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Posts Tagged ‘Networking’

midweek musings on Edinburgh


It is hard to believe that two weeks have passed since I paced my Murrayfield hotel room rehearsing my presentation for the next day at the BIFM Scotland region conference. With four runs through the session coming out at 25 or 26 minutes I was comfortable that I had it down pat and was ready for a good sleep. This evening I am in another capital city hotel room and an ocean away from Scotland, but I’ve just been sharing experiences of public speaking with a guy who has gone off to his room to rehearse his slot at a sales conference tomorrow. I wish him well. Read more…

providing creative space, petty politics; more from the leadership front line


The benefits of providing free space for workers to network and enjoy some refreshments was the subject of a news item on one of the TV breakfast shows last week and they had wheeled in a pundit to vouch for said benefits, the person concerned citing the restaurant as a great place for such networking to take place. This caused some hilarity for the Berkshire Belle for she, like me, recalls only too well the occasion when I was almost sacked over that very issue. Read more…

mid week musings on blogging and plans for this site


I am in the process of taking a look at how this blog should work and to reduce the amount of time that I spend each week on keeping this and its companion web site running smoothly. Read more…

just another quiet day on the facilities front line, then Anders Breivik came along


News from Norway last week shocked the world, and we feel for the families of those who lost loved ones. The media have made much of possible motive and the whys and wherefores, but I am more concerned about the impact on those who had responsibilities for the security of people at the two venues that were targeted, because those of us in facilities management walk in their shoes.

I’ve written here about the time, just after the Columbine spree killings in the USA, that one of my sites had a suspected gunman outside. That came to nothing, but we learned some lessons that we built into the way would handle any future incident. I’ve also covered a suspicious package incident, one of three that I have experienced, but I have also had someone gain access to one of my sites and start brandishing a knife, demanding to see their estranged partner, and four or five other incidents involving domestic issues that got to the edge of violence come to mind.

When you are managing a site where there are large numbers of people, probably also with public access, you walk a tightrope. Now I don’t want to suggest that this goes on all of the time, but you don’t know when an incident will occur. When one does, then speed and level of response needs to be on the money if you are to have any chance of dealing with it. How you cope with something like the second incident in Norway is mind boggling and I can empathise with my opposite numbers up there. What they must be going through is something that I never want to have to face. My thoughts are also with the forces of law and order. Expectations on them are enormous and the media cane them whatever they do these days.

In our world, the FM team need to be well trained and to understand what they should and should not do when something flares up, but also in spotting the warning signs. We do have a variety of states of alert, and raise the level of vigilance if we are warned of a specific threat, but so often incidents arise without warning, especially the domestic ones. All of the incidents that I have mentioned came on ordinary days, albeit a couple of the suspicious package ones were are the height of the IRA campaigns. One minute you’re quietly getting on with something and the next you’ve switched to crisis mode: that innocent looking visitor grabs your colleague, pulls out a 12 inch kitchen knife and holds it to your colleague’s throat.

Thankfully the majority of us don’t ever face these situations, and those that do probably only get one in a lifetime, so how do you prepare? The start for the reactive side is in the basic emergency process; you get used to handling these things in a calm and structured way so that when something happens it is dealt with. Regular practice helps, both in desktop exercises and live ones, to settle the team into being able to react effectively when an alarm is raised. The proactive side needs a culture of vigilance, and that applies to the whole team; you have to have an escalation process and you need an intelligence network.

If you do these things then you have a chance of reducing the risk.  I doubt that we will ever prevent a determined solo attack like that seen in Norway last week, but we might be able to limit the impact. When did you last review your process?

when people come together they can fill a space with their life and energy


I’ve written here before about the alleged demise of the office, but the topic has raised its head again this past week so I’m off again.

We earthlings enjoy a fantastic range of communications devices these days, and we’re a couple of generations away from my early days at work where I would carry change to phone in to the office as and when necessary. Now the science fiction of my youth is a reality and I have a few of these devices at my disposal and am a happy, and fairly prolific, user of them.

