FM Skills and Mentorship for Building Better Workplaces

Graham Constable, Workplace Unplugged

BigPictureFM senior consultant Graham Constable offers valuable insights into the current state of FM and tell us how the industry has changed and where it could be headed.

There’s arguably never been a more exciting time to be working in facilities management. With a number of technological advances that have seen the industry evolve at a rapid pace in recent years, the nuances of the FM profession have become increasingly challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Graham Constable, a senior consultant at BigPictureFM in Sydney, has been in the industry for almost 30 years and seen a slew of changes throughout his time as an FM.

What were the most important skills you learned as an FM when you first got started in the industry and what do you think the ideal skillset of an FM looks like today?

Graham: The skill-sets that I acquired and learned back in those days are still relevant today. The guy that brought me into the FM industry was an exceptional leader and he took a lot of care and effort with his people to coach and mentor them on the business side of things.

One of the first things I was encouraged to focus on was to understand our client's business. What their business goals, issues and challenges were. Everything that we did back then was to enable business endeavour, making sure that our clients received a competitive edge over their competitors through the built environment. With that as the focus, everything else slotted behind that.

When you look at FM in those early formative days, as is still the case today, everything should be geared towards making a company’s business goals achievable. All the skills that go towards achieving this, whether it’s operational skills, project management skills, all of those different strategic and tactical skills — they are as important today as they were back then.

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What type of mentorship do you think is most effective when it comes to nurturing young talent in the FM industry?

Graham: I think there’s a range. You’ve probably come across some good coaches in your time and they look at the whole aspect of a person’s mindset and performance — whether it’s motivations, skill-sets, attitudes, behaviours, all of those things.

My old boss was really good across all of these areas. He understood good business, he was good commercially, he understood people’s psyche, he was very clever technically and technologically. All of those mentoring skills that this individual had, he nurtured and brought out in each of us. He had an ability to identify where people’s strengths were and was not a believer in trying to close gaps in people’s weaknesses because the return on investment in focusing on people’s skills is exponentially higher than if you were to try to cure people of some of their weaknesses. If someone wasn’t good financially, he wouldn’t spend a lot of time making that person become a really good accountant, he made them work hard to find people with those skills with whom to work close with and build collaborative skills.

I believe that’s where we should be these days. If you’ve got a good team with a mix of skills, the secret is in understanding and getting the best out of them and integrating all of these while working collaboratively with people. That also extends to understanding what your stakeholder’s expectations and skills are.

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How can the FM industry be promoted to attract more top-tier talent from post-secondary institutes and other industries?

Graham: RICS, IFMA and Occupiers Journal have done years of research into that very question: how to get more attention at the C-Suite level? It’s always been a problem that seems to dominate the industry: that it’s too tactical and in the grass. A lot of executives see FM professionals as carpet cleaners and adding cost to the bottom line. To a degree, it’s our own fault because we tend to get drawn into the tactical details.

This report, called “Raising the Bar,” is all about steps and recommendations to get the industry at that C-Suite level. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the recommendations that have come out, but it’s a significant piece of research and work that demands a lot of attention from people working within the industry.

You can either do or you can be. One of the recommendations is to do things that are more strategic and so on. I tend to think of it more in terms of being, if you become more strategic and you focus more on understanding your client’s business and demonstrating that you’re actually meeting those expectations and doing what matters to the client, then you’ll start to get that attention.

In a past interview, you said that you hope there won’t be a global standard or global qualification of facilities management. Why do you feel that way?

Graham: When Uber came along and when some of these other disruptors arrived, they didn’t follow tradition that standards often morph into. It’s good having an FM standard because it sets out how professional the industry ought to be viewed and behave. At the same time, it shouldn’t stifle ingenuity, risk-taking and failure. Unless you fail and take risks, you’re not going to learn and you’re not going to evolve. I just hope the standard is not used as a proxy for ingenuity and development.

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In terms of the physical office environment, how do you think it’s changed over the years and do you think the FM industry has adjusted accordingly to its evolving needs?

Graham: On the one hand, you’ve got FM practitioners responding to needs because that’s what they need to do. On the other hand, you’ve got a new change and evolving sophistication that is required for smart buildings. It’s been said that the future FM will be a data analyst, but you’ll always need professional people to make sure systems and sensors that make buildings work actually work.

There was a district here in Sydney that was occupied by a number of technology companies, but they’ve all moved out because the floor plates don’t support the server rooms and data centres they need to accommodate the technological needs the world is moving towards. They’ve moved out of those buildings and some of them have been redeveloped for a different set of clients who don’t need those floor plates for this purpose.

I think the big change is going to come when you start looking at the integrated smart cities that are being built. They’re integrated with rail and infrastructure, amenity and experience, not just an office. That’s going to be an exciting field to be in.

With more technology entering the physical workplace and more people working remotely, what will the role of the FM look like in the next 5-10 years?

Graham: I think you’re probably going to get a division. One will be looking after the systems and equipment that’s going to make that space work. The other aspect of the FM professional approach is going to be someone who will host everyone who works in that building. Take coworking, for example. This approach seems to have become a bit of a buzzword since its entrepreneurial origins and a lot of corporates are trying to mimic what coworking achieved at the entrepreneurial focus and trying to translate the idea into getting more productivity and collaboration in the workforce. It seems a lot of activity-based working and workplace design is all based around cost focus, getting more people working in less space.

Let’s say a company is trying to focus on innovation and collaboration, your FM is going to need skills that require he or she to be able to understand the business of the client and understand team outputs and expectations. If the FM knows that a particular area of a building is grappling with challenges and issues that have been solved elsewhere in the corporate, that FM should be putting those two areas of the business in touch, hosting that integration and collaboration and making sure the building systems and environment work towards enabling this collaboration. They become a host of people, not just a custodian of systems.

Make sure to keep up with Graham through his acclaimed “Connections” column in FM Magazine’s print edition.

What do you think of the current state of FM and where do you think it could be headed? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photos: John Salvino, Shutterstock, Serpstat