Facilities Management is still fairly young – only around three decades old, I would say. But, 30 years old is no longer feckless youth. It is a time when one should have learned from ones mistakes, at least a little. However, it seems that Facilities Management has not had some ‘home truths’ spelled out. It still has a few ‘elephants in the room’, and one of these is the recurring belief that in-house ‘Heads of’ property, facilities and procurement want to outsource to ‘generalists’. And it continues to make the same mistakes.
Let’s release this particular elephant…currently (of course, this may change) my research in the UK shows that, mostly, clients do NOT want outsourced generalist FM firms. Some do, particularly for very large, multi-national and complex portfolios, perhaps. But, most do not.
Facilities Management is, in my opinion at least, a general management discipline. It is an important management function, in all organisations that are not ‘virtual’ – i.e., if an organisation has people who routinely need to work together in workplace environments, then that organisation needs a manager responsible for the provision of that workplace environment, and all its associated services provision.
If you are the Head of Facilities Management (or property, or both) for an organisation, then you ARE the generalist! You don’t need another generalist to second guess your own strategies and programmes. What you need are experts, whom you know that you can rely on to deliver the ‘best’ of their specialist field.
Malcolm Gladwell asserted, in his book Outliers, that one needs to invest 10,000 hours in an activity in order to become an “expert”. There are people that I know, in our industry, who clearly fit this description. And the companies that employ them clearly already know, and value, this expertise.
What’s 10,000 hours? Its 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for five years – non-stop…[Gladwell] asserts that you need 10,000 hours, or about 10 years of practice, to be a world-class expert in virtually anything…..Anything that is cognitively complex seems like it requires at least 10,000 hours. … Its deliberate practice, so it’s focused, determined, in environments where there’s feedback, where there’s a chance to really learn from mistakes.”
So, that is what an “expert” is….the question for buyers of Facilities Management services must be, are you buying in people with anywhere near this level of expertise? Where is the ‘expert’ when you really need him or her? When you have a problem with cooling at your Data Centre, or you need to turn around ‘average’ catering at your HQ?
Marc Emmer, author of Intended Consequences, wrote a recent blog post titled Expertise in a World of Hyper-Specialization, which included a section that could have been written (but was not) about Facilities Management:
Perhaps the most common strategic blunder I observe within entrepreneurial companies is a penchant for addressing overly broad targets. Marketers, seeking the largest audience cast too wide a net. In their need to satisfy the largest number of prospects, they become de facto generalists. That is, instead of addressing a niche market with specific solutions, they try to satisfy a larger audience with a multitude of products and services. At some point, the value they can provide suffers from diminishing returns.
Spot the elephant? Too broad, diminishing value, diminishing returns – remind you of any companies that you know?
What can we do to address this issue? In the tender process, really test out the knowledge and expertise of the “key people” who are going to be involved in the facilities management for your portfolio. Make sure that you are not buying a ‘generalist’ who simply buys in expertise……is there a point in that? Its ‘margin on margin’, is it not?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!