The ability to keep in touch and to interact with others remotely has changed the way that we work, but that isn’t new; it’s just the natural process of evolution. The pace may vary, but change is constant.

The office as I have known it is a relatively new thing in terms of human history, and it has changed a lot in my time. At the end of the day it is a tool and we will adapt it as we need to. One of the buildings that I once managed is now an easyOffice and part of Stelios’ new venture. It still exists, which is more that can be said for some of the other flagships of my old 1990s empire; one has been demolished and an apartment complex now stands on the site, another has just been demolished and a third has been gutted and the shell absorbed into an industrial building. My team and I used to look after over 3000 people in those three offices and they were all key parts of the organisations that we worked on behalf of.

But we changed them radically over the time that we ran them and had them in a constant state of flux as the tenant businesses needs changed. There may have been an illusion of permanence, but it was only an illusion. The illusion is in the minds of the people though; the building is just a convenient place. Those of us who have managed big workplaces will know how lonely and dead they are when empty.

When people come together they can fill a space with their life and energy, and those provide a synergy that no amount of remote working or cloud collaboration can replace. The challenge for us within the industry is to provide those spaces, but in what form?

I remember the first Regus office locally and being very interested because they were doing on the open market what I was trying to do for an internal market. There was a time when it looked as though they wouldn’t make it, but the financial model has worked and others have followed, as with easyOffice in our old floors at Palmerston House, and all power to them for that.

Coffee bars, hotel lobbies, supermarket cafeterias and motorway services are all playing their part as alternative places to meet, but the thing that intrigues me is that there is still so much focus on city centres. With all of the moves away from pinning us down to the daily grind of going in to the office, most cities are working towards transport and infrastructure plans that are based on sizeable growth over the next 10-30 years. That implies that we will still have these great hives of activity for a long time to come.

Will we push the market, or will the market pull us? I don’t know that I have the answers right now, but it sure is a fascinating time to be in the industry isn’t it?

 

why do wives put up with it?


Lately I have been back on the train a lot, and have been reminded of a phenomenon I had largely forgotten. One of those strange ritual behaviours between the female and the male of the species that puzzles, even troubles me. So let me set the scene:

Join me on platform one at Swindon as I await an early Paddington train. As an avid people watcher I have plenty of material to work with in such situations; travel provides a fascinating insight into one’s fellow humans. The platform regulars are instantly recognisable, as is their pecking order.

But, just beyond the tracks, is activity in the north car park that has reminded me of a, to me rather sexist, behaviour that really should have died out in these enlightened times. A car will sweep into the car park, pull up near the station entry and from the driver’s side will emerge Mr Businessman, suited and booted for his day at the office. From the passenger side will emerge, well, for the purpose of this story, let’s call her Mrs Businessman, and she is dressed for doing stuff around the house.

Mr B will take his briefcase from the back and depart for his train, and Mrs B drives the car back to the 4 bed, 2 rec, 3.75 bath or whatever.

Now there are variations on the level of human contact in these vignettes, but most are pretty perfunctory at best, but one stands out: The Volvo estate is brought to a stop with some authority. Mr B emerges, takes his briefcase and strides away without a glance at his companion. She walks round the front of the car, seeming to distance herself from him as much as she can, and departs with a decent touch of wheelspin. It is a shame that she had to pause to adjust the driver’s seat and that the car is front wheel drive. If she had been quicker and had had rear wheel drive she could have sprayed him with gravel such was the violence of her leaving the scene.

What domestic strife had preceded this journey? What was the atmosphere in the car along the way? These are the joys of people watching, speculating on events.

But I digress. The point here is that this ritual, something that I have seen for as long as I can remember, still goes on. OK, it is none of my business how other people live their lives, but this behaviour is so alien to me and seems so insulting to the ladies, although they seem quite happy to accept it.

I would never have dreamt of behaving like this with any of the ladies I have shared my life with since I flew the nest over 40 years ago. I know I’m not unique here as the guy who lives opposite is equally as happy to have his wife drive him as he is to drive her, but he and I do seem to be in a very small minority judging by my observations.

