Getting on the C-Suite’s Radar
Expert ways to convey the unsung value of facilities management to the executive wing.
By Kate Rockwood
Ask any facilities manager and they’ll tell you: While their work is essential to both the functionality and bottom line of the business — perhaps now more than ever — FMs are rarely in the spotlight. Instead, there tends to be a greater focus on more obvious direct drivers of value, such as the sales team or the research and development department.
That lack of visibility can often mean that when budgets need to be cut, facilities management takes a hit.
“Facilities departments are overlooked and under-appreciated,” said Shawn Browning, a facilities industry expert. “I believe the primary reason is that we are viewed as a cost center with minimal, if any, ROI.”
That disconnect can make productive face time with members of the C-suite a difficult proposition for FMs. But the good news is that there are numerous ways to make your value as an FM clearer to company executives. To improve communication with the C-suite, and to better convey the value of your FM department, means learning how to ramp up FM’s profile, skillfully share big wins, gracefully discuss challenges and reveal FM to be a business element as critical as any other.
Put in the Facetime
You can’t build a fruitful working relationship without creating an initial connection — and you can’t reveal your worth without showing off the fruits of your labor. One way to get the ball rolling on both fronts is to offer company leaders a tour of the store, said Rob Almond, CEO of NEST, an integrated facilities management company. “If the FM can show in person what they do in one day,” he said, “that can open up the eyes of the executives to what the budget is covering.”
Facilities work often only enters an executive’s mind when something is malfunctioning, broken, failing or in need of attention. Showing executives the daily work it takes to keep things up and running reframes that image into one of proactive maintenance and customer care.
“It is essential to establish not only a good, but credible and consistent relationship with leadership, which takes time,” Browning said.
It’s also important to be represented in leadership meetings and not just when things go wrong. That gives FMs the chance to share the wins and opportunities along with needs and wants, Browning said.
Learning to talk can go a long way toward making sure your message resonates with company executives.
“Being able to sell your need up into the C-suite is incredibly important,” said Todd Brinegar, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at ENTOUCH Controls. "Many FMs don’t come from business school, and business presentations have evolved from simply asking for money and resources to presenting the business value."
Browning recommends taking a class on presentation skills, and also highlights the importance of knowing your audience and pitching your proposal to their modes of thinking. “For example,” Browning said, “when presenting to finance, use lots of spreadsheets. For operations, use pictures and charts. For construction, use plans and layouts.”
Also be sure that your priorities line up with the organization’s values and strategies, Brinegar said. When you present your proposals, frame your recommendations along the lines of the opportunities they present or the threat that they will help prevent, he added.
Show Your Worth
The leaders at the top are understandably focused on concrete results, so having that information close at hand and ready to share plays an incalculable role in expressing your true value. Almond points out that right now is a key moment for FMs to highlight the tremendous responsibility — and ever-evolving workload — that they’re carrying.
“Maybe do analysis on foot traffic now versus in 2019 and let them know how you increased your services,” he said.
Almond added that “the FM position has never been more important. We’ve gone through the scariest time for brick and mortar. Use the opportunity to show that you are driving sales.” In pandemic times, that looks like maintaining a clean and inviting store or building, one that hews to social distancing concerns and reassures the customer that they’ve entered a well-considered space focused on their safety.
But this principle remains true pandemic or not, and Browning echoed the advice, pointing out how important it is to connect your work to the company’s return on investment: “Document, document, document,” she advised. “Document your budget and how, when, where and why you spent it. Document all successes, savings and compliments you receive from customers.”
You also share industry standards — and how you’re meeting and beating them — to demonstrate your value, Browning added. For example, you might ask your HVAC supplier to provide a quarterly business review showing your monthly spend compared with the industry standard or some of their clients with similar systems, building size and use.
“Always think and act as if you are a significant profit center of the organization,” Brinegar said. “If the facilities are dirty, hot, cold or dingy, people stop visiting. If the facilities aren’t run correctly, people stop coming. You are customer growth — FMs are revenue, they are not cost.”
Point Out the Positive
It’s an unfortunate fact that much of FM’s highest visibility occurs in times of crisis, Browning said.
“Often, the only time an FM is invited to the table is when something in a building goes terribly wrong such as a sewage backup, elevator shutdown or mold issue,” she says.
The net effect can be “to set a negative image of the FM team,” she adds. It’s wise not to exacerbate this misconception by only escalating problems instead of also sharing your department’s wins. Wiser still is to proactively inquire about how you can be of service.
“Ask questions,” Brinegar advised. “Say ‘Hey, I have some thoughts about our upcoming budget. Can you give me your top three care-abouts so I can develop my framework goals?’ Approach it as a problem-solver, not a problem-giver.”
Of course, there will always be times when you do have a problem that needs solving. When bringing these challenges to the C-suite, the goal is to have a solution in tow, too. “Don’t come with problems or a begging hand, come with ideas,” Brinegar said.
For every FM’s complaint of being overlooked and undervalued, it’s equally common for facilities leaders to feel like they play second fiddle to the rest of the business. It’s crucial that FMs shed any imposter syndrome that may be holding them back.
“One way I have combated the negative stigmatism of the FM industry is describing us as the team that protects the building, the occupants and the company’s bottom line,” Browning said.
Phrased this way, it’s hard to argue that FMs are indispensable in the conduct of daily business. Now it’s time to make sure everyone knows it.