16 January 2014
What are the main issues?
Keith Lenaghan (KL): Recruitment is so expensive that retaining the right individuals is critical to development. The principal issue is retention.
Suzanne Jackson (SJ): It’s quite difficult to engage employees who are on the national minimum wage, or close to it. Feedback, recognition, good management – these are key to engagement.
Linda Punter (LP): Engaged staff are more innovative, offer better service, take fewer sick days and are less likely to leave. After the financial crisis both government and investors have recognised that engagement indices offer a true benchmark of the ethical and human capital performance of a company. FM service providers have additional hurdles to overcome because the majority our people work in our clients’ organisations and may be transferred rather than choose to join us. That just means that we have to raise our game to overcome these challenges; the rewards are worth it.
Anne Lennox-Martin (ALM): I firmly believe that it’s the people on the front line who make the difference. They’re the people who relate to customers every day. Managers have to recognise that their front-line staff are actually more important than they are to customers.
Graeme Ponton (GP): I’m a great believer in empowerment for employees, but I would caution that empowerment is only good when the willingness and ability is there. When it isn’t, empowerment can be a bad thing. It’s about achieving a consistency of approach with employees who may be working across multiple sites and sectors.
Andrew Hulbert (AH): I’m a believer in empowering front-line staff. We should match the jobs we have to the lives of the staff. That’s easier said than done, but there are many examples of where that can be achieved.
Greg Ingleton (GI): For me, having a highly effective workforce is about winning hearts and minds. At the end of the day, it’s not just what you do but how you do it that makes the difference.
Are FMs equipped to manage their front-line staff?
AH: Not enough organisations put sufficient training into those FMs looking after large numbers of operatives. Take a service like cleaning, where sometimes you get managers who’ve been promoted right through from cleaner to supervisor and then manager, but had no HR training relevant to people management. And it’s not just cleaning – it’s even starting to happen in M&E. Contract prices driven down through tender processes have led to contract managers being asked to look after more clients at once, and that can really have an impact.
GP: In hard services you can have someone who is both a brilliant engineer and supervisor who then becomes a victim of their own success when they become a manager or senior manager without any formal management training. The job becomes about how they deal with contract or HR issues, and they are expected to know all that straight off – but the reality is that they don’t.
David Howorth (DH): They are meant to be the inspiration to the team on the ground. That’s what we are talking about when we are looking for leaders; you have to inspire the team. When clients adopt an outsourcing model they want their front-line team to be ambassadors for their organisation, so we service providers have to get their teams to understand the client and also support our staff in their jobs. We have to give them the tools. I’m a great believer that operatives can have joint loyalty to both the service supplier and client.
LP: Perhaps we’re being a little unfair on ourselves, considering how far FM has come through the development of a qualifications and career structure that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Demonstrating that high-quality, well-trained people provide value for money services is in all of our interests.
ALM: For me, managing operatives is roughly 50 per cent management, 50 per cent leadership – and the ability of managers to distinguish between when they ‘do’ leadership and when they ‘do’ management. When you are managing operatives there’s a difference between compassion and collusion. Managers need to recognise when somebody is genuinely struggling and needs a hand and some support, or when somebody is quite frankly taking the p.... – because when they’re doing that you must take action. We have to be very firm in FM because we inherit people – particularly through TUPE – who can be set in their ways.
LP: I feel for middle managers in particular; when the chips are down they come under a great deal of pressure from all angles – from staff, the client, or their superiors. It would be understandable if they resorted to the old-fashioned command and control ways of working. They are the ‘meat in the sandwich’, that’s why we’ve got to help them develop the techniques and support them in continuing to motivate, coach and engage with their people.
GP: You have to engage with everybody regularly. If you don’t communicate your strategy, people make up their own things. What is the strategy? That is the vital piece in terms of engaging with everybody regularly – and by different means, whether that’s social media, newsletters, monthly talks or whatever. You have to communicate regularly, and it has to come from the top of the organisation. If it doesn’t the message gets lost in Chinese whispers all the way down.
DH: It’s about achieving a balance. Two years ago it was all about empowering our account managers and supervisors. We were educating them on the finance piece, the P&L, and all the pressures that come with that – and they were starting to feel the pressure. We realised that they were starting to lose focus on the customer, their team and delivery. We’ve started to take some of that pressure off so that it does not interfere with delivery. Look after the people that look after the service – that was always our motto at the beginning, and it has worked.
AH: We’ve done the same at Bilfinger, especially on the technical management side.
Let senior managers worry about that side of things so technical managers can deliver to the customer.
ALM: We have to start recruiting from other industries to get the right management we need in our industry; bringing people in from hotels, leisure and other service industries. They have the kind of skills we seem to be lacking in our industry at the moment.
GP: As the FM sector grows and becomes more prominent you attract more people from different industries and different backgrounds. That’s key to our survival as an industry – having people from different backgrounds and different cultures.
