Four lessons in communication for FMs

A snapshot of the expert advice shared at IFMA Toronto’s latest leadership series event
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
By Jason Bates

As any facility manager (FM) will attest, ensuring the built environment meets the needs of the people using the space as well as the overarching needs of the organization is a huge challenge. How does an FM know that all stakeholders are getting what they want while ensuring the facilities team members have what they need to do their job? Communication.

It’s a skill that is critical to success in a variety of FM activities: coordinating the demands of the users of the space; effectively managing change; incorporating organizational goals and strategies into capital funding requests; and executing an emergency response plan. The value and importance of effective communication cannot be over-emphasized.

What follows is a round-up of four lessons gleaned from the expert panel members at IFMA Toronto’s recent Leadership Series – The Art of Communications in FM.

Develop a process for space requests

Ralph Aprile is the assistant vice president of facilities and ancillary services at Durham College. Working in an academic environment, one of the challenges Aprile faces is stakeholders competing for scarce space.

Regular classroom and office space, or “vanilla space,” as he calls it, is allocated on an as-needed basis. However, special space, which is sometimes non-existent, can lead to fighting between stakeholders who are territorial to begin with.

“They come to you wanting something, so we had to streamline the process for them because, at the end of the day, in my position, I want to be fair and equitable to everyone,” said Aprile.

To this end, Aprile created a 15-person space committee with cross-representation from the campus’ various stakeholder groups. Anyone who is seeking space must make an application to the space committee, which then makes a recommendation to the president, who makes the ultimate decision.

Aprile helps stakeholders prepare their applications, and subsequent presentations, which are essentially business cases. Doing this ensures they have the greatest opportunity to achieve their desired outcome.

Manage change during times of transition

As the managing director at outsourced service provider CBRE, Judy Fancy leads transitions from the sales solution to the operations team. These transitions are all about change management, which means making clients comfortable with what is going to be done and how it’s going to be done, based on a firm plan.

Fancy takes a programmatic approach, working from a Microsoft Project Gantt plan that spells out and assigns responsibilities as well as includes governance. She creates a communication plan with the client in their kick-off meeting, providing for touch point calls, pulse calls, formal reporting and control points to ensure deliverables are being met. Setting expectations is critical, she said.

“It sounds so simple, but some people are so uncomfortable with conveying the truth, the bad news — and the consequences, potentially,” said Fancy, “but people will respect you for your candour and realize that they have to hear it and it’s better to hear it now than later, when everything starts blowing apart.”

Consider messaging when pitching capital projects

Lorraine Huinink, director of program management, rapid transit implementation at Metrolinx, shared her techniques for getting new projects approved based on her time at Infrastructure Ontario.

Decision-makers don’t know the details the way facility managers do, Huinink said, so she advises being concise and drilling down the technical information into accurate bullet points. She added that, in pitching a new project, the message doesn’t always have to be about cost savings.

“If you can point out cost avoidances, that’s almost as golden as cost savings,” said Huinink.

Infrastructure Ontario has two sets of money — one for base building funding and another for provincial ministries for leasehold improvements.

“The real magic comes together when those two pots of money make sense and you get efficiencies and economies of scale by putting those two project together,” said Huinink.

In the government context, where projects are funded annually — meaning budgets must be spent by the end of March — she also finds it handy to have shelf-ready projects. Having these projects at the ready means communicating the project objectives faster, leading to quicker approvals and project launches.

Have a communication plan for emergency events

As the vice president of operations at Sodexo, Michael Varvel is involved in assisting clients during emergency events. When events are widespread, such as Toronto’s 2013 rain and ice storms, the outsourced service provider is dealing with multiple clients.

Paramount is having a plan as to who will be communicating, when and how, said Varvel. He suggested choosing communication tools based on what works best for both the client and team and having a clear chain of command. These plans will be tested during emergency events, after which the team should review what worked, what didn’t and share with others any relevant lessons.

“In these events, a lot of miscommunication will get out,” said Varvel. “The point is to try to control that and curtail it and make sure it’s coming from a reliable and credible source.”

Overall, it was the commonalities in the experts’ responses at the recent IFMA Toronto leadership series event that provided the greatest lessons about effective communication in FM:  1. Communicate transparently to set expectations; 2. Tailor communications to the audience to achieve the best possible outcome; and, most importantly, 3. Have a plan to stay in control of any situation.

Jason Bates, BA, FMP, is a valued and results-driven leader with more than 14 years of in-depth operations, business development and strategic B2B marketing experience across a broad area of real estate, facility management, and project management services industries. Jason currently serves as the president of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Toronto chapter and invites you to share what you learned about effective communications on IFMA Toronto’s LinkedIn group and through Twitter @IFMAToronto1.

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