FM on the board – really?

It’s been a hobby horse of many people in the industry since I first got involved 7 years ago, and those of my associates who are a little longer in the tooth tell me it’s been going on for much longer than that. I’m constantly seeing articles in the press, hearing speakers at industry events or listening to FM colleagues over a pint in the pub waxing lyrical about how there needs to be an FM on the board. About how FM is a strategic discipline and should therefore have appropriate representation in business via a director’s position and a seat at the top table. I even wrote an article last year on how we can achieve this in the long term. But having thought a lot about the issue lately, I’m starting to wonder whether that coveted directorship is really what FM should be aiming for.

Don’t get me wrong, FM is a strategic discipline, there’s no doubt about it. A well planned and executed FM strategy can pay dividends for an organisation in more ways than one. There certainly needs to be a certain level of influence on the board, but does there really need to be an FM Director? Or would this simply serve as an ego trip for the industry but not actually benefit business as a whole.

A concerning separation of concerns

My line of thinking on this topic started some years ago, after the announcement of the collaboration between the BIFM and CIPD. HR has had a seat on the board for some time, and there are many examples of organisations where the FM department reports, perhaps begrudgingly, to the HR Director. FM often looks up with envy at HR Directors, IT Directors, Procurement Directors and heads of other such departments whose primary role, like FM, is to support the core business of the organisation. But I would argue that one of the main problems with support services in general (whether that be FM, HR, IT, Procurement or any other such support function) is that they work in silos, don’t understand or appreciate what their compatriots actually do for the business and find themselves embroiled in boardroom politics and power struggles rather than working together to enable the business to achieve its aims.

Therein lies the crux of the issue. All of the aforementioned business functions are ultimately there for one reason, and one reason alone. To allow the organisation to carry out its core function, whether that be through providing the facilities for those functions to be carried out, providing HR support for employees or IT resources for both customers and members of staff. So why are all of these support functions represented separately on the board (or in the case of FM – not at all!), when in reality they are trying to achieve the same thing.

The dream…

Here’s what I would propose in an ideal world. FM stops trying to emulate its fellow support services and focuses instead on providing quality strategic and operational services to allow the business to achieve its objectives. At the same time HR, IT, Procurement and the rest magnanimously agree to give up their seats at the table and join forces with FM to become an efficient, multifunctional business support arm. Their directorships are merged to create a new post, perhaps for a ‘Chief Support Officer’ or ‘Support Services Director’, who has an understanding and appreciation of all support functions and is able to balance the needs of all of them with the requirements of the business.

This gives the business a senior executive whose sole aim is to improve the productivity of the organisation by ensuring that all support services are working together as efficiently as possible. FM, HR, IT, Procurement and other such functions collaborate to achieve their aims under the stewardship of a dynamic, well-informed individual who can make the case for strong business support and who controls a single overarching budget for all functions under his control. The different business functions within this structure develop a deep understanding of the value that each of them brings to the table, of how their roles fit together to help paint the bigger picture and as a result the organisation becomes an efficient, productive and successful machine that is able to achieve more than merely the sum of its parts.

The reality…

That would be the ideal scenario. Of course, in reality it is highly unlikely that those business functions that have worked hard to earn their place at the top table would be willing to give them up, and the success of the whole idea would hinge on the dynamic, well-informed ‘Chief Support Officer’ actually being dynamic and well-informed. Senior management appointments can be hard to fill as it is, without needing someone with a good understanding of such a wide range of different areas.

With this in mind, perhaps FM should aim for a board level position out of sheer necessity. But if the scenario above isn’t realistic, at the very least we should be aiming for greater collaboration and understanding between support functions instead of the tribal separation and rivalry we see today. Collaboration between BIFM and CIPD back in 2014 was a good starting point, but two professional bodies working together can only go so far. It is up to the FMs on the ground, from the Head of FM right down to the newest Facilities Assistant, to make things actually happen within their organisation and pave the way for a better future.

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