Politics and Facility Management – Wanna Win, Gotta Play

handshake-facility-manager-management-leadership-facility-university-facilityu-ifma-brad-howlettWhen you hear the word “politics”, what comes to mind?  Finger-pointing, gridlock, partisan, money, under-table deals, scandals, etc. – all-in-all, politics has a negative connotation.  However, according to Merriam-Webster, politics is defined as “activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government.”  The key words are “influencing the actions and policies” and “getting and keeping power”.  Granted the context is government, but the principles are the same regardless if you are working in the public or private sector.  If there are people, then there will be politics.  The key for facility management is that if you are ever going to progress your programs, obtain necessary resources, and gain recognition in the C-suite, then you have to play politics. 

In helping building engineers and aspiring facility managers discern their career path, they need to decide if they are willing to play politics and work with people more than they work with equipment; as the answer to this question is a key factor in determining their pursuit of a facility manager position.  Many will confess that they would rather stick to fixing equipment instead of people, because equipment is easier to work with – it is tough to argue against that point…  To stress this further, I often tell facility managers that if they are carrying tools, they are doing the wrong job. I understand that many of you have to carry tools and wear a variety of hats, because you are a team of one or have minimal staff. However, if you are going to grow and mature your facilities program and move away from reactive firefighting, you have to be diligent and active at managing relationships up, out, and down.

This is, of course, means that a facility manager cannot hide in the basement or the central plant, even if that is where they put your office, so you could be closer to the systems – you have to be closer to the people…  You need to be out and about building and managing relationships with management (up), occupants/customers (out), and staff (down).  Ideally, the facility manager’s or director’s office is on the same floor or in the same area as the other department managers (e.g. human resources, finance, etc.) – especially given that facilities represent the second largest asset and expense for most organizations.  To take it one step further (and one-step closer to “facilitopia”) there should be a vice president of real estate and facility management or the like with a seat in the C-suite.  But the facility industry will never get there if they are not willing play the politics necessary to win that seat.

By interacting with management and occupants – the customer – you will be better able to discern their needs and manage expectations & perceptions (read FM360’s next article for more on that topic).  Secondly, every interaction provides an opportunity to promote and sell the value of the facility department’s staff and services.  Lastly, your presence should make you more readily available to participate in business discussions and to hopefully be consulted as a trusted advisor on a regular basis.

Building such relationships will establish a rapport and trust that should provide more success in obtaining resources & support, smoothing out issues as they arise, and leveraging your expertise to return a greater value to the bottom lineBut if you wanna win, you gotta play…

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