Driving Appreciation for FMs Who Strive Towards Global Solutions

Episode 12

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Chris Jeffers, Projects Director at Mott MacDonald, explains how business can and need to drive appreciation for facility managers who play pivotal roles in global solutions such as climate change.


Matt (Host): Today, our guest is Chris [Jeffers]. Chris is a director at Mott MacDonald, a global engineering and construction services company. Chris has worked at Savills, Gardiner & Theobald, Rider Levett Bucknall, and now leads the Facilities Management Advisory Team in Mott MacDonald’s buildings and property consultancy service.

Chris has over 20 years’ experience in the property and facilities management sectors, and works with specialist colleagues to develop bespoke sustainable solutions for optimising workspace and property service solutions for a wide range of clients in the UK and overseas.

Chris is a chartered facilities management surveyor, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, a fellow of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, and a member of the CIOB and CIPS. So, it’d be great to get his take on facilities management. Welcome to the show, Chris, thanks for coming on. How are you?

Chris Jeffers: I’m very well. Thank you. Nice to be here.

Matt: Excellent. Okay, well, let’s dive straight into the first question. How do you go about setting a good facilities management culture?

Chris: Really, really good question. It’s one of the things I think within our firm that we are much better at now than we ever were. Because I think there’s a much more focused attention on the people elements of how we get things done. It’s down to leadership, you have to lead by example. You have to have a clear set of values and live by them and exemplify them. I think you have to check back on those values as well. It’s not necessarily sought of an adherence to a ruling by a stick, which I think are looting terminals to go. Where in years past, I think people just expected others to do things if they were told to do them. Now, I think we very much have to have. We need a culture where people understand why they’re doing things. And so they understand the benefit of doing them. There’s also a very clear and important focus on wellbeing at work, I think, which is very much part of a culture that we need to integrate into it. So that understanding about why people need to do things, I think is really important.

We also have to accept that it’s not necessarily an overnight thing, if you have to improve a culture that will take time. You may not necessarily get everyone to come with you. And that’s okay, if they’re still contributing as to what they need to do. Again, that circle back to that clear set of values and objectives. You need to have flexibility. So that flexibility around understanding for everyone’s needs, and that’s something that we are so much better at in the workplace. Now, we are absolutely not there in terms of where we need to be, but we’re much better than we used to be. The focus we now have on was to say, wellbeing, mental health, EDI, the very needed and absolutely appropriate position we have around all the culture we’re trying to get around neurodiversity. So it’s very close to my heart. We’re just understanding the benefits of a neuro diverse workforce. And not just the, I think there was the talk around having to adjust for people with neurodiverse needs. Well, why is that? Surely, they bring all those positives that they can bring to the workforce, which is great.

I think it’s about being clear about expectations, what needs to be delivered, by whom, by when, etc., into that planning stage, I suppose. But the leadership really needs to exemplify that. It needs to come through very from the top down for an organisation. And when I say an organisation, it could just be a team. It could be five people. It doesn’t have to be a very large body of people. I think if people can understand why they’re doing it, the value that they contribute to the success, achievement of those objectives, then that will start to engender the right culture that we want to see in the workplace.

Matt: Fantastic. Sounds like you’re definitely moving in the right direction, so it’s wonderful to hear. And so then, what’s the best way to plan for facilities management activities?

Chris: Absolutely. I think that plan is absolutely key. I mean, it’s a very easy thing to say no. But without that plan, we are in danger as if you just take a helicopter view of FM of doing what everybody else, I think, thinks that we do, which is a bit of firefighting and being reactive. We need to plan so that we can be much more proactive. In terms of some very simple steps, so identify need, understand what the business, whoever we work for, organisation. What they need from us. Clarify those objectives and prioritise them. Develop that strategy with others. Don’t do it on your own if you’re the person responsible for it, but get feedback on what it is that you need to do and how you need to do it. Can you learn from others? Has what you need to do already been done by other people? You get into that, then into the stage around implementing that strategy. How are you going to do that? Who’s going to help you? What support do you need from the business to do that? It might be senior stakeholders that you need to involve in that. You must be able to monitor what you’ve done and check back. So that evaluation piece, the feedback piece, and understand what’s gone well, and understand what has not necessarily gone so well. So that you can then think about, again, that circular feedback loop about how you can plan and again.

