain the plan into the culture is to exercise it. In fact, exercises can be used to inform plan development. Tabletop exercises are especially valuable because they bring the full leadership team together for the purpose of experiencing the dynamics of an event. First exercises may be little more than a walk through of the plan outline. Later exercises should introduce conditions that stress plan assumptions, incident command team leadership, and the decision making system. This has the significant advantage of exposing gaps and incorrect assumptions in the plan, and in “normalizing” emotions, stress and speed of action.

One issue that every organization must deal with is how to equip staff. Using the assumption that the normal office space is uninhabitable or unreachable, alternate plans must be in place to accommodate staff. How this is done will vary greatly depending upon the type of business, product, and employee demographics. Recently I heard of one company which has established a model that I think could work well for many. Basically, each staff member is evaluated on the basis of a number of criteria, including home location, job function, etc. They are then assigned a category number. The organization has a plan to provide office space during a major event using this category system. For example, Category 1 staff are provided fully functional office space in an alternate location. Category 2 staff are provided a fully equipped home office, and Category 3 staff are provided mobile technology only. Obviously, this model does not work for all, but it can work for many. Companies that utilize Alternative Workplace strategies will be able to leverage their strategies as a BCP asset.

Regardless of what the “right” BCP model is for your organization, what is most critical is that it be current, exercised, and that there is a corporate commitment to keeping it that way. Let’s face it, this is one of those things we all hope we never need. That is no reason not to do the work to have it in place and ready if needed. You certainly don’t want to be heard muttering “I shoulda have” on this one.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Top Priority CRE Value Drivers

This week I participated in CoreNet’s Southern California Discovery Forum, a small gathering of end users, service providers and brokers. It was a full day of open discussion about key issues, along with a couple of very interesting project case studies (I’ll think twice before accepting offers to manage development of a new technology site in Ukraine!).

In one of the discussion sessions we ranked the top current CRE value drivers. You probably will not be surprised at which issues rose to the top of the list.

Financial performance: Always a focus but especially so in tough economic times. A couple of the attendees operate large portfolios for banking companies - think they’re focused on the bottom line these days? The summary statement on this one is that the dollar rules and as much hype as all other initiatives may get, the financials will always rule the day.

Attracting and retaining talent: Eighty million Boomers departing the workforce to be replaced by 30 million younger workers creates a big problem, one that is already being felt. While many Boomers will have to work well beyond normal retirement age the problem is still huge. Discussion about what is important to younger workers not surprisingly centered around quality of life issues. Alternative Workplace Strategies, improved workplace amenities, changing workplace standards, and corporate responsibility are all viewed as key strategies to attract and retain the new generation of workers..

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility: Green is here to stay, and it is here to stay primarily because it makes good business sense. There was a passionate discussion about the true cost of building Green, and not everyone believes that it is a cost-neutral proposition. However, a number of participants outlined strategies to assure cost control on Green projects. They included setting a Guaranteed Maximum Price including Green requirements, conducting rigorous Value Engineering reviews, and engaging project participants (including contractors, commissioning agent, and LEED consultant) early in the project before Schematic Design begins. It is also important to evaluate the project on a Total Cost of Ownership basis using life cycle valuation vs. first cost only comparisons. While Green is now understood to be good business from a financial perspective, it is also closely linked to social responsibility, which is becoming more important to market acceptance and recruiting.

Globalization and emerging markets: There was much talk about offshore projects and examples of how wealth is shifting out of the U.S., and the implications of that capital movement (data point: five of the ten wealthiest people in the world are Indian). We also discussed the affects this wealth is having in emerging economies, and globally. One example - the cost of labor in India has risen to the point that some companies there are now outsourcing work to the Philippines.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tough Times

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling like I’ve been here before. Hard economic times, financial institutions in turmoil, mergers and bankruptcies in every newscast. Many of you have probably lost your job in the past, or had to tell others they had lost theirs. Layoffs are no fun regardless of which side of the table you’re sitting on. As one who has experienced tough times like this before, I have learned through practice and observation that there are ways to overcome. More importantly, there are ways to increase the odds that you are not the one getting bad news.

