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20 October 2018
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FMs may well be innovators in a technologically sophisticated age, but to be consummate exponents they need to blend modern and time-honoured skill, Kevin Stanley reports.

Image credit: Getty

8 January 2018 Kevin Stanley

Piecing together the perfect FM might be an impossible task. The skill set of the FM is already diverse, encompassing both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills but as the industry evolves the FM must keep pace with an ever-changing technological environment and be aware of the myriad of communications tools in the marketplace. 

“Tools that millennials take for granted and which can enhance the customer experience may be less well known to more mature FMs,” says Julie Kortens, managing director at Konnected People. 

“People management skills are also increasingly essential as true agile working becomes the norm people will be in the office less, yet will still need to be communicated with and made to feel part of the organisation. Some would argue this is the responsibility of our colleagues in HR, but it is essential that FMs are aware of the issues and able to support people in their day to day activities,” adds Kortens.

In recent years we have seen major changes in the role the FM plays in an organisation’s success. 

“Great companies are beginning to invest heavily in creating facilities that increase staff happiness and productivity. Consequently, the FM has a greater shared responsibility of looking after employees’ physical and mental well-being. This requires additional training and a mindset change to be successful in the future workplace,” says Bertie van Wyk, workplace specialist at Herman Miller.

Chris Morris, director at Xenon Group, suggests that while there will always be new technologies, regulations and ways of working, in reality the core skills for FMs are the ‘soft’ management skills. 

“Communication, leadership and negotiation skills will always be required to succeed in FM, together with, crucially, an understanding of the bigger picture and how FM can support the overall aims of the organisation,” says Morris. “It’s easy to get embroiled in a small world of technical issues and forget the overall purpose of FM – to support and facilitate the success of the business.”

Bertie van Wyk expands upon this by suggesting that FMs need to see themselves not just as a person who needs to fix a problem, but also as a key asset for delivering business growth. 

“The FM helps to create the environments that attract and retain staff – encouraging collaboration and innovation. FMs need to roll with the punches whilst continuously challenging and evolving the business’s view of an effective workplace environment, as well as the role they play in creating it,” he says.

The new age of FM is for those who can drive a well-being agenda through their business. 

“Great FMs don’t force their company to work in a specific way, but rather create an environment that allows people to work to their greatest potential in any given circumstance,” says van Wyk. “FMs can be the innovators and there are many resources like the Wellbuilding Standard to support them in doing great things.”

The unsung heroes

FM can be a function that is taken for granted and therefore it is important for an FM to be able to take job satisfaction without necessarily receiving recognition and be able to modulate the ways in which they communicate to the many different types of client and end user they are there to serve. 

“FMs need to work in a way which prevents issues from occurring. An effective communications strategy from the FM department can make it much more likely that facilities managers will receive the recognition they deserve and may alleviate the irrationality and unpredictability of customers," Morris advises. 

"By communicating what they’re doing – both in a reactive and proactive capacity – across the business and explaining the benefits end users are more likely to understand how the facilities team have helped them, directly and indirectly, to be happier and more productive at work,” he adds.

Jane Bell, director of learning and development services at Quadrilect, believes that FMs need to be less reactive and take a positive stance.

“It’s part of the FM’s role to demonstrate professionalism through the quality of decisions taken and by creating a positive culture in which FM can operate with customers and stakeholders.” 

Naturally building confidence and trust takes time and depends on a range of factors. Soft skills are clearly key to handling customers. 

A facilities manager must be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances. Every FM is different and there is probably no such entity as a ‘typical’ FM, but anyone in this challenging and demanding role must have certain skills and abilities. 

“A positive attitude and good communication skills should enable a facilities manager to effectively diffuse most situations. The ability to empathise is also a useful quality so that the customer feels listened to and acknowledged,” adds Bell. 

Morris agrees that it is imperative for a good FM to be able to demonstrate a high degree of empathy. “FMs have so many responsibilities to juggle, all of which are changing at an ever-faster pace,” he warns. 