I think one of the things that’s of interest, particularly to me in the role that I do now, where we do a lot of work with organisations, and then we leave them because that’s the nature of what we do. It’s very easy to plan in the abstract. But you have to envisage, and you have to think about how does that actually work in reality. So a lot of the work we do is writing contracts and writing specs and you write words that somebody at some point will have to interpret those words so that they then do something, whatever it might be. How can they do that? How does it actually work? I think that practical application is actually essential to planning. You have to have accountability. So you have to have a, whether that’s a person or a team, you have to be clear about who’s going to be accountable to deliver on the plan. Now anybody can Google it, you can see that there’s a pretty well-established theory around FM planning, around people process in place. Now, technology, absolutely essential, totally advocate that.

I think it’s also important just to understand, if I’m writing a plan for an organisation, do I understand enough about that business? What that company where I understand what that means? So, who are these people that I’m actually wanting to write the plan for? Or some of those processes? Maybe I have to write some of them? Maybe I’ll have to write some of the SOPs, standard operating procedures. When I talk about place, what are we building? So what are the challenges of those buildings, so the plan will work? Technology underpins all of that now. If we’re not so cliché, if we’re not on board with technology and how it works, then I think we really have to question that I can’t think of any area of FM now, which doesn’t benefit from the use of technology. I think it’s important not to be insular. It’s important to do it on your own. I think that checking and making sure that you have that feedback is really important to have in place as well.

Matt: Well, we will definitely come back to the technology conversation, because as you say, that’s a very important one. This should be a very interesting question coming from yourself, because you are a director. How do you think facilities management teams should go about driving appreciation for maintenance teams across the business, and particularly with the top management?

Chris: Yeah, I think this is very much at the heart of one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had for 30 years, probably more. I don’t think it’s gone away. I think we still have that challenge. You mentioned maintenance teams. I think you could talk to any facilities management team there. So we have a way of, if not mentally, then actually, in practice, dividing FM between hard and soft. So hard being the maintenance and soft being many other services like cleaning, security, pest control, or essential services to maintain the built environments. But it’s the same issue. It’s the same issue around understanding that appreciation throughout the business, actually. It could be people who run the business. It could be people who just do other functions within the business that you need to let know what you do.

We do have a history of this being sought of a Cinderella service. Personally, get my views today, I hate that. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s right at all. These Victorian children are seen and not heard, or not seen and not heard too, it’s crazy. That’s absolutely where we should not be. We should be very much in the space or a place where people do understand the value that we bring. They do understand what we do. I think we do have, and I say this from a position of positivity, because we need to do something about it. I think we do have a bit of an image problem. We’ve just had a global pandemic, where none of us could meet and be together and then we had to come back together in a controlled manner and FM was absolutely at the heart of that in terms of enabling and facilitating that in terms of built environment. It’s not just where people work, but you know, hospitals, schools, just about everything, really, as we all know.

We still didn’t really have a public persona in that space. We weren’t really recognised as an industry for doing what we did. I think, individually across projects and across specific things that happened that yes, we were. I think people didn’t recognise them. But as an industry, we still didn’t really stick our head above the parapet. So, we have a bit of an image problem. I agree in terms of that, that way to raise appreciation. I don’t think we’re going to be successful in that space, if we keep pushing the same message. It hasn’t worked. Again, I’m talking globally here, I know what to specific because I say business by business project by project basis. There is absolutely recognition of what we do. In this case, I see it from the industry perspective, as it were. I think to get us to the centre of where we want to be or half of what we want to be, it’s around solving, or helping to solve and recognising the important part that FM plays in solving those big existential problems that we have. Climate change, population growth, migration movement. In other words, to have a built environment that responds to that energy usage.

Of course, these are an AEC response. So an architecture engineering construction response, but you know, FM is very much part of that. It’s FM that are going to manage that built environment, do manage that built environment that the industry produces. We have to have a very clear voice and a message in that. I think the more we do to make it clear about how we contribute to the solutions that are needed to solve those big problems, then the more it will become clearer about actually, this is what these guys do. And that’s why it’s important.

Matt: Marvellous. Yes, 100% agree with you there. Some very interesting takes on that, from a global perspective and everything else. It’s the first time we’ve heard someone talk about it from such a wide view, wide lens. So that’s fantastic. What is the best way then to implement an effective facilities management plan?

Chris: Yes, I think there are some key building blocks that one can do here. Just to circle back on what I mentioned a few minutes ago. Clarity, be clear about what it is that you need to do. Also, to do that, you need to understand your business or the business you work for. So that might be two things, actually, two pronged if you like. If you work for a big FM player, I think it’s important that you understand the nature of that business. It’s also important you understand the nature of the customers that you serve, depending on what account or whoever it is that you might work for. So be clear on the what, the how, the when, the who, etc.