Do not get depressed. I know, it sounds simplistic and you might ask yourself how you can’t. But attitude is everything. Make sure you keep yours ‘up.’ Enthusiasm and optimism that is genuine and reality-based will benefit the entire organization, not just you.

Recognize what is happening, and deal with it. When tough times come to a company there are those who try to ignore it in hopes it will take care of itself, those who let others do the hard work to help the company, and those who roll up their sleeves and jump in with a can-do attitude, energy, and perseverance. Guess which group is more highly valued, finds ways to succeed in the midst of difficulty, and gets rewarded?

Increase your customer focus. If you’re going through hard times they probably are as well. By serving them better, staying connected to them, and demonstrating that you have their best interests in mind you can increase loyalty and retain them when they have to make hard decisions about where they spend their resources. You help them, you help your company, and you help you.

Be flexible. Don’t expect that you aren’t going to have new demands placed upon you. Instead, embrace them. Recognize these challenges as opportunities to show all that hidden talent that your bosses were unaware of. I have known a couple of people, in fact, who used downturns to recreate their roles, coming out on the other side with new jobs, new respect, and higher value.

Understand that it’s hard for everyone. If you’ve ever had to lay off friends whom you respected as skilled and dedicated workers, then you know that it’s not easy for anyone. One way to separate yourself from the crowd is to recognize what decision makers are going through, emphasize with them, and find ways to help them. They will remember.

Here’s the bottom line in times like this. It is easy to feel that you are not in control, and maybe you aren’t in control of the big picture. But you are in control of your attitude. Changes will be required and resisting them simply adds to your stress and places you in the ‘problem’ category. Instead, embrace the changes as an opportunity to correct old problems and improve the company. Be energized by the changes and the opportunity to participate in them, and look for new ways to showcase your value.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Attributes of Learning Organizations

In my August 17 post I listed “Be a learning organization” as a key value found in excellent enterprises. You might ask yourself if yours is such an organization, and might even wonder how you would make that judgment. I suppose that in every organization you will find those who are energized by the learning process, who make a point of seeking knowledge and turning it to wisdom. But is the organization a learning entity? Here are three signposts that will help you recognize a company, division, or department that has made learning a key value.

The environment supports learning. This doesn’t happen by accident, ergo, it must be an environment that is created intentionally. Doing so requires security and confidence on the part of leadership. They must be secure enough in themselves that they are willing to accept the role and risks, and confident enough in their team to allow them the freedom to learn, even if that sometimes means learning the hard way. This attitude at the top encourages staff because they know that every failure is not going to be emphasized. You will be hard pressed to find the “blame game” in such an organization. Naturally, diversity of thought is one of the important by-products of this atmosphere. Honest (and sometimes impassioned) exchanges of intellectual ideas, concepts, and individual perspectives are the breeding grounds of creativity. Smart leaders do everything they can to encourage this environment, not suppress it.

It’s all about Process, Process, Process. You will likely find that groups which learn well are structured in doing so - because leadership is purposed in the endeavor. Leaders who are intent on encouraging learning establish distinct processes that create learning. I pride myself on being a very good project manager. Yet, at the conclusion of every project I conduct a post-mortem (I’ve always thought this an unfortunate use of the term and ironic that it is shortened to “PM”). Further, at the beginning of every major project I conduct a team review of past lessons learned. Each of these exercises is a way of transferring learning and each is an open door to discussion and new ideas. At times I have also recruited experts from outside the organization to share their wisdom, and I have seen great benefit from informal “brown bag seminars.” The learning may be informal, but it is not unintentional.

Learning is reinforced. Repeating the lessons over and over is one way of keeping them in focus. There are lots of opportunities and ways to do so, but there are other reinforcement tools as well. Open ended and probing questions that force answers to cite facts and details both test the quality of the answer and burn the knowledge into place. The leader’s job then is to listen with open ears and to encourage diverse perspectives, challenging and giving opportunities along the way for learning to occur, be recognized, and transferred. One very important tool is to emotionalize the learning experience. Have fun with it and make “aha” moments memorable. This emotional connection with intellectual or experiential learning puts an exclamation point on the gain and helps to internalize new knowledge.

