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From Where I Sit: Are You Invisible?

Written by Retired Columnist. Posted in Columnists, Magazine, Retired Columnists

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Published on February 21, 2007 with 1 Comment

By Tim Springer
Published in the February 2007 issue of
 Today’s Facility Manager

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

—Ralph Ellison

In today’s society of chest thumping, end zone celebrating, ego inflating self-promotion, the idea that success in any area could be largely invisible seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true. To put it another way, people only tend to notice when something isn’t working.

So this begs the question: are you invisible? Does your facility work well enough so you and your efforts (and those of your department) go unnoticed?

Don’t get me wrong; being unnoticed is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many very skilled and successful facilities managers (fms) are content to stay in the background and keep attention away from themselves. It seems to go with the territory.

This is not to imply that fms don’t take their work seriously or that it is in any way unimportant. To the contrary, most organizations would collapse should facilities management (FM) take a day off or go on strike. Here’s the problem. Most people wouldn’t know why the organization collapsed, and they certainly wouldn’t know what to do about it.

The problem isn’t unique to FM. The world is full of competent, skilled professionals doing their jobs with consummate skill yet receiving little recognition.

In the world of FM, it seems most people only notice the effort involved in effective management when users are discomfited, people are inconvenienced, or major systems fail. That may be one reason why FM professionals are content to remain invisible.

But that, in part, is my point. How can we recognize good FM performance under these circumstances? How can FM as a profession fight the natural tendency to remain in the background? How can one draw appropriate attention to the critical role FM plays in the day-to-day and long-term success of organizations and claim the rightful credit (and resources) FM deserves?

Maybe you or someone you know is perfectly happy to be invisible. Why should it matter?

It matters because, unless and until fms become more comfortable stepping forward and offering—as well as demanding—recognition for jobs done well, it is just too easy to take FM for granted. History shows that things that are taken for granted can be easily forgotten and lost, something FM neither wants nor deserves.

Because good FM tends to be invisible, FM professionals have to accept the responsibility for raising awareness of the role and value they provide. It may require stepping out of that comfort zone and thinking a bit differently, but I believe it is critical and will yield important returns.

Here are a few questions to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Who do you know that you feel is a great example of an FM professional? Why do you think they are successful? Look for and recognize good work among colleagues and other FM professionals. Share what works, but almost as important, show how best to communicate what works.
  • Think about how what you do contributes to the greater good of your organization. How do you impact the bottom line, either directly or indirectly? Think about how you would describe what you do and why it matters—not to other FM professionals, but to your 10 year old. What is it that you do that makes a difference?
  • Consider nominating someone—or yourself—for an award. The TFM Facility Executive of the Year award comes to mind. The process of articulating the value of FM by nominating someone is both educational and rewarding, and the process may help you understand how to explain your value to others. [Nomination forms are available online from this link.]
  • How would you “sell” someone on the value of pursuing a career in FM? What do you find most challenging and rewarding about what you do? How would you explain it to someone who is interested but does not have any background (like your mother). If nothing else, as you look at your activities, career, and your accomplishments, consider three things: ask, tell, and speak up!
  • Ask your boss, your colleagues, your clients, and end users what they most appreciate about the services you provide—and how you might provide greater value.
  • Once you have information and data, share it with everyone. It’s OK to toot your own horn; in fact, it is required these days.
  • Believe it or not, people are interested in what you have to say. FM suffers from a lack of visibility in part because we tend not to engage in public relations. One way to address this is to contact or join business groups like Lions, Kiwanis, or Rotary. And if you’re not comfortable speaking in front of people, look for a chapter of Toastmasters. This group specializes in helping folks improve their public speaking skills.

I don’t know of any FM professionals who have loads of spare time or are looking for more to do. The job is inherently hectic and fms are often “blessed” with an overabundance of assignments and responsibilities. It is not my intention to add to your load. But I do believe it is time for fms to consider making time to articulate what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.

If you won’t, you may find that by being invisible you may ultimately not matter. That’s the way I see it from where I sit. Of course, I could be wrong.

Springer is president and founder of Geneva, IL-based HERO, inc. and frequently writes and speaks on a wide variety of issues affecting organizations, work, and workplaces. For past columns from Springer, go to From Where I Sit and for future musings from Springer, visit his Web site.

 

About Retired Columnist

This expert formerly served as regular contributor to Today’s Facility Manager magazine. His vast knowledge of the facility management profession continues to provide a rich resource for facility managers by way of this online archive.

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1 Comment

There are currently 1 Comment on From Where I Sit: Are You Invisible?. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. As a reformed FM and now business owner, I think FM’s get into a trap of just being reactive to the flavor of the month from the top. Instead of creating the path for the organization they follow what they think the path should be.

    Most FM’s today are focused on very short term reactive cost cutting. The best FM’s will step out of the box and fight for greater budgets and make compelling arguments for them. One of our business’s is carpet care and the life of commercial carpet is proportionate to how and how often it is cleaned. So guess what is the first to go in budget reductions….carpet care. How expensive is it relative to the price of new carpeting…..it is pennies on the dollar and supports a companies sustainability policy when you extend the life of an asset.

    Getting noticed as an FM means stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging the status quo, with facts, arguments etc. Who knows, you might get promoted when you really distinguish yourself from the pack of followers.

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