FM Issue: Say What You Mean!

By Phil Wales
Published in the June 2012 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

In today’s dynamic work culture, the meaning of work, and thus the meaning of “workplace,” has evolved. Once a relatively stable and generic commodity, the workplace today drives—or hinders in far too many cases—the very mission of the corporation it serves. As a result, alignment of the real estate and workplace organization with the broader corporate vision has become critical.

A Question Of Focus

A revealing research study by Dr. Barry Varcoe and Dr. Martha O’Mara explored the relationship between 14 corporate real estate (CRE) practices and the economic performance of business enterprises they served (Corporate Real Estate Impact on Enterprise Success, published in April 2011). Of the 20 practices analyzed, 14 did not correlate significantly with the company’s economic performance measures. And yet, these were thought to be the tactical services most often the core focus of CRE and facility management (FM) organizations.

While these tactical services are certainly important, the expectations of top management did not hinge on these activities being done effectively and efficiently. The difference between adding value and hindering the corporate mission is how well the workplace itself aligns with the strategic direction of the work being performed.

The real disconnect is that, when asked if they have a strategic plan, most CRE/FM organization leaders actually answer “yes.” Typically, they have outlined a method of providing services and controlling costs and may have even verbalized some goals to others within the organization. However, that communication tends to be mostly informal and misses the mark in at least two primary areas: alignment with the broader corporate strategy and buy-in from those in the organization who must deliver on it. Without these two areas, any game plan that exists has more holes than Swiss cheese.

Facility managers (fms) should consider the following explanations of each area. Alignment with the broader corporate strategy means an understanding of the role of place that goes beyond the portfolio itself. For example, what is the corporation doing, how is work performed, and which assets enable that work? Management must also know how and where business needs to be delivered to customers and how the C-suite measures value. Overall, the strategy must focus on what is being done outside the CRE/FM domain and how the workplace can best enable those activities.

Buy-in by those within the CRE/FM organization comes through communicating a clearly articulated plan deliberately pushed out to the masses in a formal change management program. Without a clearly expressed strategy, many employees will inadvertently be working counter to the organization’s intended direction.

Therefore, driving buy-in involves changing what is most likely an organically grown set of skills and procedures that will have deep roots and strong support. And this must be done without dropping the ball on the tactical blocking and tackling services which are core to keeping real assets operational.

A Roadmap Is Always The Key

A common way to implement the kind of change flowing out of a strategy plan is by assigning dedicated champions to top areas of concern. This is often manifested in the form of a Center of Excellence (CoE) that takes on day-to-day management and direction of the strategy. Typically, the CoE turns the strategy into a roadmap that documents the steps which will be executed to align, and possibly transform, the organization. The key is that, with the roadmap in hand, measures can be put in place and programs devised to drive compliance with the strategic vision.

Pivotal to gaining alignment with the corporate vision and buy-in by the CRE/FM staff is standardization. Aligning a team to a new paradigm is difficult enough, but it’s nearly impossible when the methods of delivery against that paradigm are inconsistent or undefined.

Thus, a major component of the CoE roadmap must revolve around process standardization including clearly defined systems, toolsets to be made available, and individual roles enabling the strategic vision to be successful. In other words, within process standardization how do the existing processes work and do they support the ultimate goal? Additionally, what kind of metrics come out of the processes? Are they the right ones? Are they valid? And can they be codified? Essentially, is there an aura of accountability?

Standardized Optimal Practice Design

Once the way that work will be performed is defined, the next step is to evaluate technology that must support the work. Existing workplace technology will (in whole or in part) likely not be adequate to drive success of the new work models. Realistically, technology can either be an enabler or an anchor that drags down the transformation effort, which brings to mind the popular saying, “The tools are cool, but the processes rule.” Using technology that is not perfectly aligned with the way work must be done is a recipe for disaster.

By focusing on the role of workplace systems and aligning those systems to support the way employees should work is a critical step in deploying a successful strategy. Is the company’s technology process centric and aligned with practices to be encouraged? Or does it get in the way of the work to be performed? Does it enable the new work practices? Or is it only a distraction that must be dealt with by those charged with maintaining the workplace?

A fundamental question must be answered. If the tools in place do not actively support the vision or encourage work to be aligned with the new roadmap, how will requisite changes be enforced external to the technology? Of course, a benign system is better than one that inhibits the required transformation. However, a deliberate decision must be made about how the transformation will be assured and enforced if technology is not the instrument.

Making technology decisions in a vacuum or, more commonly, making them based on compartmentalized IT economic models, is a significant risk to deploying the new strategic vision successfully. Therefore, companies must assess the best option: update technology, improve it, and consolidate or replace it entirely in order to enable the vision to succeed.

Counting The Dividends

Regardless of the activity (strategy activities at the top or tactical delivery at the bottom), a solid plan delivered through a well articulated roadmap and change program and then aligned with a technical solution can work wonders. It allows everyone to pull in the same direction without friction being created between groups or types of work. And the company typically gets a more engaged workforce, because employees know what they do is important to the corporate mission—they have a purpose and can articulate their impact on the vision.

Also, in today’s highly technology centric world, the game winner is most often the deployment of an enabling technology that is able to support the organization’s core strategy and operating model. When a strategy is properly developed and technologically aligned, the results are powerful. First are the soft benefits which everyone witnesses, such as consistent delivery across the enterprise. Additionally, when technology and systems are aligned (and change management correctly executed), the “knowing the value of what they do” mindset creates ownership for employees.

Finally, by aligning the entire organization to support the technology and enabling it with the systems, processes, and technology, significant opportunities for cost savings occur for two reasons. First, eliminating the burden of manual activity (which is not value add) means work is handled more effectively. Second, it drives efficiency in the portfolio itself by enabling executives and management to make better decisions about both the portfolio and assets. It is not uncommon for 20% to 30% reductions in capital project costs to occur by eliminating waste, inefficiency, and redundancies.

In short, when members of CRE/FM organizations actively support their company’s core product or service delivery through a well defined workplace strategy, they are also able to help eliminate workplace friction points and handle their tactical services more effectively. The end result can subsequently elevate the CRE/FM group to a more highly valued strategic partner within the corporation.

Wales is CEO of Houston, TX-based eBusiness Strategies.

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