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Let's face it. "Clout" isn't a word that often comes up in discussions about facility management. The CEO has it. The CFO has it. Even the CIO has it. But the FM? In many organizations, facility management isn't exactly on equal ground with other departments — it may no longer be relegated to the boiler room, but it's hardly a regular figure in the boardroom.
And for many facility managers, that's all right. They didn't go into the field expecting a high-profile position. Facility managers take pride in their work and know how important it is, even if others don't. More recognition would be nice; more funding for facility projects would be even better. But clout?
Well, why not? Clout is a key ingredient in the recipe for corporate success. It can help facility managers win support for projects that will improve the performance of their facilities. It can boost job satisfaction — and job security — for members of the facility team. And it can reduce if not remove some of the frustrations of the job.
To get clout, facility managers don't have to learn the black art of back-stabbing or become masters of the power play. In fact, the steps most likely to get facility managers clout are things that will make the department more effective.
By focusing on best practices, facility managers can add value while building up their standing within the organization. Just ask Kirk Beaudoin, territory facility manager for Nike's retail facilities department. He is part of a four-person team that oversees nearly 3 million square feet of space, a $6 million maintenance and repair budget, and a capital budget of another $6 million. The team recently reinvented itself, creating a departmental mission statement to align with the corporate mission, paring down the number of vendors and implementing a Web-based work order system. Top management has taken note. When the team recommended replacing HVAC units in Nike stores before they failed, the plan was quickly approved.
"You build credibility through being master of your industry," Beaudoin says. "If our leaders were polled, they would probably say that our facility department is the gold standard of the industry. They might not have anyone to compare us to, but it's what every facilities department strives for. If people want an answer that's facilities-related, they're going to come to us."
Beaudoin shies away from the word "clout." He prefers "credibility." And he's not alone. Some in the field find the word threatening. Others think it suggests an authority that facility managers don't have. These facility managers and consultants prefer "influence," "credibility" or "respect." It's true those terms don't come with the baggage that "clout" brings. But they have limitations of their own. None has the assertive quality that clout does. None suggests as strongly that the facility manager has earned a place in high-level discussions. And none implies so clearly the ability to get things done.
There's nothing magic about clout. It's not as if facility managers who have it always get their way. It certainly isn't a license for facility managers to throw their weight around. But clout does give facility managers a chance to be heard when it counts — when decisions are being made that have important ramifications for a specific facility or for the entire real estate portfolio.
"If you have clout, you can explain to senior executives why sustainability is important, why contingency planning is important," says Stormy Friday, president of The Friday Group and a well-known speaker and writer on facility management issues. "You can then influence decisions about resource deployment."
The ability to get the ear of top management is becoming more important for facility managers. One reason is that long-time facility management issues like energy efficiency are now getting the attention of the C-suite. Increasingly, the old approach to energy efficiency — one that focuses strictly on building systems — won't be enough, says Jim Sinopoli, a consulting engineer who has worked with hundreds of buildings over the past 30 years. Instead, facility managers will have to address matters that may affect building occupants or other departments — things like IT energy use, plug loads and occupancy schedules. To reduce an organization's energy use, the facility manager may need to explain to top management why changes should take place in areas that are outside the traditional purview of facility management.
Data centers, for example, are notorious energy hogs, but most of the electricity they consume powers servers and storage devices, not the facility infrastructure that supports them. A facility manager with clout is better positioned to be taken seriously when asking IT to consider more efficient technology, even if the first cost is higher.
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