FM leaders

FM leaders share career-boosting advice

Women panel on eliminating self-doubt, improving executive presence
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
By Rebecca Melnyk

Cheryl Carron, president of integrated facilities management, North America, Sodexo, has this advice for women professionals looking to build their careers: Have confidence. Take risks. Bet on yourself.

Such is a philosophy that has moved her forward in the complex field of facilities management. “You don’t need to be 90 per cent qualified for a role before you embark on it,” she said. “You need to have faith in yourself—that you can figure out how to figure it out.”

She was speaking at the session, Women in FM: A Panel Discussion, which took place at IFMA’s virtual World Workplace 2020 Conference in December. Industry members revealed obstacles they overcame to attain their higher-level positions, how future leaders can follow suit, and what trends to take note of.

Looking back over the pandemic, as people were exposed to unexpected situations, Carron pointed to the resilience and intelligence that has prevailed. “You need to use that same train of thought as you go looking into other roles in FM,” she advised. “Too often, I see women who say, ‘I don’t think I have what it takes, or enough experience.’ You have everything you need to shoot for the moon. I’m looking for my replacement. . . get there because we need you in this field.”

Get training to eliminate self-doubt

With a background working in corporate real estate, a lack of engineering acumen left Carron unsure of how “relevant” she would be to whom she managed. Self-doubt ceased once she immersed herself in learning what made buildings tick. “I remember when I watched my first boiler get installed. . . spending a lot of time with technicians and listening to them, understanding what their day is like. . . and being like a sponge with people I felt knew more than I did. Really, I learned a lot over time.”

Her financial know-how—understanding how to run a FM business— skyrocketed after entering the field, with help from additional classes and studying commercial finance. “Part of being in outsourcing is you really need to understand money and how you can help your client understand challenges with their own fiscal budgets,” she noted. “So, really understanding the ins and outs of the commercial side of things was an obstacle early on. I made sure that I was going to get all the training I needed.”

With a background in hotel management, Tiffany Williams, district manager, campus services, Sodexo, felt her biggest challenge was her “learning journey,” and having confidence in technical knowledge. She suggests finding peers or mentors to job-shadow—watching someone power down a boiler, for instance,— grabbing as many training opportunities as possible, and not being shy about asking questions. “The greatest achievement is having that field credibility with my team who are all technicians and hard FM people,” she added. “When they are impressed that is the biggest boost.”

Before diving into a learning program, people should determine what FM sectors are most personally captivating, suggests Jeanie Choi-Kang, senior director of project management services, Sodexo. “Narrow down to areas you are interested in and then connect with people,” she said “Being able to have those meaningful conversations is where you get the most information.”

Know subject matter and be succinct

In an industry that requires critical thinking and quickly simplifying complex information, Choi-Kang is constantly reminding people about effective and meaningful communications. To improve executive performance, up-and-coming managers are advised to know their subject matter.

“Whenever you’re in front of the decision maker have the compelling story available with data to make your point,” said Williams. “Really talk about what the impact of the decision will be so you are known as the person who has the answers. . . and be confident because you’ll be seen as the go-to person. Always have your knowledge, info and data available.”

Carron mused over her own experiences sitting in the “decision-maker” chair, where she is often faced with people who are unprepared to ask for what they want. “Be succinct. I recommend everyone go out and take a communications course because it will help you in everything you do,” she said. “Having effective written and verbal skills in FM are critical, especially when you’re sitting in front of anyone on an executive team. Understand their time is very precious so have your messaging mapped out. Practice if you have to.”

Create honest dialogue with your team

Since facility management is not just about managing facilities but managing people, there are often challenges, Choi-Kan pointed out. A reluctance to collaborate may call for “one-on-one, casual, outside-the-office conversations,” to determine where resistance is stemming from. “Once you find that core reason you can know the next steps for action,” she said.

Finding common ground is important for Carron. If people don’t understand a vision, they may feel isolated from the process. She suggested finding ways to engage people and show what “is in it for them,” while also having a stopping point. “At the end of the day, if you’ve been as dynamic as you possibly can, you have to have that tough one-on-one that says, you need to get onboard and if you’re not getting onboard then maybe this is not the environment for you,” she said. “That’s always a tough conversation for any leader to have, but it’s something you need to recognize.”

Leaders also know how to foster opportunities for communicating. “As you are building your team, work to create an environment and culture where you can have honest dialogue so people feel comfortable expressing how they feel about a direction,” said Williams.

Allowing people to disagree, but somehow all “get onboard,” is key. “You have to allow for that exchange,” she added. “If you can create that culture you’ll be able to move forward with your vision with a lot less resistance.”

Note the trends COVID-19 is triggering

How will the world of facilities management shift post COVID-19? An industry known to centre around problem solving will pivot into one that is more forward-thinking, said Carron, adding the focus will be on the human experience, “the attraction and retention of employees—around the trust and culture that is built within the company.”

“FM is going to be brought into conversations that we’ve always been on the periphery of discussing because what we do fundamentally provides the backdrop for the human experience,” she said. “It’s how do I feel when I walk into a building? Do I feel like it’s clean? Do I feel like it provides me with what I need? Is there a reason for me to truly be here and productive versus being at home where I am safe? The way our industry is already pivoting is in that direction.”

Once the pandemic is over, Williams hopes facilities such as restaurants, grocery stores and airports will commit to the same cleaning standards dictated by COVID-19 safety precautions. “Aesthetics matter. . . as a consumer it’s this feeling of being safe because it’s clean; it’s a perception,” she said. “Sometimes, we let the cleaning slide; it moves down the priority list. But it really does matter.”

Unassigned seating has become a “big work trend that is now reverting,” As Choi-Kang noted, shared spaces pose challenges as they lose their gloss and gleam. “If you sift through all the trends real estate experts are talking about, the just of it is that we are going to get back to the norm, and when we do, we need to think about how we can be more flexible with our work environment, yet have an overall understanding of using technology to collaborate.”

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