Building better workplaces through organizational insight
Intuitive Consulting’s Sima Parsa shares insights from her years of experience in workplace strategy and the crucial role of organizational input. Between balancing budgets, negotiating deals, and finding the perfect location, FMs already have their work cut out for them. With so much pressure to deliver on time and under budget, it can be easy for FMs to lose track of the most important workplace aspect—its people.
Sima Parsa, Founder of Intuitive Consulting, has spent years honing her craft and learning this exact lesson: people always come first. In fact, her unique approach to workplace strategy is largely based on her ability to communicate with all members of an organization, from the front-line employees to the C-Suite. She talks to us about her experiences and how she’s been able to maintain her success in the industry for over 15 years.
You specialize in helping organizations build their real estate and workplace strategies. What aspects of these disciplines do you find to be the most challenging?
Parsa: The biggest challenges I’ve found are disrupting culture and the status quo. I also think they go hand-in-hand. People usually react unfavorably to change, especially when you touch their workplace. It’s the same as making changes to their home—people are sensitive towards it.
When you try to make changes to a work environment, changing something like the structure of the workplace from private offices with high-wall cubicles to open spaces has become more common today. Employees can see that as losing a sense of entitlement and also changing what they already know and are comfortable with. They feel as though the control is being taken away from them.
You’ve spent many years picking up volunteer experience in coaching and mentoring as well. How has this refined your own approach when it comes to helping companies build their real estate and workplace strategies?
Parsa: I’ve always been big on being coachable. I remember learning about it at a seminar that I went to as a new manager. The speaker described the best quality you can have, which nobody in the room guessed, as being coachable. That always stayed with me. As I have worked with people and had my own employees throughout my career, I’ve realized that it is truly the best quality someone can have.
What I’ve learned through this process is that you need to be a great listener. You need to listen more than you talk. It’s also important to focus and understand another person’s feelings and underlying feelings in general or with regard to one specific matter. Workplace strategies and employee engagement impact far beyond the physical and financial aspects of an initiative.
I believe I’ve been successful in delivering substantial changes operationally and to the physical workplace because I listened, collaborated, and mentored the process rather than simply manage it. I created committees during major projects and always obtained consensus before presenting something as a final solution.
Speaking of the importance of listening to others, do you think these experiences have helped you understand the employee side better?
Parsa: I’ve been lucky to have had really good bosses and mentors who’ve helped me, supported me, and empowered me to grow. One of the most important things for me has always been to manage to treat people the way I want to be treated. I’m truly a servant leader. Because of that, I always put myself in the place of employees.
Being coached and coaching others has taught me to understand that. If you really want to understand and help another person, you have to be able to put yourself in their situation and stand next to them. I can’t come up with anything that I truly call “failure.” There have been hectic situations with last-minute changes, but I feel as though I’ve never had a true failure and that’s because I always listened to the stakeholders and put myself in their shoes to understand what was important to them.
Negotiating accounts is a significant portion of an FM’s job. How do you gauge the importance of negotiating as a tangible skill for FMs, and what do you think makes a good negotiator specific to the industry?
Parsa: We’re always negotiating. From the moment we wake up, we’re either negotiating with ourselves or others. Considering that workplace expenses are usually the second-largest budget for an organization, next to payroll and human capital costs, negotiation for FMs is very important as a skill.
Because facilities management is an evolving and ever-changing concept that is dependent on technology and an organization’s business plan, FMs and workplace strategists are constantly being challenged to deliver their product on time, under budget, and with the expected level of quality. This is oftentimes not possible or at least not easily possible due to many elements, especially unexpected changes.
It’s critical to become an educated and seasoned negotiator to have success in facilities management. We’re negotiating with various stakeholders, vendors, and service provides all the time at different levels and on different items.
It’s an important skill for anybody in anything they do, but it’s even more critical in facilities management because of costs and the nature of the industry. You have to pick your battles and wars and know if they’re worth it to negotiate on, from leases to furniture to location—everything. You obviously can’t negotiate and win everything every time. That’s why you need to have the expertise and ability to be a good negotiator, but also the knowledge and education to know when to do it.
Dealing with the C-Suite is something a lot FMs find themselves doing and it can be a negotiation process in itself. What are some of the conversations that need to take place with C-Suite members before you start a project?
Parsa: That’s a great question and I’ve learned that myself through years of experience. It obviously depends on the project, however, let’s use headquarter acquisition as an example. The C-Suite generally gets involved in these types of projects and that can include CEOs. What is important to capture is finding out early on what is really important to them, which is usually different than what they talk about and emphasize in the beginning.
Usually, it’s the cost. By default, they talk about cost first, especially if the company is public. It is our job to do the best we can at the lowest cost. That is usually at the surface. It’s important that you peel the onion to get to the core, so to speak. You want to get to the most important things for the C-Suite up-front because they’re going to come up towards the end of the project and then it’s going to be costly and timely to make those adjustments.
Based on my experience, it’s important to guide the C-Suite so they think about the future. You don’t want them to focus as much on the present or the past, unless there is a lesson to be learned from it. Otherwise, think of the future. Get them to think about all the constituents that are going to be involved and how they’re going to be impacted by this change and initiative. They need to think ahead and plan for the next 5-10 years. Major projects, by the time they’re done and you see their results, it’s already 2-3 years down the road to start with and it’s something that can carry on for up to 10 years before you start to see those changes really make an impact.
I also think you need to help the C-Suite understand the need for change and disrupting the status quo. And always, whatever you do, explain how it can be scalable. It might not be what they’re used to or expecting to see, but you need to underline that. As simple as it may sound, it’s usually a lot more challenging than you think.
If you’re looking for corporate real estate, facilities management, or workplace strategy services, contact Sima via email.
How do you think workplace strategists should approach their efforts to include different levels of organizational insight? Join the conversation and leave us a comment below.
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