“One minute they could be presenting the FM strategy and budget to the board, the next they could be trying to motivate a team of cleaners and the next they could be explaining to a group of end users why the canteen will be closed for the next month due to a refurb. 

"In order to generate a successful outcome from all of these interactions a facilities manager needs to be able to see things from the point of view of their audience and to address them appropriately.”

A career in FM is fraught with hazards and is not suitable for all applicants to the industry. What divides the best from the rest? 

“Someone who is cut out for FM wants to achieve high standards, thrives on delivering excellent quality FM services and the customer satisfaction that brings. If you aren’t interested in being the best, doing the best and delivering the best, then FM isn’t the career for you,” asserts Nikki Dallas, director at Talent FM.

FMs come up against problems and stress. This means that resilience is a key factor in the work and life of everyone in FM. When someone contacts an FM helpdesk it’s usually to resolve an issue. 

“People rarely contact the helpdesk for a chat or to ask how people are feeling. At times this can wear you down and it’s incumbent on the FM team leader to ensure the team feels valued and understood,” says Kortens. “An open and honest culture within the FM team, a safe place for the FM team to talk through their issues and a leader with integrity are all essential if the FM team is to feel inspired.”

Helpful hinterlands 

The use of resilience training encourages self-reflection and communication, helping the trainee to develop an increased awareness of their own personality, as well as those of people around them, which enables greater empathy that has already been highlighted as a key ability. 

“We all tend to make assumptions about what we and others are like but it’s essential to challenge pre-conceptions and to understand how best to harness strengths and weaknesses in yourself and your team,” advises Bell. “This goes much wider than just learning how to bounce-back from problems and mistakes – raising self-awareness lies at the heart of building better communication and collaboration.”

FMs come from various backgrounds bringing with them a healthy range of experience, attitude and skills, this diversity enriches the industry. 

“We should continue to encourage, and to be proud of, all we achieved around social mobility, training, inclusivity and diversity. This means that we have talent at all levels but that talent needs to be supported and nurtured,” says Kortens. 

“Different organisations need different skills. A business-critical environment supporting a hospital is fundamentally different from a creative ad agency. However, all contribute to the business bottom line and it is key that the right mindset is encouraged and that the FM team is integrated into the business values,” she continues.

There are patterns in terms of entry routes; it is well documented that ex-services personnel perform especially well in FM roles, but what is it that sets former defence personnel apart – is it simply a military mindset? 

“The military have an enviable track record of investing in their people through training and development, especially where people management and leadership are concerned. That kind of knowledge and skill translates brilliantly into the FM context, where success is heavily dependent on collaborative working, accurate planning, clear delivery goals and meeting deadlines as well as being highly adaptable and comfortable with change,” says Bell. 

“The military environment also demands strong communications and presentation skills. In my experience ex-services personnel develop valuable personal confidence, which again fits very well with FM management roles,” she adds.

FM practitioners may also have diversified from related disciplines such as administration, property management and technical operations. It’s also encouraging for the industry to see that FM is now a recognised career pathway for young people entering the job market after school and college. 

“We have to hope that employers will respond to the opportunities to grow talent through on the job learning and training, including apprenticeships,” says Bell. “In common with other sectors, these are only slowly taking root and the government needs to simplify and streamline the apprenticeship model to help both employers and providers develop successful programmes." 

But Dallas believes that clients favour FMs that have arrived at the profession via academia. “More and more clients are asking for degree-qualified, hard services candidates, but while the government champions more apprenticeships we will have ‘time served’ qualified instead of ‘degree’ qualified and that is a real challenge for us,” she says. 

FM has achieved a far more coherent and mature position over the past 10 to 15 years. Many FMs are effective professional ambassadors, making the case for FM as a service that delivers strongly at a tactical level but which is also a key player in strategic planning and decision-making. 

Emma Potter