Benefiting from the trust dividend

Relationships are important in many walks of life. Whether it’s in a personal or professional capacity, we are all in need of support from others. The way in which we build these relationships can vary but there are some fundamental parts that are common. There needs to be a shared goal, total trust in the other to be there for you and transparency between both parties.
   
We form relationships all the time, to varying degrees, but the relationship between facilities management (FM) service providers and their clients continues to be strained. We shouldn’t be surprised that relationships are not all perfect, again mirroring life away from the office, but is enough being done on both sides of the fence to ensure that these relationships become true partnerships?
   
In our latest BIFM research paper, FM and the Trust Dividend, we set out to explore how confident organisations were with their FM performance. Given that each organisation is different, their aims and objectives will vary so there can be no universal benchmark that we can all assess ourselves against. However, when we saw that only 11 per cent of our respondents agreed, to a great extent, that the relationship was a trusting one, we were concerned. Furthermore, only eight per cent firmly agreed that their relationship was a true partnership.

The baseline
We set ourselves a baseline by asking our respondents how they felt their organisation’s FM performance compared against similar organisations. Just over half (53 per cent) believed they were better, providing us with a clear split that we could test throughout the rest of the survey. What was it that made these organisations feel that they were performing better? What do they have in place that makes them that more confident?
   
We weren’t surprised to find that it was those positive organisations more likely to describe the relationship with their suppliers as trusting, although what was surprising was that more were inclined to describe it as volatile showing that even with that confidence, things aren’t always smooth.
   
To temper these strong, polarised feelings we should point out that many believed their relationships to be ‘acceptable’, nearly 90 per cent in fact, but should we be happy that this is as good as it gets? Also, play that against the fact that over 90 per cent agreed that these relationships were ‘sensitive’ and we can see that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Room for improvement
You would be hard pushed to find anyone that wouldn’t want to improve a relationship so we shouldn’t be shocked that 85 per cent said that they wanted to see improvement in their relationship with suppliers. When we asked what would most likely improve that relationship the results were fairly clear; it boiled down to information. The areas that came out strongly were trustworthy data, real-time information, greater transparency and the financial skills; the inference being the ability to report on business performance information.
   
This result was further strengthened when we isolated the responses from those at board level although, somewhat surprisingly, they were less likely to say financial skills and more likely to look towards real time information. The timeliness of information was also highlighted as important when we investigated when organisations recognise the actual cost of FM activity. Those confident organisations are more likely to recognise spend within one to two months, in fact over a quarter (26 per cent) recognise it within a month. Compare that with those who do not rate their performance and you find that over half (54 per cent) recognise spend more than three months after the activity takes place.
   
Again using the performance split we could see some commonality in how they approach their FM provision. Those that felt they performed better tended to favour a centralised approach compared to their less positive counterparts who went for decentralised, total outsourcing, randomised auditing approach or a combination of these approaches. Unsurprisingly, we also saw that better performing organisations tended to reside in businesses that value the FM function and get support from senior management; something that is most likely linked to the availability of timely, accurate performance information that I described earlier.

Compliance and innovation
You could argue that there are two broad camps that activity falls into. The elements you have to do as a minimum, for example legislative compliance such as health and safety, and the innovative approach to improving performance and supporting organisational activity.
   
Worryingly, when we asked about compliance only 30 per cent were happy to say that they were very confident that obligations were being met, with nearly 60 per cent saying that they ‘quite’ confident. Whilst there was an improvement in those that were confident in their performance it was that slight that you could consider this to be a concern across the board. Board level respondents were even less confident with only 17 per cent stating that they were very confident.
   
This could well be a consequence of a number of the points above. FM professionals aren’t confident in their compliance as the information and data isn’t being provided to them by their supplier, which creates doubt, and that doubt is magnified when they are unable to report that up the ladder internally.
   
Whilst compliance is black and white in terms of requirements and measurement, innovation is a much more complex topic; not least defining what it actually is.
   
However it is defined, innovation and service development is set to remain a high priority as respondents identified increasing uptime of estate and enhancing customer experience as the top two priorities; compliance and reducing spend ranking as the bottom two priorities. Wedged in the middle though is the area where this article started, increasing budget visibility and accountability.

Moving the debate forward
It is difficult to pinpoint where this leaves us. What is clear is that there is more work to be done to ensure that trust and partnership are the words most jump to when asked to describe their relationship.
   
It is clear, however, that information and data have a vital role to play in this debate. Increasingly the internet and other technological developments mean we are able to capture a bounty of data that we could only have dreamt about in the past – but that isn’t enough.

The challenge with ‘big data’ is being able to translate it into its cousin, business information. It is no good presenting streams of numbers if it does not align against departmental and organisational objectives.
   
The trust dividend isn’t simply about building that relationship with your supplier. It’s about everyone being on the same page and ensuring that they all see what they need to see. Confidence breeds success and, put simply, proof is what creates that confidence.
   
Having transparent and aligned reporting mechanisms throughout the operation is crucial but that alone will not improve performance. It can only ensure that you are heading in the right direction – and for that you need to know what direction that is.
   
Diverse Industry
There is a lot of work being carried out to understand what ‘good’ looks like – but FM is very diverse as an industry, and given that it supports organisations across all sectors, it is impossible to create an ‘off-the-shelf’ approach to getting the best out of it. An organisation must be clear on its core activity and objectives which then needs to feed into what role FM plays in achieving that; this in turn is passed on to the supplier.
   
For the relationships to flourish all involved need to feel that they are contributing and delivering, and this can only be accomplished with the policies and process described previously. It will be unique to you and your world but that’s the beauty of relationships; they can be whatever you want. You just need to make sure that you know what that is.

Further information
www.bifm.org.uk

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