Lionel Prodgers has been involved in shaping FM in the UK and internationally since its inception. He sees that there has been, and remains, a wider problem for the sector.
“Does the body of FM at large have an inferiority complex? I think you can see signs of it all the way through; as a body we’ve never really stepped up confidently,” says the managing director at consultancy Agents4RM.
One key issue from Prodgers’ perspective is a lack of consistency over the years as to where the workplace and FM function reports into in terms of corporate governance.
“You’d be surprised at the variety of organisational structures I’ve seen,” he explains. “I’ve seen FM reporting into personnel, finance, IT; sometimes directly to the CEO or COO; a whole range of areas where it fits, or perhaps doesn’t fit because no one knows where to put it.”
To Prodgers’ mind, this lack of consistency leads to individual FMs unable to collectively talk to their peers about the same things at the same level. Accordingly, this results in too much variation in how good the typical FM is at articulating their value proposition, the understanding of which is needed for wider organisational acceptance. It’s a classic catch-22.
Emerging governmental decrees about the environmental performance of organisations and the buildings they inhabit “are part of the solution,” accepts Prodgers. “The fact that corporates are going to have to report on environmental performance, FM should be rising to that challenge.”
But the sector “needs to come through with solutions that are generally accepted across the sector and that show to others we know how it should be done”. He adds: “It comes back to that inferiority complex, of not being confident enough.”
Prodgers believes that there is an underlying fear within the sector of being criticised (“that’s the impression I get;not enough boldness’1and that an insecurity exists that needs challenging by a more concerted effort at membership organisation level. Visible influencing of government policy must be the goal, but for Prodgers “the institutes who are representing the discipline aren’t really engaging in these issues.”
Charisma and authority
The problem is compounded by the sector’s work continuing to suffer from being seen as dispensable whenever economic conditions, over which even the most brightly shining exponents have no control, suddenly conspire against them. Prodgers talks of extraordinary talents within FM, past and present, whose bodies of work have been undermined by such conditions and, most recently, the impacts of Covid-19. He likens this all too casual dismissal – of FMs who may have been improving processes in leaps and bounds – to the thought process through which an organisation decides it can blithely cut out its maintenance budget for a year and, having survived without consequence, try it again the following year. That this sense of dispensability continues to exist is a reason for any continuing inferiority complex and the need to fight it.
Individuals with the right combination of charisma and authority to break through this cycle are an important part of the solution, says Prodgers, not least because any FM proposing major projects “is going to need plenty of confidence in his numbers when dealing with the finance director”.
“Without being too simplistic,” he continues, “the people who will shine through will always shine through; again it’s that combination of charisma or authority, if you like. And there are many examples in facilities management.”