You may have been in companies where Friday is the best day of the week, where nothing new is ever tried, and where just getting the job done is all that is expected. I prefer having Monday as a favorite day - and being in a challenging organization that expects me to learn and allows me the freedom that learning requires. That makes work fun and adds a little adrenaline to the morning coffee.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Holy Cow! Is That a LHC I See?

As some of you may know, today saw the first successful attempt to circulate a particle beam through the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Built by Europe's CERN particle-physics lab, the LHC is underground and straddles the border between France and Switzerland. It is an undertaking of immense proportions and import. Or, so physicists everywhere tell us. Not everyone agrees, however. There are doomsday theories and suggestions that it is a wild and very expensive goose chase that is not worth the effort. The airwaves are full of stories about it, but here are a few looks from different perspectives that you might enjoy.

First, a series of articles running on MSNBC. Here you will get a layman’s explanation of the project and positions of its supporters and detractors. Make sure you take the time to watch the slide show and HD vid.

Next, a rather humorous and educational bit of rap. I’m a jazz and blues guy, myself, but this rap has the triple advantage of being A, scientifically correct (they hope); B, written and performed by workers at the site; and C, funny. It’s been a huge hit on YouTube. Enjoy.

And lastly, for those who want “just the facts, Ma’am,” I suggest you wiki on over to

Personally, I’m just glad I don’t have responsibility for their safety program or utility budget!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

CRE/FM Standardization Is Coming of Age

The Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE) recently announced publication of the Work Request & Work Order Fulfillment Standard Version 1.0, designed to automate service requests, work order management and report generation between stakeholders with shared business processes, including occupants, service providers, suppliers and owners. The standard is applicable for Corporate, Commercial, Industrial and Multi-Family sectors of real estate. Read the entire OSCRE press release here

If you haven’t noticed the increasing momentum of standardization in the CRE/FM arena then you haven’t been paying attention. The explosion of applications, increasing demand for data-centric operations analyses and decision support, and increasing speed coupled with larger risk are all exerting pressure on existing systems and structures. For well over a decade now we have been cobbling together a series of semi-elegant solutions. Most of the time they are pretty good solutions, but they must be reengineered each time the architecture of relationships changes.

I once outsourced a large maintenance operation at an electronic manufacturing plant. We had nearly two million square feet of production space, test labs, robotic manufacturing, and fab space. In other words, there was a lot of risk. The outsourced provider brought with them a nifty work order and maintenance management application, proprietary of course, and immediately put all of our data into it. And the instant they did we were trapped. As long as we retained them as our provider all was good. But if we ever had to sever that relationship we knew our data would be lost. That was before interoperability standardization made its way into our little corner of the world. Thank goodness it has.

Fifteen years ago we were talking about HVAC interoperability, finally being able to monitor and manage different systems from different manufacturers, linking them in a fashion that allowed us to take a holistic approach to managing the entire system from a global perspective. Today, that same change is occurring in work processes and applications that we all use. Owners, landlords, tenants, contractors, and sub-contractors will all benefit from common and aligned processes and tools. Supply chain management will experience the same metamorphosis as HVAC interoperability did, eventually maturing into a trusted tool.

The key, of course, is the quality of the data in the system. As the new standard becomes institutionalized across the industry operations will become more transparent, efficient, and presumably more effective. It will, however, expose those who do not know their data or have reliable data. If you don’t have your data house in order then it’s time to get busy.

OSCRE is doing good work. It has taken a while to gather momentum but the progress this industry group is making is notable. Participants include a virtual Who’s Who of the real estate industry, often competitors in business but collaborating to assure consistent, fair, and beneficial standards are in place. Check it out at

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Black Marketeering as a PM Tool

What, you ask? Can this be true? Would a professional who values his reputation actually go over to the dark side and become a Black Marketeer? Yes. Well....sort of. Maybe I should explain.