Communication is, again, it’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely key. How do you communicate what you need to in terms of that plan? There is $1 dip too much in consultive speak, but this is an Iraqi approach. The responsible, accountable, consulted and informed. Don’t have to necessarily apply that, but it is helpful. I think it’s done subconsciously anyway, because you still need to think about who are the most important people don’t want to communicate the plan to? And who do I just need to let know? Who do I actually need to speak to before I even publish it or whatever, I’m going to launch the plan as it were to test it with them?

I think the other thing that gets missed sometimes in the planning and absolutely around that effective messaging is, and I mentioned it too ago, is why? Why are we doing this? What is the benefit of doing this? Because that does help to knock out the ivory tower approach that it’s the [inaudible 00:14:43] You’ve got to think about, whatever the work is that you’re doing, whether it’s an integrated FM solution, whether it’s a specific standalone service. What is the benefit of that service, and why is it being done and it’s not just the law. It’s not just compliance with the law. It has to also be something that helps and supports the people who are working in whatever business that you’re doing. Because if we think about some of the definitions of FM, I think it’s going to get misquoted here, but I think it’s IFMA. That says that it’s a process that supports people. I may have misquoted that slightly, but that’s exactly what it is. It supports people to do what they need to do. I think if we are clear about that messaging when we try and implement that plan, then it’s more likely to land. Of course, you have to have money involved. The numbers all have to add up, absolutely. It has to be a budget. But if you can justify that budget and if you can link it to that clear messaging around why it’s important, it’s quite difficult to refute that.

You have to have something that checks back. I’ve mentioned that the feedback loop as well. But if you’ve got in place, the what the when the how, then it gives stakeholders not too many errors to knock you back, really. It’s about being very clear about the why is that plan needed, and getting people on board. I think the other thing that’s missed sometimes is timescales. Sometimes it’s done too much in a rush, and you haven’t got time to check in. You’re not always in control of that and that’s difficult. But if you do have the opportunity to check in with people about well, what do you think about this? And that could be peer group reviewing not just the people that you’re doing the work for, but others. Really, that can be a huge benefit too.

Matt: Okay, and then so running back a little bit you did mention technology and how vital it is to the business. What do you think about software tools? And do you think they’re useful for managing facilities management activities, and how?

Chris: Sure, I don’t think they’re useful. I think they’re absolutely essential. I think if we are running an FM programme or an FM team without the use of software, then we’ve got at least one [hand behind our back]. They are absolutely essential. Actually, it’s quite good timing. Today, saw the publication code of practice in the UK on the UK government’s data interoperability standard, kind of practice, which is all about making sure that we are working in an environment which has opened software architecture that systems talk to each other and that data is exchangeable. That’s the word. It can be exchanged between different systems. The key driver behind it really in terms of the why, is it improves efficiency. It improves collaborative management and working with information. There are various software vendors and tools out there. Most people who work within FM will understand what CAFM means. So CAFM, computer aided facilities management or CMMS, computerised maintenance management system. They’re software tools that enable the facilities team, service management team to do the work that they need to do. And that’s not just maintenance in hard FM, that can be soft FM too.

It’s also essential to be able to demonstrate compliance, because compliance is important and performance. Performance over time. How do we know we’re better this year than we were last year doing something, but whatever it might be, that we’re in a better place with a software tool that they will use to do that? It’s also your shield against others who are questioning what you do. You say, well, actually, we have a system that’s in place that enables us to demonstrate the value we bring. Of course, to highlight the challenges and problems as well, the risks. The risk management piece as well, that is very important. Integral to what we do in FM. Software tools that enable you to do that. My view is that they are an essential piece of how we should be working. Digital ways of working are critical to the success and the future of our industry.

There’s been a lot that’s pushed around visualisation. I’ve got no issue with that. I think it’s great. Through the imaging of buildings, it’s not critical. It’s not essential. I think it’s much more about having a common approach to data standards since the digital asset management. That’s where we really need to be and we are getting there. I think there’s been a huge amount of positive work in that space, not just in the UK, but globally. It’s much slower than I think a lot of us would like, but we are getting there. I think it’s absolutely essential. Because if we’re going to actually be successful with some of those issues and challenges, I mentioned a few minutes ago, we need to be working in a common data environment where we’ve got systems and data that are exchangeable and interoperable. Shall we say that word? Yeah, I think software systems are absolutely essential to focus on that long-term value in that whole life value of buildings and assets.

