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Holiday humour on the origins of FM

Dateline August 31st 2415

Data-archaeologists today unveiled new evidence into the origins of Facilities Management (FM). Whilst for nearly three centuries the discipline of FM has been the core of governance and commerce throughout the civilised world little has been known of its origins, but evidence gleaned from the period between 400 and 450 years ago may offer some insights.

FM began to emerge as a recognised discipline in the middle of that period and some historians have pointed to a military influence citing the number of people employed in roles that we would now recognise as FM having been ex-servicemen, but this is now accepted as unlikely as most males in that period performed something called National Service, a form of conscription which was not phased out until the early nineteen sixties. The military service and training regime did, however, equip many males for a role in FM; guarding and door-keeping, store-keeping and a range of maintenance work for example.

Management of FM work was embedded in other management roles though and here there is evidence of female influence in a number of areas, especially in the public sector. In hospitals the management of services, equipment and hygiene was firmly in the grasp of Matron and even the most senior surgeon bowed to Matron’s authority in the running of the hospital and the performance of FM services was evenly spread between male and female personnel. In schools there were many headmistresses and the head of the school was responsible for all general FM.

In commerce FM was performed according to need. At industrial sites it would be in the hands of a works manager, and at administrative offices it would be run by an office manager, although the latter role was often taken by a senior secretary, again showing the early influence of women in FM management roles.

Performance of FM roles in those times appears to have been a mixture of directly employed people and outside contractors, but the most striking difference from FM over the last three centuries is the influence that architects and surveyors had over building fabric maintenance and the general design of premises.

The real emergence of FM in the late nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties has been credited to a general shift in organisational structures around that time and liked to silo management theory, but the data-archaeologists report suggests that the rise of FM was affected by earlier events.

At the end of the nineteen sixties the Peter Principle was proposed whereby managers were often promoted beyond their level of competence. There is much evidence that this was true and one of its effects was to make managers afraid of subordinates who might be better than themselves. Such threats were often transferred to other functions, but this recreated the issue in their new home and they would be moved again. Employees who moved a lot gained a reputation as difficult people and a home would be sought for them where they could be out of the way. FM type roles were seen as backwaters and the ideal place for problem people and in some cases FM related jobs were created for these individuals simply to get them away from managers who they might embarrass.

Around a decade later these so called misfits had established themselves into roles where they were quietly gathering control for in many organisations there was no real benefit in managing things like the stationery stores, the maintenance contractors, allocation of car parking spaces or arranging office moves. Someone had to do these jobs, but they brought little credit if they went well and a lot of criticism when they went wrong, so line managers were happy to give up responsibility to someone who seemed willing to take it.

Some of the brighter people who had slipped into FM could see the opportunities and soon they had control of the lifeblood of the organisation; need a new telephone line?; talk to me. Need a car parking space?; talk to me. Need to rearrange your office?; talk to me. None of the other functions could operate without talking to the FM and soon those in FM began to take on a dominant role in enough organisations for it to be taken seriously.

Through the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty first there was a period where FM perhaps took itself too seriously and, as often happens in such cases, it became derided; Human Resources, Information Technology, Marketing and Finance have all been through the same process, but eventually the basic logic of having a body of people who could, and would, take responsibility for managing premises enabled FM to overcome all opposition. We now know that this process took almost one hundred years and, if today’s report is to be believed, we know a little more about how a group of bright people, thrust into jobs to get them out of the way, were the real pioneers of what we have in the world today.

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