Tag Archives: outsourcing

Facilities Management: 10,000 hours – generalists need experts, not ‘outsourced generalists’

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.

Phil Johnson, a management coach and writer, started a discussion on Linkedin on 11th Sept, titled \”Are you an expert?\” He continued the line above:

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!

Managing Director, Occupiers Journal Limited
Twitter: @occupiers
Hong Kong – London – San Francisco

Transactive memory – changing the way we recall information: good for CRE/FM outsourcing?

Sometimes I read an article and don’t get to the end (low boredom threshold…), and sometimes I have to read it again and think ‘wow, this is really news to me…’. This BBC News science article “Internet’s memory effects quantified in computer study” was one of those that got me thinking….I just had to ‘blog’ it.

If you want to read the full academic paper by Betsy Sparrow and colleagues at Columbia, its titled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips“, or if you’re a bit lazier like me (!), watch the interview on YouTube.

So, interesting, but what has this to do with us? Quite a lot, it seems, as we are starting to change the way that we use our minds and recall information. We are using our minds a little like a computer with a ‘flash drive’ with plug in external memory. The BBC article states,

“Psychology experiments showed that people presented with difficult questions began to think of computers. When participants knew that facts would be available on a computer later, they had poor recall of answers but enhanced recall of WHERE they were stored.

The researchers say the internet acts as a “transactive memory” that we depend upon to remember for us. In the interview on YouTube, Betsy Sparrow explains that we have always used other people as part of this “transactive memory” – ie., you don’t need to ‘store’ all the answers, but have a network of people whom you know will have the answers – like ‘phone a friend on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Or, more typically, in a workplace, our colleagues and network.

The BBC article continues:

“….the propensity of participants to remember the location of the information, rather than the information itself, is a sign that people are not becoming less able to remember things, but simply organising vast amounts of available information in a more accessible way”.

Dr Sparrow said:

“I don’t think Google is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things… If you can find stuff online even while you’re walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information. It’s just like it would be with people – the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [particular topics].”

This makes me think of the corporate real estate or facilities management function, or clearly any corporate function that we may work within.

Organizational memory in CRE & FM

With the usual wikipedia health-warnings, it does contain some definition and links regarding organisational memory. In our organisations, collective memory exists in the organisation’s archives, filing systems, intranet etc…and in the heads of its employees (and I would say, its outsourced service providers).

But if people are becoming intelligent processors, rather than ‘storing’ much of the information they need to do their jobs, is this a change in the nature of work and the employee? And does this in fact make many technical and service delivery jobs potentially more transitory – anyone with the basic knowledge, using ‘transactive memory’, can perform many (most?) tasks?

In CRE & FM, what do we put online, available to the ‘transactive memory’?

Increasingly, in our market sector – management of real estate assets, facilities services and workplace design/change – we are putting more information into the ‘transactive memory’. No longer does the maintenance engineer need to know every building and every system in her portfolio – she has a handheld ‘widget’ that can recall all the asset data and history required to do the job. In fact, I have seen at first hand, such a knowledgeable person being replaced (via outsourcing) with a far more frequent turnover of technicians, reliant on their online/system-based asset schedules and task orders.

OK, thats easier – its technical. But how about the services that cannot be ‘recalled’ via computer-based systems?

When can’t we replace our internally-stored memory with ‘transactive’ memory? When is ‘looking it up’ just no good.

I don’t know the answer! I’m interested in your views on this.

Firstly, I would suggest that the in-house occupier, or ‘intelligent client’ needs to have in-built learned knowledge about the key individuals, departments and functions in the organisation. And a lot about the organisation’s culture and way of doing things. If you are sat in front of the Head of Operations for your company, there are only certain things that it would be acceptable to ‘look up’ from your transactive memory. Too much of this, and the Execs in your organisation would lose confidence in you.

There are certain instant, customer-focused jobs that rely on embedded knowledge also – not transactive memory. Like receptionists? They need to know faces, know what people do, who is important, who to call, etc. What about the Facilities Service Desk? Does it work as well for customers if the operators have little embedded knowledge of the organisation, its people, its buildings and systems? How much can they ‘look up’ on systems, and how much should they retain in their own memory? What about the ‘space planner/strategist’? Again, does this role need the in-built learned knowledge of the intelligent client as above? Probably. Does that mean the role should be in-house? Maybe….what do you think?

Structured, online, transactive corporate memory will be a BIG competitive advantage for outsourced service providers

Thats clear, is it not, from the discussion above? The more that an outsourced service provider can demonstrate that it has a well-structured ‘transactive memory’ to support all its staff on-site, the more the occupier (client) may be convinced that further services could be outsourced.

For example, staff turnover is a problem with FM companies. I spoke to a client recently who had experienced three Account managers inside 12 months – very disruptive, and bad for the outsourced provider’s reputation. But can this be fixed, or at least supplemented, with transactive memory?

How are companies investing in the systems they need to deliver this transactive memory? I would love to know.

regards, Paul Carder, Managing Director, Occupiers Journal Limited



Twitter: @occupiers