We had been buying new task seating in incremental increments for several years and it was a very good chair. By the time we moved into our new HQ building half of the staff had these chairs and half did not. With list prices north of $1,000 per chair even that remaining half represented “real money.” But, we had a dilemma. We knew that some staff who already had the good ergonomic seating did not like the product for one reason or another. Although this was a small number of people they were vocal at times. We knew the noise wasn’t going to abate. We also knew that we would not be able to manage a process in which every occupant was given a choice, and that without choice staff dissatisfaction with the outcome would be high. Further, this particular organization is one where staff feels a high sense of entitlement. Compromise on one issue would translate to pressure on others.

What do you think we did?

We became de facto black-marketeers, encouraging staff to make their own deals without expressly condoning it. We set this black market up through the project policy we announced for seating. In essence we said if you have one of the existing ergonomic chairs you get no choice and must live with what you have. No changes allowed. If you do not have one of the ergonomic chairs then you get to choose between the existing standard and the alternate (also a top of the line ergonomic task chair but from a different manufacturer).

What do you think happened as a result of the policy we announced?

Of course. People made their own deals, just as we knew they would. Some people who already had a good chair but wanted one of the alternates made deals with those who did not have a good chair and were entitled to choose. We placed the order as the entitled person requested, put the chair in their office on move-in day, and couldn’t possibly have cared less which office it was in by the end of the day.

We purposely established a set of conditions that encouraged the development of this black market. Why? Because we knew that doing so would increase the number of people who had choice, which would in turn lead to greater occupant satisfaction and overall acceptance of the project. They got what they wanted, and we got what we needed.

Sometimes you have to be creative in finding solutions. When you do make sure your decisions and actions are oriented towards maximizing customer satisfaction within the boundaries of your project and operational standards.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Best Mexican Restaurant in Prague!

Several years ago I had the opportunity to present an address at WorldWorkplace Europe, IFMA’s annual conference on the continent. Naturally I took full advantage of the trip to get in as much sightseeing as I could. Prague is a marvelous place. St. Vitus’ Cathedral, the Charles Bridge, the Clock Tower, and the Old City are all reasons enough to make the trip. Imagine our surprise, however, when we discovered a prototypical Mexican restaurant. Actually, I think it discovered us. As we walked the old town square we were drawn to an old man dressed in complete Mexican attire, serape and all, advertising for the restaurant. My friend and I took the bait and walked a couple of side streets, finding it just as advertised. It would have looked perfectly at home here in southern California and beckoned to us with promises of the familiar. When we entered we found the right graphics on the walls, the right furniture and lighting, and trinkets everywhere that signaled this was for real. The menu bespoke familiar and beloved dishes. Our mouths began to water as we anticipated burritos, enchiladas and the like. But, remembering where we were we were careful to quiz the waiter. Was this really Mexican food in Prague? Tell me about the burrito, what is that like? And on and on. Finally we placed our orders…..and waited.

Our waiter proudly served our dishes to us. We looked at each other and then took our first tentative bites as our waiter stood waiting for our endorsement. Not wanting to seem like “the ugly American,” we told him just what he wanted to hear. It was wonderful! How did they pull this off? He beamed and then left, leaving us to figure out what to do next. The food wasn’t what we had expected at all, despite the earlier assurances. A burrito was an enchilada, an enchilada a torta. And the contents inside were nothing like we expected. Boiled meat, vegetables and potatoes in virtually everything, and we weren’t quite sure what they were boiled in. Needless to say, we did the graceful thing as quickly as we could and then left, laughing all the way (mostly at ourselves) and planning our next adventure.

OK, that may be a silly story, but it is also a metaphor for the experiences many have when doing business globally. Sometimes, it seems, nothing is as you expect. It looks good and all the signals are the right ones. You’ve done your validation checking and still….it isn’t what you expected it would be. When dining it may be okay to graciously look the other way and move on to the next restaurant, but when something goes sideways in a business venture it is another story. Now you have to find out what when wrong, redress the issue, and do so in a manner (hopefully) that restores the business relationship so that all can walk away from the experience looking forward to the next. Take a look at the restaurant story again. We were naïve and bought into the prospect that we would get something we liked and did not expect to get originally. We were excited because it was something common in our culture. We saw all the signals, thought we asked the right questions, and were still surprised at the outcome.

