Monday, September 26, 2011

Re-Capitalizing FM's Future

Our world and profession find themselves at a very interesting nexus.  Political, economic, generational and demographic shifts of large independent scale and interdependent relationship are occurring simultaneously.  The stress we feel in our personal and work lives shows no signs of diminishing any time soon, and the expectations we must meet seem to be on an ever increasing upward curve.

I believe FM is one of the professions that is most profoundly affected by the current state.  With an average age profile that is higher than many professions and the ensuing turnover, the challenges of increasing effectiveness and productivity in an era of severe fiscal constraint, and the continued globalization of business even while reducing costs we certainly have our hands full.

But, there is good news in the midst of the realities of the day, and it is this:  We get to make the decisions that influence outcomes.  Organizations of all sizes and shapes are looking today for primarily one thing; leadership.  In that, we have opportunity to demonstrate FM’s value to our organizations and society.  It is not a small thing.  It is not an easy thing.  It is, however, a very important thing.

One of the knocks against recent governmental economic stimulation strategies is that the programs were often short sighted.   Billions of dollars were spent but most of it was spent, in our language, on “deferred maintenance” as opposed to “revenue enablement.”  A frequently cited example is allocating money to repair existing transportation infrastructure instead of building new.  Yes, it provided temporary jobs, but it has not developed new transportation routes and nodes that encourage business expansion.  Regardless of the degree to which this claim is actually true it raises a telling point.  What are we doing to make the future better, not just more of the same?

The question I have is this:  What are we in FM doing to recapitalize our profession, and are we being smart about it?

If we try to solve this problem on a grand scale it will overwhelm us and we are likely to mimic ineffective strategies that others have tried.  I suggest a better approach is a focused attention to the strategies of our unique businesses with a goal to evaluate them candidly, allocate resources where the most potential exists, and to take smart risks where the payoff is probable enhancement of key business objectives.

While there are any number of strategies you might consider, these that follow are universal in nature.  These are common sense things that all of us can do.  Your own business will have other facets, risks, opportunities and avenues of approach; but virtually all of us can make progress by doing these things well.

Make Sure Core Business Fundamentals are Strong

  • For most of us our key asset is our people, and it is important that the value of that asset be maintained and enhanced whenever possible.  For example, reducing the training budget during tight economic times is a common strategy.  It is also a wrong strategy.  Training staff to maintain currency with industry standards and knowledge growth is an important part of projecting your organization forward.  This attention to staff development will not go unnoticed, sending a strong positive message about your commitment to them and to future successes. 

  • Conduct a candid review and SWOT analysis of your operations.  Identify those areas where you are weaker than you should be or face external threats of significance.  I’ve always found that this kind of matter-of-fact self-analysis is healthy and helps sharpen focus and direct allocation of resources.  It is also an opportunity to be honest with your staff and leadership, and often leads to a partnership based on common objectives.

  • Step back and take a hard look at your planning and budgeting processes.  Is energy and time being spent on issues that really matter?  Are there opportunities to reduce red tape to increase effectiveness and throughput?  Are interdependencies with other departments properly aligned and communicated?  Are decisions provided in a timely fashion allowing best possible execution?

  • Emphasizing the value and quality of services demonstrates an understanding of your business and protects against budget reductions that can lead to diminished services which may have important impact to corporate goals. 

Sustain Excellence to Maintain Momentum

  • Begin by demanding excellence from your own operations and then drive that culture through your entire supply chain.  Strong standards and diligence are the keys here as you work to educate those who need help understanding the importance of the initiative.  Improving efficiencies for you will pay dividends for all of a provider’s customers, improve their own bottom line, and be a part of their future success that you will benefit from.

  • Develop the habits and culture of a learning organization.  Investing in training, knowledge expansion, staff certifications and other learning initiatives will pay dividends in improved operations and staff morale.  Valuing inquisitiveness and curiosity and allowing people the freedom to investigate will enable discovery of improved processes and new opportunities.

  • Know your business by the numbers.  Understanding enterprise financial and production metrics will give you context in which to understand your own metrics, helping you relate value and scale to internal customers who may not understand how FM influences their operation.  More importantly, however, a strong metrics program allows you to evaluate FM performance objectively and focus on improvement initiatives that will make the most difference.

