Spread the word… this is how we do it…

‘Organisational culture’ is a hard-to-define concept that many facilities managers see as outside their remit. A celebrated article by Deal and Kennedy (1982) cut through some of the ambiguity by defining organisational culture as, ‘how we do things around here’. Simple and to the point, this statement has the ring of truth.
Other commentators prefer a fuller explanation, such as Ravasi and Schultz (2006), who state that organisational culture is a set of shared mental assumptions that guide interpretation and action in organisations by defining appropriate behaviour for various situations.

Contrast the idea of an organisational culture with the concept of ‘values’. Every company has them, but only a few make a point of publishing them, say, alongside their annual results. Values are a company’s guiding principles, for example, integrity, respect, honesty, professionalism, informality, knowledge, teamwork or innovation. Every organisation, formally or informally combines several of these values to form unique client relationships and a distinctive working environment for employees.

So how do values relate to organisational culture? Well, a business or organisational culture could be said to be a shared set of ‘values’ within a given organisation. This now begs the question: how can this abstract notion of a business culture be brought to life by, and on behalf of, individual employees? Further, how can this align with and contribute to overarching business strategy? Our own discipline of facilities management could be the surprising solution.
FM is a business support service still evolving from its roots in human resources and estate management. Indeed for many organisations FM is becoming increasingly business-critical, given the breadth of its remit (“from bogroll to the boardroom”, as some have endearingly observed).

It touches on all aspects and areas of a business and by its nature is neither selective nor prejudiced – FM is carried out where and when it is needed and exists largely outside the intricacies of office politics. It is therefore ideally placed to act as a ‘role model’ to other departments within the organisation in terms of setting patterns of behaviour and disseminating cultural norms.

I read with interest a recent FM World 100 Poll (2nd June 2011 edition) which asked readers their opinion regarding the facilities manager’s role in influencing business culture. More than a quarter of respondents believed that FM is very important when it comes to determining and maintaining their organisation’s business culture. Six out of ten respondents, however, believed that they have little influence and a further 13 per cent said they only had moderate influence.
One respondent noted that FM’s role in setting an organisation’s culture starts when new employees or outside contractors arrive on site for the first time. “FM sets the tone during induction to the site, including the building’s facilities, health and safety attitudes and other workplace behaviour.”

Another respondent said that FM’s are extremely important in setting and maintaining the etiquette for a workplace, “by tackling the occasional irresponsible and less harmonious behaviour which is upsetting the other employees shared attitudes and values.”

These respondents are no doubt correct; and the state and cleanliness of a building’s reception, security, entrance area and car park also help an organisation to maintain brand image and identity.
Our analysis could go even further to say that FM can lead and exemplify the ‘ways in which things are done’ throughout an organisation. It could be argued that IT also has contact with staff across the enterprise. The difference is, however, that the work of the FM goes beyond technological change; our work is visible, tangible and can turn heads when done well.

Case study: helpdesk

Take the example of a help desk employee who, by handling a reported fault from ‘cradle to grave,’ can bring values to life. Once a fault is logged, the employee has the opportunity to respond in a knowledgeable, efficient, innovative, polite, respectful and customer-centric manner, reflecting the values of the organisation at large. Through regular contact with the customer – often a fellow employee – at each stage of the fault’s lifespan, informing them what’s being done and why, the help desk operator can reinforce these values.
The facilities manager takes ownership at the outset and provides a quick, knowledgeable, considered and timely response to update on the call and the work required, immediately managing expectations and shaping the opinion that will be formed at the conclusion of the work.

By the way

Informal communication, either written or spoken, is often taken for granted – but often, it’s the small things that count for a lot. These ‘off the record’ discussions are an important opportunity for an FM to embody the organisation’s values and demonstrate how they can be used in an everyday business situation. In other words, the devil is in the detail.
This is just one example. In reality, a help desk will receive potentially hundreds of calls on a daily basis from disparate business units and teams. It adds up to a particularly large captive audience who, simply by using the FM help desk, will have come into contact with a role model who embodies and propagates the organisation’s values.
But there are problems with this approach. The inherent difficulty of identifying and reinforcing an individual business culture is when, inevitably, organisations have to work together, or when you introduce new values into the mix.
When today’s market increasingly turns to external providers to carry out core services, aligning corporate values becomes a very real challenge for managers. For example, an outsourced provider is seldom best-placed to establish your company’s values compared to an in-house team which shares the same set of values with the rest of the organisation.

Whether the value-setting role of an in-house team outweighs the cost savings that are likely to be achieved by outsourcing is a matter for debate and deserves further attention elsewhere. However, this value-based approach is one route by which more effective collaboration between organisations that are seeking to develop open, honest and profitable relationships could be achieved. We talk about contractors turning native and truly embracing the culture of an organisation – in future, this convergence of values and cultures could become the norm with contracts flourishing as 
a result.

FM recognition

So now we return to the age-old question of how to get more recognition for the work FMs do and the wide-ranging skill sets we have. Some analysts equate recognition with a presence at boardroom level, which is understandable. But this approach is flawed in two ways: firstly, it’s probably impractical for many FMs in the short term; and secondly, we need to get our own house in order first. Aiming at the boardroom is a noble cause, but only if we are fit for purpose when we get there.
If this is to happen, we need to agree on how we can support business culture and strategy, and begin speaking the language of business to all people throughout the organisation. This will only be done by fine-tuning our policies, procedures and operations and getting to that consistent level of performance when FM naturally rolls off the tongue when talking the language of business. We need to highlight and demonstrate our value, concentrating on those areas where we can make a 
real difference and support business strategy.
FM achieves so much in terms of strategy and marketing – it’s time these were agreed upon and used to our advantage. We continue to undersell ourselves hugely. How many other departments in the organisation get involved in all that we do, demonstrating a skill set the size we do, or own an address book the size of ours? Not many.
The interplay between business value, culture and strategy is complex and multi-faceted. Academic research can inspire us to look at our organisations in a new light. And when FMs combine these ideas with their own in-depth operational experience, they can make great leaps in terms of re-positioning FM in the eyes of the wider organisation. In time, aligning FM with business strategy will ensure our profession gets the recognition it deserves.

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