By Phil Wales
From the October 2017 Issue
The only thing constant is change, and that certainly applies to facility management (FM) where new technology, processes, and procedures are re-inventing the FM profession. Of particular impact is how a facility manager’s job is changing from the tactical “keeping the lights on” to a more engaged strategic role. While the importance of the tactical will never go away, it’s eye-opening to see how business practice optimization (BPO) is redefining the management workplace—and thus the level of FM engagement in corporate success.
The Three Es
The overarching role of facility managers involves understanding the corporate strategy and aligning with that strategy, working not in a vacuum but as a support group through the life cycle of managed assets. This cycle is represented by the “Three Es”—Envisioning, Enabling, and Evolving, and woven throughout is the thread of optimizing individual processes.
Envisioning. In this context, facility life cycle begins with understanding the vision—how the portfolio supports or hinders the core business strategy of the company as a whole. Based on this “envisioning,” it identifies the optimum asset mix and how the existing portfolio must be adapted, divested, or enhanced in order to support the business.
Envisioning is a strategic view (i.e., “How does our current portfolio support a successful corporate mission?”). Successful facility organizations must clearly understand how the assets enable—or hinder—the business lines. Therefore, beyond the most basic functions, the purpose is to make sure the facilities or assets being managed are performing correctly to help enable the corporate mission. Simultaneously, the vision must include avoiding whatever may potentially interfere with achieving corporate objectives.
For successful Envisioning, the game plan entails understanding how an optimum portfolio would best support the corporation’s work. Since facilities are harder to transform than today’s rapidly shifting business strategies, FM organizations must address two key challenges:
- understand the current portfolio; and
- note areas where the portfolio has created the greatest disconnect between need and reality.
Not only true of the physical environment this also applies to the FM organization, processes, and procedures. Envisioning should drive toward a realistic plan of asset and organizational transformations, including the best utilization of strategic partners, ownership versus leasing/co-op-ing assets, and tools and technologies.
Enabling. These initial strategic steps drive the organization into preparing a roadmap that moves physical assets from Past/Present to Future. Thus, Enabling is “Now that we know what our vision is, how do we optimize it?” A key ingredient in Enabling is to ensure that the various FM “silos” do not fight each other in delivering an integrated enterprise portfolio. This is a critical activity where all aspects of the FM organization engage to allow seamless interactions and handoffs, which often translate to reorganization, strategic partnering, new processes, and/or new technologies.
An important observation at this point is that technology often (and wrongly) becomes the primary focus of transformation. In reality, understanding the business itself should be the focus, and technology strictly viewed as an enabler. In other words, outsourcing, negotiating on energy, or technology implementation should simply be activities.
Facility managers should be aware that transforming an organization’s operations is more micro than macro. While the big picture strategy is vital, success is both detail-driven and depends on employees actively digesting and using new processes. Too often, managers think throwing technology at a problem will lead to nirvana. However, astute facility managers take the more logical approach of “What are our true requirements, and which tool best matches those requirements?”
Specific steps must be taken to transform an organization’s operational procedures properly. At the outset, functional areas must be aligned not just with the vision. This means evaluating both how work is done and also the work’s actual value. Then, still relevant procedures must be integrated or aligned with new best practices and either new or optimized existing business processes.
With the speed of transformation that corporations—and thus FM organizations—are undergoing, a formal change management program for FM employees is a must, but with a caution. Changes made to processes, job roles, organizational structures, or technology are usually organized and addressed as a project. However, change is really about people. Therefore, FM staff must understand why any change affects their job duties. If the impact of change on FM personnel is ignored, and if they don’t embrace the new way of working, the initiative will fail.
Evolving. No longer simply an order-taker function, FM Evolves into a more proactive and engaged posture to become fully part of the company’s success or failure. All this is within the context of today’s business being so exceptionally dynamic and fluid that facility managers realistically must function as an active change driver. Of course, in moving from a reactive to a predictive service offering, analytics are important. When understanding how work is done and how it is processed “You can’t really manage it unless you can measure it.”
When the bulk of FM activities were historically tactical, the leader typically had advanced through the ranks and best understood firsthand how the facilities worked. In contrast, companies are now bringing in managers from groups outside FM and making the statement: “This is a business, so the new heads need to understand how corporate work is done, then align it with how they do specific tasks.”
Basically, all this is not conceptually new but a maturation of the process which defines what a facility manager should be. The revolution is that while physical buildings remain at the center of FM, major decisions are being made by strategic thinkers asking: “Why do we do that this way… and does it help my company deliver on its mission?”
Wales is CEO and founder of Houston, TX-based eBusiness Strategies, LLC. For more than 35 years, he has advised some of the world’s largest private and public sector organizations of business and technology solutions to support their enterprise and real estate and facilities management. A registered architect, Wales is certified by National Council of Architectural Boards (NCARB) and is an International Facility Management Association (IFMA) member. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design, and a Master of Architecture from Texas A&M University.
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