Marcus is enjoying the seafront dinner with his wife. It is all too rare an opportunity with three boys to bring up. The summer breeze creates a perfect temperature.
Their wine glasses have just been refilled; he chinks his against his wife’s. “Happy anniversary!”
His wife’s eyes narrow at the mobile vibrating on the table top. The screen flashes ‘Harry’.
“Go on – take it.”
Marcus walks out of the restaurant. “Good evening, Harry.” He checks his watch. “You’re late. What’s up?”
It hasn’t been long since they met previously; there is another month before their next meeting.
“Marcus… sorry to disturb you in the evening.” “You’re OK, Harry…” There is a rustling of papers in the background. “Are you in the office still?”
“Yeah, you know me – committed through and through. Although…” a drawer shuts hard, “…things are definitely improving since we last spoke.”
“Good to hear that.”
“Yeah… look, can we meet up soon? I want to pick your brains again.”
“Sure. Let me check my diary and I’ll come back to you in the morning. That OK?”
“Great – thanks Marcus.”
“By the way I’ve enjoyed researching my client’s business – I never realised the extent to his plans. I’ll tell you when we meet. I also want to show you something.”
“Sounds good – touch base tomorrow. Bye for now.”
Marcus makes a show of turning his mobile off when he rejoins his wife.
Marcus enters the lift; it is only the second time he’s visited Harry’s offices. The reception atrium is very functional, nothing too elaborate. He does notice the striking artwork, however.
When the lift doors reopen, Harry is waiting.
“The artwork downstairs is new, Harry.” They shake hands.
“Excuse me? Oh yes. That was my idea.”
“Well, actually, mine and the client boss’.
I was doing an inventory and found lots of canvases stashed away in storage. The boss had forgotten about them so I
had one of them framed and hung it outside his office.”
“You’re a rebel!”
“Yeah, I got summoned the next day.” “Summoned?” Marcus makes a mental note.
“Yeah, my little joke! Anyway when I got there he had all the canvases laid out on his office floor.”
“He and I spent the rest of the afternoon deciding which ones to hang and where.” Harry smiles. “Did you take a close look?”
“No I didn’t. Why?”
“When you leave, take a look!”
“OK… I will.”
They sit around his desk. “A drink, Marcus?”
“No, I’m fine for the moment thanks.” Harry is rummaging around. “So, what part of my brain do you want to pick?”
“Sorry? Oh yes, indeed.” Harry opens up a folder and studies his notes. “I’ve started to understand my client’s goals and objectives as you suggested…”
“Good. Many surprises?”
He nods. “One or two. And I now realise I’ve not been making much impact that would otherwise help him achieve these.”
“One of his objectives is to make people collaborate more, not just within departments, but between them also.”
“OK… do you know why?” Marcus starts making the connections.
“They reckon the company is losing money because wheels are being reinvented and there’s a lot of duplication across departments.”
“Who told you this?”
“One of my good contacts within the company; he’s helping me with my research. As a consequence, I understand the executive wants to redesign all the floors in the building.”
“That will be a good project…”
“Yeah, he’s looking to locate people together according to task and not just function.”
“OK, so why the glum face?”
Harry stands and closes his door. “He doesn’t believe we’re, sorry I’m, capable of doing this.”
Marcus waits. “And are you?”
Harry looks uncomfortable. “If I’m honest, no we’re not. He’s getting in some consultant – sorry Marcus, no offence meant – and agency to do the investigations and design.”
“How well do you know what everyone does in the company?”
“Well, I’m beginning to find this out… remember our last conversation?”
Marcus nods. “I do and what you’re doing will help you exert influence.”
“How? I’m just starting.”
“Given these developments, it’s maybe time to tell your client boss what you’re doing. Let him know what you’ve found out so far and offer to be on the investigations and design team. Tell him you will be his representative to make sure they get their facts right.”
Harry nods. “Good idea.”
“It is – don’t underestimate the fact you have a relationship with him. You are in a unique situation, Harry, believe me. Have they chosen the consultant yet?”
“I don’t think so. Consultants and contractors have underwhelmed the boss in the past, so he’s taking his time. He wants to get it right.”
“Offer to help choose the company. You’re in an influential position you know.”
