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The constant competition conundrum

25 February 2016 | Martin Read


I’ve always been a cappuccino man. Doubtless it’s a hangover from the Eighties when drinking said beverage was just about the coolest thing a Briton could do aside from wearing stonewashed denim.


But somehow, despite the subsequent growth of an international market in coffee shops with all of its chai lattes and caramel mochas, I still cling to the apparently humble cappuccino. (“Chocolate on top?” Of course! What kind of monster would do otherwise?)


Thus it was something of a shock to hear that Starbucks has been ‘de-emphasising’ cappuccino on the grounds that too much time is needed to train its staff in their preparation. Consultant Mike Cant, often the man chosen to look furthest into the future at the Workplace Futures event, cited Starbucks’ decision as a possible example of how the corporate agenda can sometimes be very different from the one FM firms should follow. If companies won’t train their staff in other key aspects of their business, what does that say about their mindset for bought-in services? It’s a mindset, suggested Cant, that the FM sector needed to guard itself against. Positioning FM as guardians of an organisation’s ‘social infrastructure’, Cant spoke of FM as a sector with a huge level of social responsibility for the hundreds and thousands of people it deploys to provide services.


We’re at a stage where outsourced FM service providers have an opportunity, said Cant, and a choice: to nurture and sustain their vast communities of workers – protecting them against a far less forgiving corporate mindset – or to buy into that corporate mindset in a desperate fight for market share.


Either FM takes its social responsibility seriously or it chooses not to, said Cant. FM firms should be thinking about all of the things that make a difference to its staff and its client. And if FM does accept this responsibility, making it accountable for turning its own service promises into reality, shouldn’t providers then have the ‘bravery’ to accept a smaller profit margin to invest more into its staff?


Cant’s view of facilities management as curator of an organisation’s ‘social infrastructure’ is a welcome discussion point, but there’s one thing I’ve often wondered when such suggestions are made – what about the competition? They’re always out there, always with another story to tell. The problem with any grand project to ring-fence and protect money in order to do more for workers is those many providers all keen to suggest that they, by contrast, can allow clients to have it both ways. And despite three, four or more contract cycles, plenty of clients still seem unable to make qualitative distinctions. The national living wage may be a blunt instrument, but it’s one that at least forces these issues on to the agenda. 


Incidentally, one advantage of Workplace Futures taking place in February is that it often acts as a bellwether on how the service provider market fared in the year just past and the year just begun. On that note, the BIFM’s Business Confidence Monitor is still open for contributions until 26th February – click here to take part.


Martin Read is managing editor of FM World