In search of our true profession: Facilities Management grows up and leaves home

by Paul Carder on October 25, 2013

It is a day of mixed feelings and emotions. Pride in the child, becoming an adult, and starting to make his or her mark on the world. And some sadness that the child has outgrown the parent. That is where Facilities Management (or Workplace, or its many other aliases) is right now – on the doorstep, bags packed, and smiling as it enters adulthood! What lies ahead? Nobody knows for sure. But, I’m going to pretend I’m its mentor, and tell young ‘FM’ what I think it could achieve, if it works hard (or maybe, just works smart).

Before I do, just a thought for the parents of young ‘FM’, waving goodbye with a fond tear…….

Young FM had a bohemian start in life, born of many parents. Their was a ‘hard’ side – the construction, real estate (property), surveying, engineering, and architectural professionals. Even the occasional accountant or business manager. But, to balance the Yin and Yang, there was the ‘soft’ side – the hotelier, the caterer, the customer service manager, and the cleaner. And a few academics too – notably the psychologist. Some had been established professionals and were very old – like the architect, the surveyor and the engineer. Others were younger, acting very professionally – but would not call themselves “a professional”.

Oh, the arguments they had! Especially over that word “professional” – was it about “acting professionally” (which, some argued, they all did), or was it the somewhat loftier ambition of being “a professional person”? i.e., belonging to a “profession”. What was that anyway?

Well, young ‘FM’ has a bright future ahead – I have been a friend of the family for 20 years, so I have some knowledge of young FM’s background and skills. Having learned well from all those ‘parents’, young FM wants to follow a true profession. I have to explain what that could become.

Firstly, it must be about the pursuit of excellence. And self-criticism, openly and honestly, with the aim of achieving perfection. Like a surgeon – not slapping themselves on that back and saying ‘how great we are’, but rather, analyzing what could be improved.

Secondly, it must be about continuous learning – and sharing that learning. That means a desire to research, to collaborate, to publish learning for the benefit of other professionals, for the benefit of the profession as a whole, and its customers.

Thirdly, it must consider society, and the environment (human and natural) as its customers – not just the organisations that pay directly for its services.

How far off achieving this, is young ‘FM’?

Let us consider the last point first – society and the environment. Learning from all those ‘parents’, young FM is multi-skilled. It will be the ‘soft side’ of the family which comes to influence young FM most in the future. The lessons learned from the old hotelier, probably being the most valuable, alongside the psychologist with a strong interest in how physical surroundings and great service ‘lifts’ the human spirit. The hotelier took young FM around his grand building one busy afternoon, having both spent the morning at the dull offices of the accountant. The hotelier told young FM:

Look around – these people pay me to be here. They love it – we make them feel special. Why? its just a building, like the accountants office visited this morning. But we have smiling Concierges, not uniformed security guards. We have artwork on the walls for the benefit of our guests, not corporate logos and slogans for the benefit of the corporation. Subtle differences, perhaps?

This continued on, as they walked around – every minute detail being picked up by the hotelier. Not one opportunity to impress a guest was going to be wasted. It was a defining moment for young FM – realization that all this could be achieved in any human environment, with some of the hotelier’s passion for excellence.

FM has a promising professional career ahead, making a difference to society, by lifting the human spirit through people’s surroundings and a passion for service. And making a difference to the environment, by providing facilities that do as little damage to the planet as possible, and also give people the opportunity to ‘work, rest and play’ with less need to consume resources for travel.

Young FM thought about this, and reflected on the point about research, and continuous learning – and the need to share this learning for the benefit of the profession and society as a whole. Where is that research?

I have to tell young FM that there is research out there, but that it is spread around in pockets of excellence in disparate places. And that is one of the big challenges for Facilities Management in its route to becoming a true profession. The many ‘parents’ of young FM still hold parts of the body of knowledge – that needs to be brought together, into an holistic Facilities Management body of knowledge. It is a challenge that we will write about many times, as we follow the career of young FM, en route to becoming a true professional.

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