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Stan Mitchell on Preparing FMs for Executive-Level Conversations

“The goal posts keep moving with Covid-19, and the opinions of what to do today will be different from what to do tomorrow. The solutions that facilities managers are offering to their companies differ from region to region, country to country, and company to company,” says Stan Mitchell, a pioneer in the development of facilities management as a professional discipline worldwide.

“We are the professionals, and we are expected to know what is working in one part of the world or another. This is a fantastic time to collaborate, to bring the proper communication back to the senior management teams that we serve,” declares Mitchell, at a time when misinformation about Covid-19 is rampant and workplace safety is a global concern. FMs need to provide guidance to their teams, advised Mitchell during a webinar on Preparing FMs for Executive-Level Conversations, now available to all.

“We are expected to have answers for our clients because we can share the best of what companies are doing to keep running,” says Mitchell, also the CEO of Key Facilities Management International, the longest established UK FM company. His roles include Chair of the British Institute of Facilities Management, involvement with IFMA, and the development of standards in the FM profession. Mitchell’s company works across many countries and is advising clients regarding the best solutions in practice around the workplace and Covid-19.

Covid-19 has amplified the need for facilities managers to sharpen their communications skills, and was the inspiration for a webinar where Mitchell (left) and Randy Olson, vice president, Business Development, Professional Facility Management Institute (ProFMI), interviewed Mitchell to explore how facilities managers can demonstrate their relevance and demonstrate solutions they offer to the highest levels of management. 

Communication skills are essential for FMs, and “the top three skills for FMs are  communication, communication, and communication. Technical backgrounds where people come from and bring the technical skills but need the communication skill,” says Mitchell. “Use the language of the senior management team. To demonstrate cost effectiveness and efficiency speak to the finance person in costs per widget. Use their language, and ask the board members for help. Ask them how best to communicate needs. FM is not important to the core business. We are not important to the core business until they realize we are important.”

In order to obtain the right information and get attention from executives, Mitchell suggests that FMs ask managers what their problems are first. “Find out what they are trying to solve before you offer FM solutions that might be solving an FM department problem, but not really their issue. “How can you help that manager? The FM team may have some answers; try to be helpful.” 

Covid-19 is a negative but a fantastic opportunity for facilities managers to demonstrate our professionalism, our communication skills, and to inform and convince senior management that we are in control and taking the right actions we need to take. We also need to demonstrate to those reentering the workplace that it is safe.

“Those of us in FM who come from a technical discipline like engineering may approach problems from a technical viewpoint, but we need to work on the interpersonal communications that may not come easily to technical backgrounds, advises Mitchell.  Being proactive, we also should not be sitting back in our fiefdom, waiting for people to come to us about the problems. Go out and solve the problem for the organization before it becomes one.”

Facility management expertise is being sought by company boards while they are struggling with property portfolios and people working remotely. A webinar listener asked, “Will FMs continue to have board-level value after the pandemic?”  

“That depends on how we respond to this pandemic. If we demonstrate our preparedness and planning skills, that demonstrates and reflects upon us as individuals as well as our discipline. I always hear people that say FM should sit on the board. I think FM should sit on the board only when it has a strategic role to play,” Mitchel explains. “Today with Covid-19, the board will ask FM to contribute. Demonstrate your strategic competency, so you as an FM can advise the board and can help them understand how space is used. You must be seen to be critical to the organization to get that seat on the board.”

When talking to senior management, the pitfalls include thinking that FM is so important that you fail to see the needs of the management team. “Do your homework; the senior team are specialists in their own domain and are on the Board for a reason,” declares Mitchell. “No one in FM has the answers to everything. A bit of modesty is a good easy way to go into the Board. Leave the arrogance at the door. Before I go talk to a senior manager or a senior management team, I have to first figure out what is in it for them. What is a win for them and a win for me?”

FMs also need to be sales people with skills in sales and marketing

“You have to sell what you do. Everyone takes workplace lights, heating, and cooling for granted. Tell them what you do in their language, not your FM language,” Mitchell urges. “Think about how we as facilities managers market. We have to be cautious not to use technical language. Even take a course on sales techniques; you will use them!”

Further, FMs have to do a better job of communicating what to do when they meet with the HR-IT-C-Suite teams. Mitchell believes there will be more coming together of all these areas, but FM remains the generalist; not the specialist. KPIs and outcomes of the organizational objectives should be driving FM decisions. “We should not be making decisions about what is good for FM. The decisions have to align with the business KPIs. If we cannot demonstrate a ROI, it may not be right for the business.”

Leadership. If you are an FM with a team, be a leader, think about training and education. Give people the knowledge and support. Always think to make your team members your replacement. Don’t control the knowledge; share the knowledge. Motivate people to do the best job they can,” says Mitchell. “Empower them. Give ownership.” 

Some companies will encourage you to take risks with sharing information and expanding your role in the company. That’s good. Talk to people you normally would not share FM with. We’re not talking about taking risks with the company business, but step out of the boundaries to let others understand the impact of FM. 

Olson commented that FMs now have a real opportunity as leaders. Pointing to the ProFM Body of Knowledge, he notes how it combines the technical and the soft skills that FMs need. “Communication is the first key in the Body of Knowledge. That is intentional. It is a deep consideration. Know what you are lacking. Reach out to get the right technical support. The Body of Knowledge is FM for me,” says Mitchell. “We need to know something about most of those disciplines, and you can always get more technical support.”

Click on Preparing FMs for Executive-level Conversations, to see the full interview.