This is a second in a three part post on pivot points that the author feels are currently affecting the Facility Management profession.
Pivot Point: Strategic Alignment in an Era of Ambiguity
FM’s ability to properly align itself with the organization and thus present a united and cohesive presence in the market place is critical in our current era of ambiguity. The unpredictability of events even now in the early years of the 21st century places a burden on leaders to navigate what is sometimes a very dense fog, without seeing or sometimes knowing the endpoint. As James Dewar noted, “We cannot know the future perfectly, but we can imagine the future and make plans for it…” Dewar, James, “Assumption-Based Planning, A Tool for Reducing Avoidable Surprises,” Cambridge University Press, 2002
Operating amidst ambiguity places a premium on flexible and agile organizations, buildings and assets. Being able to win the resources needed to be flexible and agile across these domains requires unified vision, leadership and planning. In a word - alignment. A key indicator of alignment in an enterprise is a unified FM process across diverse portfolios. The nemesis of alignment is an organization populated by operational and strategic silos. Silos represent everything that is not alignment. They cannot communicate quickly and with transparency, make and execute decisions with speed, and they don’t have the agility required to avoid missteps and take advantage of opportunities. Being able to accomplish all of these are hallmarks of an aligned organization.
A successful strategy in times of uncertainty is one that anticipates multiple paths and outcomes, establishes sign posts to identify which path is coming to fruition, and includes hedging and correcting actions to facilitate favorable progress.
The value of the FM portfolio demands executive level expertise and attention. As a result, business acumen has become the number one FM executive skill. Already it is not uncommon to find FM units which are headed by leaders who do not have a technical background. MBA’s are becoming the thought leaders of our profession as evidenced by the new roles of “Chief Facilities Officer,” or “Chief Asset Officer” as it is sometimes referred to. Finally, we have a seat at the C-Suite table. But those who are invited to take those seats often speak the language of business first as they learn the language of Facilities Management. Their preferred reading is The The Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and other publications of the sort. Why? Because it is here that they keep their finger on the world’s pulse, discern what shifts are occurring and develop strategies in response. The point here is that these are business professionals first and Facility Management professionals second. While some FM purists may chafe at this fact it is a growing trend, much as outsourcing was twenty years ago. It’s not going to go away. Outsourcing turned out to be a good thing (largely) and I suspect this move towards a professional business management class within FM will as well. One immediate benefit is that alignment between FM and other business functions is increased as a result of their common language. In some ways, it is a jump in the direction of alignment but one which requires that the non-FM professional pay close attention and have open ears and mind. FM is a unique discipline just as other business disciplines are in their own way. There is bound to be a fair amount of conflict as non-FM types take on the leadership of FM organizations, both because they sometimes will not understand the unique perspective of FM and because they will sometimes not be understood themselves.
Alignment amid ambiguity. It is a tough condition but alignment is critical in order for the organization to navigate its way through the fog of ambiguity. One way to increase alignment is to mandate absolute transparency. This strategy intends to identify misalignment in its many forms so that leaders can see, understand and resolve. Misalignment may reveal itself through conflict, imbalanced operations, a lack of understanding or a hundred other ways. It is important that leaders recognize these symptoms for what they are and deal with each directly and openly, without hidden agendas.
Candid talk, honest investigation and objective analysis while maintaining high standards of personal respect are essential when working to align operations. Leaders who know this understand the importance of respecting persons while being relentless in the pursuit of truth, letting the facts lead the way. Once they are known you can react accordingly to restore alignment. Said another way, don’t rush to resolve conflict between operations and issues too soon. Take your time and be diligent in pursuing issues to the core. Rushing to mend appearances only avoids the opportunity for discovery and real solutions, and adds to what? That’s right, ambiguity. When decisions are made to gloss things over without addressing the core issues everyone knows, and they know what message is really being sent.
Next week: Pivot Three – The Explosion of FM Data