  • Consistent attention to Continuous Improvement (CI) initiatives allows you to take advantage of information and knowledge assets to improve cost, time, quality and overall value.  While it is tempting to let these kinds of programs slide with the pressures of tight budgets and higher workloads, doing so is anathema to the kind of incremental changes that will keep you moving in the right direction.  It requires management focus and discipline but the payoffs; optimized processes that provide higher yields, improved customer satisfaction, workforce empowerment and the experience of shared success are all positive outcomes worth the effort.

Invest in Talent

  • Take a “best available talent” approach to find quality people who can bring expertise and potential into the organization.  Worry less about filling specific needs and more about increasing the overall talent and intelligence level in your group.  Deal with niche technical needs when you have to but prioritize intelligence, curiosity and energy.

  • Take advantage of others’ losses by keeping the pulse of organizations around you.  Your networking efforts will pay off here as you learn of those who are forced to make staff reductions.  With the right relationships you will be able to get solid information on the talent coming out of their system.  If you have a short term need or want to try before you buy, consider renting employees that others are faced with letting go.  This type of arrangement is not unusual even in good times.  If the other company does not want to lose the employee it offers them a way to keep them in play while shifting a portion of the cost to you.  From your perspective, you should get the other company to carry the cost of employee benefits, thereby increasing the value to you.

  • Build relationships with universities to identify and pre-engage with the best young talent.  Don’t expect this to be free.  Universities will want to develop funding streams for research and partnership activities, but these are often very reasonable in scale and well worth the time effort and cost.  One way to do this is by engaging a university to provide specific project research, policy information or hard engineering in a shared effort.  Aside from the value of the project outcomes you will develop relationships with young people about to enter the workforce.

  • Making good use of interns is an under-utilized strategy that you can use to advantage.  This is a natural extension of the university engagement strategy discussed above, but is available to you even without direct university engagement.  If you elect to pursue interns, however, you should start early in the year and have your selection in place about a month before the term ends.  Specific scopes of effort, a discussion of expectations, and an interview process that challenges them will benefit the student and you. 

Put the Power of Many to Work

  • Take advantage of professional associations (IFMA, BOMA, CoreNet, IIDA, NACORE, IREM, et al).  Networking within these associations is an idea factory for your organization as you hear of and take advantage of ideas and strategies others are using.

  • Be intentional with your networking effort and time.  Merely sitting in the audience is not going to yield near the benefit that getting involved will.  Don’t wait to be asked.  Introduce yourself and volunteer, you will be amazed at the long term impact to your company and your career.

  • Be strategic with networking.  Anyone can have an account on any number of social media platforms.  But that isn’t really networking in the sense your business and career need.  It’s all about face time, but choose the right faces.  Evaluate your options and select the one or two organizations that offer the most potential benefit.   If you choose more than one be wary of getting too deeply involved with more than one.  Participation at a meaningful level requires a time investment.  Volunteering to help at an event will lead to committee membership, which may in turn lead to committee or local chapter leadership and beyond.  This type of engagement requires that you exhibit integrity.  Do what you say you will do and do it well.  If you can’t, be honest about it.

Control What You Can

  • Be accountable and responsible for your commitments and actions.  Whether it’s at work, volunteering with an association, or working with your kid’s youth sports program – be dependable.  When people know they can count on you they will.  When they learn that you cannot be depended upon they won’t.  You will be the one that loses the most in the end.

  • Be honest, candid and genuine.  Speaking with respect, clarity and transparency shortens the process between any two points and builds the kind of trust that super-charges organizations.  When tough issues come up deal with them constructively and fairly.

  • Improve your value proposition.  Learn what challenges your internal customers are facing and create ways to help them.  Help them solve their problems and you will have a friend.  Friends come in handy.

  • Do whatever it takes.  The world is full of people who don’t want to get involved, who offer excuses, or fail to live up to their end of the bargain.  Don’t be one of them.  It is not necessary to say yes to every request and you should learn how to say “no” when needed.  But when you do make a commitment then get it done.  It doesn’t matter what the obstacles are….find a way.

There you go – a few simple ideas on how to extend your influence and assure that your FM group is equipped for the present and prepared for the future.  Take advantage of them and the host of others like them and press on.

Someone I know once said during an especially rough time, “Times are tough, get over it.”    That bespeaks a focus and determination that is admirable, even if sounding a bit gruff.  I believe it is a valid perspective.  However, as leaders we have a responsibility to offer a path forward amid the unsettledness of the day.  We have the responsibility, the opportunity and the capability.  It resides inside each one of us and to a large extent is a matter of will.

It is not a time for wavering.  It is a time for encouragement, leadership, and determination.  Reinvest in your profession, your community, and yourself.  Make a difference.

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