“Really? You think he’ll agree?”
“Sure. You probably know more about the culture than you realise. Besides, you’ll be responsible for looking after the finished product. You have a vested interest.”
Harry sighs. “That’s for sure.”
“Now, these bad experiences, do you know what they were?”
“Poor performance, poor reporting and a lot of time putting right what they were supposed to be doing.”
Marcus nods. “Sounds familiar, Harry. There are some key factors behind this.”
“Such as.” He takes out his pen.
“In order of importance, the reasons why the ‘buyer-provider’ contract stumbles are unclear buyer expectations upfront, then misaligned interests over time between both parties, followed by poor governance and closely behind poor communications. Poor performance is low down the scale as an actual factor.”
Marcus waits for Harry to finish writing.
“Another interesting factor I’ve observed is where the buyer-provider relationship no longer supports mutual benefit. I know this is linked with the misalignment in interests factor.”
“How do you fix these?”
“First thing is to tell your client boss and find ways to correct them at the outset. Help him write a good brief. Help him try to understand the consultants’ interests upfront and agree how to align them with your client’s. Set up a good management team to manage every facet of the project and get one of the consultant’s team members on board this team.”
“I’m going to need your help with this, Marcus.”
“Fine, but you’re going to have to start paying me now.”
“I’ll sort that out with my own boss.”
“If you think about it, Harry, none of these should be a revelation. They are appropriate to you and follow on from our last conversation. In supporting your client boss, you are creating good connections.”
“I guess so.”
“For example, you are in a great position where your relationship means more – at the moment – than on performance indicators.”
Harry sighs in relief. “Thank goodness.”
“Also, you are starting to demonstrate you are protecting his trust and his business information. You must continue to show you understand and are living the very reasons why he selected you in the first place and – dare I say it – is keeping you.”
“I’m trying, Marcus, I’m really trying.”
“I know, otherwise I would not be helping you.”
“I wish I knew how to redesign his workplace.”
“Now that’s a soapbox I’ve stood on many times.”
“Long story, but when I first arrived here on secondment, I noticed a number of my employer’s staff bent over building layouts, colouring in spaces. Literally, like one of the modern day colouring books for adults!”
“What do you mean?”
“They were colour matching space by department as a means to measure total space for estimating build and fitout cost. I was stunned.”
“I’d come from a place where we had digitised every space for all our clients.”
“We used to advise our clients on placement of people according to function, strategic business goals and tactical project focus. It led to productivity improvements and also created great working environments. We were doing this for clients back in the early 90s Harry, before the advent of BIM and AWD.”
“Yep. Now bear in mind I had been seconded to create capability in this company, when I tried to introduce the same CAD- based approach, they looked at me like I had two heads!”
Harry laughed. “Sounds ridiculous!”
“Well you’re right, but you see it from the benefit of hindsight. I watched, back then, a leading architect here in Australia recognise the opportunity of digitised workspaces to create a new business beyond traditional architectural design. He made a mint in the late 90s and now there are many workplace practitioners.”
“The point being is that arguably this skill and strategic application should have been part of the FM sphere. Instead it has been outsourced. It is no wonder executives see FM as they do.”
Harry goes quiet.
“While it’s too late to change this situation, you have a chance to be strategic for your client boss by showing you understand his business and can influence the workplace design.”
“With your help, Marcus.”
“Happy to, but I want you to think hard about the other opportunities the FM industry may potentially let slip; how many lost opportunities to innovate are there that could otherwise generate new sources of revenue?”
“You sound like my boss.”
“Maybe I should speak with him?”
Harry’s eyes narrow.
“I’m only kidding, Harry.”
In reception, Harry leads Marcus to the art works hanging on the walls. He smiles as he watches Marcus’ reaction.
“They’re all fountain pens, Harry. All these landscapes and portraits are made up from images of pens! Extraordinary.”
“You can see why I wanted them hung up. I think my client is beginning to realise I understand his business better.”
Marcus shakes Harry’s hand. “Small but effective steps Harry. Well done.” He looks again at the photographs. “I love them.”
As an FM consultant Graham Constable offers proven competencies in strategic and operational facilities and asset management and broad business experience gained over many years.
This article also appears in the December/January issue of Facility Management magazine.
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