The value of regular meetings
ALM: When you’re in management there are times when you just have to get on with delivery and others when what you need to do is provide services and support to your front-line staff. It’s not just a matter of behaviour, it’s about belief systems; belief systems ultimately produce the behaviour you want. We need people to believe that they are important and their contribution is critical.
Martin Read (MR): NLP, and this whole emotional intelligence aspect, suggests the need for a trusting, open and aware client/service provider relationship. Is it ever easy to get to that stage?
ALM: You don’t have to have a particularly enlightened client, but you do need to have sessions with people where they get it. But you cannot spend time inspiring people on the front line and then have managers pooh-poohing it.
GP: It’s important for operatives to see their supervisors on a regular basis, and that works at a senior level too. In my experience as an engineer on site, you’d see someone from senior management at the start of the contract but wouldn’t then see or hear from them again unless there was a problem. You need somebody senior within the service supplier business coming to see the client, not because there’s a problem, but because they want to. That motivates people – but you have to do it continually. Engaging operatives means having different people from both service provider and client talking to different people at different levels. That’s where innovation and new ideas come from – not the boardroom, but the people on the ground who are dealing with issues every day.
ALM: Where things tend to drop out in service is in the places in between the functions. For example, where security people have not unlocked the doors for cleaners to get in. There can be all these little things. So if you can get people together, even for just half a day every so often, they’ll start to build relationships so that, when the hand-dryer goes wrong in the toilet with people throwing tissues everywhere and it’s all blamed on the cleaners, it instead becomes about enabling cleaners to know how to raise the issue so that the M&E people fix it.
DH: That’s an excellent point. Thirteen years ago at GSK we had this thing called ‘You spot it, you own it, you fix it, you follow it’. It didn’t matter what service line you were part of – if you found a problem, you owned it and took it through to resolution.
Empowerment and the one-team approach
AH: In FM, probably more so than other industries, we are able to empower our staff. You can say to two different FM teams, ‘right, today you’ll be responsible for each other’s activities’, swapping cleaning, engineering and security. But imagine a call centre, for example, where individuals are making a thousand calls a day and that’s all they do. It’s hard to empower them. We are fortunate to work in an industry where we have a responsibility to empower staff to perform multiple roles. FM is all about progression and building careers so that the more facilities staff can multi-skill, the more they can build their CV and progress their careers.
ALM: You can make savings and yet still deliver this front-line empowerment, as we all know because most of us have done it.
SJ: A great deal is expected of facilities managers and even more of our cleaners and security officers on the front line. It’s great to talk in theory about half-day training courses but, when you’ve got a team of cleaners who work a couple of hours a day and are often quite invisible to the client, it’s quite difficult. The client’s attitude is key to this; you need an intelligent, engaged client in order to deliver much of what we are trying to do.
LP: The one-team approach has to be client-led because it is based within their business.
SJ: They may have security delivered by one company, cleaning by another and M&E by a third. I know that the model is potentially moving more towards TFM, but even TFM providers sub-contract some of their cleaning and security.
ALM: The client brings those people together. Take the Tower 42 model, where the senior person on each of their contracts is on the management team or Tower 42 and they operate as one team. They have a similar uniform and they have the type of name badge that just shows their name and their function, not their employer company. You have to have this embedded in the client but still have loyalty to your own employer. I’m absolutely with David on the point that it is possible to empower your people to be part of the client organisation.
Monitoring employee performance
MR: Understandably, we talk a great deal about people and management. But there’s also the systematic element; monitoring performance and using data to manage people.
NP: People want a variety of roles – it’s not just about pay. To be engaged they need to feel that they are a cog in the business, and not just a tiny cog. They want to understand what their role is. It’s a question of making them visible within the organisation and saying to them, ‘the role that you are performing is vital to this business and this is what you achieve for the organisation’. Much of this comes down to data. If a person is consistently absent data allows me, as a manager of multiple contracts, to see that problem and allows me to do something about it. It enables the organisation to make sure that they have the right balance of people turning up to deliver to that contract’s SLAs. That’s what we see in sectors such as retail, where it’s about scheduling the right people to the right place at the right time to deliver service. In FM we have people out in the field, all over the place – but are they actually there? Have they arrived to deliver the work that they are supposed to be delivering?
GP: Also, are they doing what they’re meant to be doing?
NP: Workforce management solutions are often historically seen as ‘Big Brother’, however, our report (see box) says exactly the opposite. There is give and take; if you engage with your team members they become happier about allowing employers to monitor their performance more closely.
LP: These kinds of figures only work when you are dealing with mechanical incentives. Once you get into an area where you have discretionary behaviour those kinds of figures do not work.
ALM: It depends what you are measuring.
DH: We can learn a great deal from the manufacturing industry. That’s an area that really interests me, thinking about how they are so efficient and target-driven.