Matt: And so then what do you think about spreadsheets? Going back to a bit of the old school. Do you still believe in those? Are those still used in your business? Do they still have their place? Or are they eventually going to be redundant, you know?

Chris: Sure. I am a little old school in that sense. I used to read a lot, and so is my team. I’ve been looking at it this day, most of us do. I think they are an essential tool at this point in time, because they’re easy to use. The base level. It’s easy to exchange information with others with them. They are relatively powerful in terms of what we need to do with them. If you take, for example, a lifecycle model. You can run that in Excel. So, where you’re looking at how assets are replaced over time, and the costs associated with that and the activities that need to happen. All of that can be run in Excel. But when you then want to say well, how about 1000 buildings lifecycle models, then it starts to struggle a bit. Excel definitely and spreadsheets, definitely have their place. I can see where as data becomes more sophisticated, integrated, and indeed the native skills, other people using them becomes a lot more a lot stronger, a lot more efficient, proficient.

I can see a time where they are viewed as not the number one choice. I am still one of those people that relies on them, if I’m honest with you, because I’ve grown up with them in my working life has benefited a lot from the use of Excel as it were. I can see that there are limitations to it. Particularly, as we are looking into the world of more big data and the assimilation of a huge amount of information that we need to think about. Bear in mind, though, that most FMs don’t need to use that. So, when we’re talking about big global portfolios. Sure, absolutely. Talk about bigger states with hundreds of buildings. Yeah, absolutely. The majority of FMs don’t deal with that. The majority of FMs need information to hands that they can easily interrogate, understand and share with others or smaller scale. Still very important, but smaller scale in terms of what they need to use it for. It still has its place, I think.

Okay. Okay. And so I’m sure you’re going to have some amazing tips here, top three tips. You’ve given us some fantastic insight and information so far. Chris, thanks for that. What are your top three tips for our listeners on effective facilities management?

Chris: I think my tips would be quite holistic. I think know your customer. I think that’s absolutely critical. What are the values and culture of that customer organisation? Where are they going in terms of their business, understand the nature of their business, their needs and their requirements. Dare I say, understand their wants from their needs. Because you may well have to help them understand why they cannot have all that they want, but they should get what they need. You need to be able to explain that. Understand compliance as well in that space. So when I say know your customer, all the laws and the regulations that they need to comply with. We have some common ones, but they may also have some ones that are specific to them too.

I think, also be curious. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but I’m really thinking about that continuous improvement place or space rather. How can we do things better? How can we improve upon what we’ve done? What’s coming next? Those trends in our world are ever changing, it seems, but I think that’s important that we have a finger on that pulse. Who’s done it before? We don’t have to invent the wheel or reinvent the wheel. I think historically, we’ve not been great at looking at other industries and learning from them. We should be able to do more of that and reach out to them.

And then of course, always coming back to the customer. So how does that help the customer about what we do? We’ve just touched on it really. I think the third thing would be about embrace technology. We have to do that. We’ve been too slow to do it. Stand on my soapbox a bit, but we do need to catch up. We shouldn’t ignore the value and the benefit that technology brings to an enabler for us to do our work. We actually should own it really. We should really take our place at the heart of that. So that we control the why of technology. We already have a huge amount of data, and everybody’s saying it. A huge amount of information technology. But what do we want to use it for? And why? So I think that’s really, really important. And we need to understand that better. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for that, but push for it now. Understand what it is that you need to learn and to master that technology. Go and get that training, and take ownership of it. Because I think embracing technology is the only way forward for us.

Matt: Okay, and so then wrapping the show up. What’s your favourite saying or quote on FM?

Chris: I think when I was starting out in the industry, one thing you didn’t hear very much was thank you. I think thank you is absolutely essential. Again, that bagging drum too much what for? I think when we say thank you, we need to understand what it’s for. But I suppose if I was to choose something, it would be, I couldn’t have done that without you. Because I think that places FM in the right space. We are an essential tool. We do underpin we’re not necessarily the front of industry and businesses that they want to say. Everything that they do relies on FM. I don’t think we’ll ever be in that place. But we do underpin the success of just about any organisation the business is going, if you actually understand what FM is. I think that would probably be mine, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

Matt: Amazing. Well, thanks again so much for being on the show, Chris. You’ve given us some fantastic information and insights there. You’ve been a wonderful guest. Thanks for being on.

Chris: Pleasure. You too.