When dealing internationally understand that you are on someone else’s home turf. Their culture is different than yours. Words may have different meaning(s), culture may dictate a response you interpret incorrectly or naively. All of which add up to one piece of critical advice. Don’t assume anything, don’t take anything at face value. There is an old rule of thumb in the conduct of foreign relations between governments that applies directly in this circumstance. Trust, but verify. As any good project manager will tell you, “I know it’s true when I see it with my own eyes, smell it with my own nose, and touch it with my own fingers.”

If my friend and I had simply asked to see the kitchen we would have known. Take a lesson from us and make sure you don’t just talk to the cook. Watch him cook first and then decide.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Simple Roadmap to FM Excellence

Over the course of my career I have been a part of FM groups large and small. When I finally had opportunities to lead I leaned heavily upon the best experiences in my past. I have never been able to “copy and paste” from one experience to another, but I have learned that there are key values that are beneficial in all. In my view I have boiled them down to a very short list.

Focus on quality of people first

Everything begins here. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have if the people on your team are not capable of using it. It doesn’t matter how good they are technically if you can’t trust them. It doesn’t matter how energetic they are if they can’t make good decisions. Get my point? The quality of the people you select is the very foundation of everything that follows. Choosing wisely will make your life easier, choosing poorly will burden you and limit what you are able to accomplish. My cardinal rule when selecting people is “never settle.” I will, and have, left critical positions open for long periods of time until the right candidate came along. I am not suggesting you set the bar at perfection, I am stating that a bad hire is worse than no hire, every time. I would much rather hire an excellent person even if they are not an exact fit for the position than hire someone of lesser quality. I would much rather morph the organization based on the talent I have been able to acquire than force round pegs into square holes.

Be a learning organization

Once I have the best talent I can find I challenge them to continue learning, increasing their value to the organization and themselves. My number one job as a leader is to remove obstacles to success for my team. One of the ways I do that is by making sure their self development plan (a requirement, by the way) is well thought out and routinely monitored. I challenge my staff to think about where they are going, to plan the path, and to execute the plan. Because I understand the importance of balance I also ask that they do the same in personal areas of their lives, although I obviously do not monitor those areas. I know from experience, however, that the personal side of life has a tremendous influence on the work side. A healthy balance in all areas is good for them, good for me, and good for the organization. Where I work now we are very intentional about maintaining the learning culture we have established. If you are a frequent reader of this blog you have no doubt read previously how we taught basic statistics to all FM staff and statistical analysis to all of our management staff. The dividends to our Metrics and Continuous Improvement programs is stunning.

Use technology aggressively

FM technology now surrounds us and its complexity continues to grow every day. CAFM, CMMS, BMS, BIM, CRM and a host of other alphabet combinations are now part and parcel of every day, not to mention legacy systems and other corporate databases that we must work with seamlessly. These technologies are expensive to acquire and operationalize, making it important that you get the most you can out of them. Being on the technology curve today means you are treading water. Being behind it means you are losing the game. Being ahead of it means you have a distinct competitive advantage in your ability to execute quicker and with higher quality, allowing you to contribute directly to the bottom line. Technology is a force multiplier – use it that way.

Demand and deliver excellence

Your customers demand service excellence from you, and you should do the same of those who provide products and services to you. Supply Chain Management we call it these days. Sounds like good old “do the job right the first time” to me. Oh, I know there are new tools and techniques, new alliances and levers, and new relationships. But when you cut to the heart of the matter it is really about being unwilling to deliver, or accept, anything but the best. This is all the more relevant today when our industry is consolidating and many are under pressure to reduce costs and overhead. Those are certainly good things to do and I work hard at doing them myself - but not at the cost of quality. Quality is all that really matters.