Jobs to fit workers, not workers to fit jobs
AH: In the dissertation for the MSc I did in FM, I looked at the low-wage sector and how we can improve absenteeism and turnover rates within cleaning teams without increasing cost to the organisation. We asked staff how we could make our jobs fit around them, not the other way around. Feedback was that the two-hour part-time shifts they were doing every evening was nowhere near enough for them. It cost them a lot to get into work, so being paid the minimum wage for doing two hours was no good. They told us that a three-hour shift would make it worth their while coming in. And when we changed to three-hour shifts absenteeism dropped by 97 per cent. We also spoke about morning and night-time cleaning, but cleaners don’t really want to work in the morning because to get somewhere at five o’clock in the morning in the City of London is difficult with public transport. But they said they’d be happy to work until midnight.
NP: We see exactly what you just described in other industries. In one case they are so engaged with their workers that they’ll actually ask, ‘we need to do more. What are you willing to do for us?’.
The twists and turns with TUPE transfers
MR: Is TUPE transferring of staff automatically a precursor to reduced staff engagement?
GI: Inevitably there will be some measures. That might involve multi-skilling or changing shift patterns, or an amalgamation of teams that inevitably leads to restructuring. So you’re in a dichotomy. On one hand you are saying at the town hall meetings with the staff you’re taking on, ‘this is who we are. Here are our credentials. We are going to love you and look after you’. But then, immediately in most cases, it’s ‘we are going to have to restructure, and that might affect you’.
ALM: One of the biggest challenges is where you have a free, open and engaging culture in your own service provision, but then TUPE people come over from a highly unionised environment and you are left negotiating with the union rather than empowering the front line.
LP: Some unions make no secret of their opposition to outsourcing as a matter of principle, but it would be counterproductive to try to circumvent them. We encourage representatives of the transferee company to come and talk to ours. Being a TUPE transferee, I know how people can be wound up by rumours and myths surrounding TUPE. Group meetings and one-to-ones give us the chance to address that. You just have to be honest and don’t over-promise regarding changes that may have to take place.
DH: Linda has hit the nail on the head – be honest with people because they’re all adults. Some people ‘TUPEing’ across will feel hurt and abandoned by their organisation and angry at the new employer. So we say to them, ‘It’s OK to feel angry about this and I will not try to sell you what is great about us because now is not the right time.’ We find that they are relieved when we tell them that it is OK to be cross. They then come to the consultation and are open to it.
GP: There should be early engagement with employees. Obviously, TUPE regulations say that the supplier can wait a maximum of two weeks before transfer, but if they do that it doesn’t help the incoming supplier or the employees. Nevertheless, some service providers are resentful because they have lost the contract that they’ve had for 10 or 15 years and they won’t let people engage. That’s wrong; the earlier the engagement, the better. I’ve found that myself; you’re an employee and eligible for TUPE, but you don’t know a great deal about the organisation you’re going to. What will happen to my pay and conditions?
GP: Recently, I was involved in a situation where the client actually brought the staff in during the bidding process and allowed the staff to be involved. That was seen really positively and it took a great deal of the negativity away. We had a town hall meeting before we actually submitted our final costs, so that they had a chance to ask questions.
ALM: It’s about change management, isn’t it?
AH: I echo all of that. I’ve personally ‘TUPE’d’ across about 200 staff in five years. It is all about engagement at an early stage, as has already been said. I’m completing a TUPE process at the moment. I have met with the staff six or seven times prior to the transfers and they already feel that they work for Bilfinger. So, when it comes to the transfer date the staff will not feel that there is this monumental change because they are already working with us.
LP: The way that contracts are set up and performance-managed does not always facilitate engagement and collaborative working, particularly if there are several outsourced suppliers working for the same client. It comes down to building trust between the different stakeholders so that we can all work towards long-term, shared benefits rather than always focusing on jumping through short-term hoops.
ALM: I’m not a fan of SLAs and KPIs but, if you have them, they have to be aligned. Otherwise you have people rushing to do one thing without thinking about how they perform together.
GP: There’s the need for a common goal. If you have separate teams they have to be going in the same direction and trying to achieve the same thing. If they have a shared goal, people will generally work together.
NP: Sometimes there is something of a dichotomy in the bid process at the beginning of a contract. You go along to the meeting and the client will be sitting there with a consultant, saying that they want a great service delivery and to up their game because they recognise that they have problems on site in terms of behaviours, maintenance standards, cleanliness, and so on. But when you then look at the scoring it’s all financially based.
Workforce report - new forms of 'flexible working' required
In a report entitled The Forgotten Workforce, research conducted by Loudhouse and commissioned by Kronos suggests that 61% of workers either feel neutral or unhappy about going to work.
Many reported some level of difficulty in informing employers that they would like to vary their working hours up and down (68%) or swap shifts with colleagues (65%). Indeed, 59% of those polled said they would like more flexibility in the hours that they work.
The survey was designed to explore attitudes to existing workforce management practices, and how front-line staff can be engaged in a way that maximises productivity and business agility without undermining job satisfaction. Researchers spoke to workers in the retail, hospitality, contract services and manufacturing sectors.