Put the “M” Back in FM

07/01/2015 | By Janelle Penny

Change the cost center perception by running your department like a business

Lobby area collaboration space building hallway facility lobby

Facilities departments are traditionally viewed by their organizations as an expense – one that can be cut back when it’s time to tighten the belt. This short-sighted perception ignores the value FM brings to the table and puts the department at risk of further budget cuts.

Changing this unfortunate view starts with changing the way the facilities department does business, both internally and externally. Shift the perception at your organization with these smart management strategies.

FM as a Cost Center
Traditional management techniques in the FM department tend to exacerbate the cost perception problem. Very few facility departments have a revenue stream at all, never mind a revenue stream that covers the department’s expenses, notes Michel Theriault, author of Managing Facilities and Real Estate and principal of Strategic Advisor, a facility, property, and asset management consultancy. Instead of attempting to drive more profit under your current business model, it may be more helpful to change the narrative instead.

“The basic thing that we have to consider is that we are, in fact, a cost center,” says Theriault. “But instead of focusing on costs, we need to think about our impact on the organization’s overall success, even in areas that can’t necessarily be measured monetarily. If we shift that focus to things like productivity, risk management, and cost containment within reason, we will be more successful as a profession.”

That change starts internally. Senior FMs tend to receive less training in leadership, business, and strategy than their colleagues in other departments, Theriault notes. While tactical education on mechanical systems and efficiency strategies is vital, it’s also important to improve your business know-how.

Back to Business: Training Tools for the New FM

Ready to change how the FM department operates? Consider looking into courses on these topics, suggests Michel Theriault, author of Managing Facilities and Real Estate.

■     Strategy
■     Writing and communication
■     Public speaking and presentation
■     Finance
■     Accounting (particularly a focus on budgeting)
■     Business fundamentals

Certifications like IFMA’s FMP (Facility Management Professional) designation address many of these topics as well as FM-specific subjects like O&M, Theriault adds.

“An FM, especially the senior person in the department, is actually competing with colleagues in other departments – such as IT, logistics, sales, or business development – for resources and attention from senior management,” says Theriault.

Where to Start
Greater visibility and respect in your organization starts with embracing the company’s mission, vision, and values and aligning the facilities department’s goals with these basic principles, says Nicole Lobb, client services and facility manager at the Centre for Health & Safety Innovation (CHSI), a Mississauga, ON, facility that houses two health and safety associations, a multidisciplinary healthcare clinic, and meeting space. Your goal is to deliver services that support the corporate strategy.

Next, step back from day-to-day building concerns for a minute and look at your goals and the facility’s upcoming needs.

“Do more thinking ahead about how to accomplish things. Instead of just going to senior management and saying ‘I need something,’ think about how you can sell that to your boss. Put together a compelling argument with facts, information, and arguments that your leadership relates to,” explains Theriault. “That will help drive it forward.”

To properly sell any initiative, you’ll need to develop your marketing skills. Most FMs aren’t used to promoting themselves, Theriault notes, but tooting your own horn is a key element of transforming the way the facilities crew is viewed at your organization.

“The next time you’re at a departmental meeting with your boss and peers, be very well prepared to talk about what you do,” says Theriault. “Promote your successes and even your failures – for example, ‘Around 2 a.m. this failed, but my team got it fixed so no one noticed when they got in at 8 a.m.’ A lot of FMs are afraid to mention that, but it shows you’re good at responding and fixing things. By acknowledging some of the problems, you may be in a better position to get funds or resources to fix them.”

These meetings are also a great time to raise occupant complaints. Track them in an easily demonstrable way that helps back up your funding requests – for example, repeated temperature complaints from a certain area of the building.

“Survey them and then use their answers as a tool to convince senior management that you need more resources to make changes,” Theriault recommends. “If that doesn’t work, senior management will now have to acknowledge that a certain level of service is all they’re willing to pay for.”

Realign the FM Mission
As you improve external perceptions of FM, it’s also important to streamline the department’s internal management. Defeating the cost center stigma requires change in both your daily operations and your long-term planning – namely, transforming FM into a profit center by running it like a small business.

Start by identifying potential sources of income. You’re already “selling” your FM services to the other departments in your organization, but your building or site may offer additional opportunities to bring in revenue that can then fund efficiency improvements or other initiatives. Potential money-makers include parking, retail space, food service, and leasing roof space for solar or cell phone communication installations.

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