Okay, there you have it, my list of core FM values. Hire the best people you can possibly find, expect them to continue growing, use technology as a force multiplier, and demand excellence. Can it really be that simple?

Yes, it can.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Five Key Ingredients of Change and the “Power of FM”

Like most of us I am a real fan of change. It mixes things up, forces me to develop new relationships, puts me outside my comfort zone, and energizes me.

Well, let’s be truthful about this. I am a big fan of change that I envision and create. I am not always a fan of change that happens “to” me.

FM’s are often in the difficult position of being the voice of change when they are, in fact, simply doing their job. You may be restacking a building or implementing a new office reservation technology, but in the process you become the focal point of the change that is occurring. You are the one who must deal with staff who are upset, with unforeseen complications and mid-plan changes.

That makes it critically important that you understand the elements of successful change initiatives and the probable outcome when one of these key pieces is missing. Knowing this allows you to preview the project at the very beginning and validate that all required elements are in place. Understanding the symptoms of a missing or poorly performing element can also be important during damage control and revitalization efforts. If you must repair an element then make sure you repair the correct one.

The five key ingredients are Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resources, and Plan. When all five are in place and strong then there is a very high probability of success. Projects are successful, customers are happy, and people get rewarded.

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = CHANGE

But take any one element out of the equation and see what happens:

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = CONFUSION

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = ANXIETY

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = SLOW CHANGE

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = FRUSTRATION

Vision + Skills + Incentive + Resources + Plan = FALSE STARTS

It makes sense, doesn’t it? You can look at each one of the equations above and immediately validate that the missing element will produce the stated outcome. We all know this to be true because we’ve all “been there and done that.”

There is another element that should be in the equation, however, one which I refer to as “the Power of FM.” You are that missing element. You have the ability and capacity to understand change management from a leadership perspective, and to be a force multiplier. Further, you have an obligation to your organization, your staff, your constituents, and yourself to do just that. You have a responsibility to speak up when you see symptoms that others may not recognize or are unwilling to articulate. Be informed, objective, and stay on point…..and exercise the “Power of FM.”

Don’t talk about leadership. Lead.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It’s That “Age of Ambiguity” Thing Again

In my January 27, 2008 post I discussed how to manage and lead teams in an era of ambiguity. In this week’s post I revisit the topic from a slightly different tack. The previous post focused on leadership skills, this will deal more with a methodology for navigating uncertain waters.

I now take it as a given that there isn’t a whole lot we can take for certain anymore. I do know that the love of my wife and children is unshakeable, that the sun will always rise in the east, and that I am unlikely to ever acquire a taste for broccoli. Beyond that, much of life seems to be like the proverbial bowl of jelly that I keep trying to nail to the wall. But the fact that I cannot foretell the future and therefore prepare for it perfectly, does not mean that I cannot be prepared for the future.

Much of life is based upon assumptions. Some of the assumptions I make are good ones and some are not so good. The same can be said for assumptions we use every day in business planning. More importantly, for this discussion, some are critical to the success of any given proposition, and some are more vulnerable to failure. I think understanding which assumptions fall into those two categories is important in shaping strategy and actions during an endeavor. So important, in fact, that identifying these two categories of assumptions is critical to the success of any initiative or project undertaken in an environment of uncertainty.

Those assumptions that are most critical to success must be supported. Actions should be ordered with this intent so as to ensure that these critical assumptions are borne out. Likewise, those assumptions most vulnerable to failure should be identified and then watched very closely. It is critical to keep the pulse of these two categories of assumptions because knowing their health allows you to act and react appropriately. The question then becomes how to do so.

One answer is to look into the future and define what kind of occurrences or scenarios will indicate that an assumption has succeeded or failed. These signposts, if you will, then become your trail guides. You can pre-plan shaping and hedging actions so that once you recognize success or failure you can react accordingly to either support the success of the assumption, redirect actions to improve a faltering assumption, or take actions required to limit the damage of a failed assumption. Shaping and hedging actions then, become critical elements in your execution of strategic and tactical plans.