Maybe all of this is covered in the Handbook of Inter-Gender Relationships, I don’t know. Perhaps the ladies concerned are quite happy to have things this way. Maybe it means that they don’t have their driving criticised by some chauvinistic oaf. Possibly one of them might read this and enlighten me.

I hope that they do, because I would love to know. Whilst I’ll never find out what the story behind Mr & Mrs Volvo was, my natural curiosity is aroused and do I like to learn something new every day.

never mind the hats and dresses, what about the organisation


It may come as a surprise to some that I spent most of Friday morning watching the Royal Wedding coverage on BBC. I didn’t watch it all, but had the TV on from about 0730 and finally turned my back on it after the fly past (which, prior to the day, was the only thing that I was interested in).

So what got my attention? Not the hats nor the dresses, nor, although I do love it, the pageantry. No, it was the organisation.

I grew up organised, even if I didn’t realise it for until well into adulthood, but my father was a gardener by profession and his bible was the Raeder’s Digest Gardener’s Year. He would pore over this time a couple of times a week, making his plans for the next 3-4 weeks and comparing where he was against his plan. He was never formally taught project management, but learned it along the way.

In similar vein my mother was a professional cook, and whereas Dad would be planning his projects in weeks and months, Mum would be planning in hours as she would juggle all the elements to land each course of the meal just when it needed to be served, regardless of whether it was a light meal for one or a banquet for a hundred. For both it was all about being organised and organising others.

Maybe then it was natural that I would end up working in areas where organisation and planning were crucial. From teenage work on the farm to my early days in retail and wholesale logistics through running M&E tenders to computer programming and IT project, corporate strategic planning, logistics management running big sheds and on to FM the one key thing that kept me climbing the ladder was that I got things done, and that came, directly, from organisation and planning. Perhaps it was truly bred into me.

Coming back to the Royal Wedding I was sat with the Berkshire Belle enjoying a mug of tea and watching the crowds enjoying themselves when the timetable for the event came up (the Wonder of Wokingham herself is an ace planner; she used to manage distributions for the largest retail network in Europe).  One of the experts on TV was asked about the time that the Royal couple would emerge onto the balcony, and said that it would be between 1315 and 1325 as they wouldn’t want to miss the fly past at 1330.

Now this was before 9 and we got to speculating on the organisation that went into an event like this and what it would take to pull it off over the course of the day, and that was what really got me riveted. Later in the programme Sir Malcolm Ross gave some insight into how they did things and I have enormous professional respect for the likes of him and those who put these events together.

As an FM I have been involved in all sorts of special events, including conferences and Royal and VIP visits and know what those take, so the sheer scale of something like Friday’s wedding fills me with awe, but also with pride. In the UK we know how to do these things and to pull them off with such élan.

We have the advantage of Royalty, tradition and venues, but that would be so easy to waste. The eyes of the world were on the UK last week and they were treated to a fantastic spectacle of pageantry that ran like clockwork. To those who made it happen, I salute you.

You can’t take yourself too seriously. If you do you are buying your own con – Ferrol Sams


It’s a quote I found in a book entitled Last Bus to Albequerque and it struck a chord with me when I first read it back in 1994. I used the first half of it as one of my over the desk mottos; the whole thing was too long and, in any case, if anyone thought that I was a con artist I didn’t want anything over my desk that appeared to confirm that view!

But the sentiment is a strong one, and it took a while for me to realise that I had fallen into the trap of taking myself very seriously indeed;  the blinding flash that showed me what a complete idiot I was making of myself was an unpleasant realisation. As I write these words now I am transported back to about 1984 when I had that moment on the road to Damascus so to speak.

Having been able to see the problem and deal with it made a big difference to me in many ways, both professional and personal. I began to enjoy myself and I got even better at what I did as a result. When I adopted the strapline of “25 years of having fun whilst making things happen” last year, that is exactly what I meant.

Getting a laugh out of every day isn’t always easy, and there have been times when black humour has won through. I won’t repeat some of the jokes here because I recognise that they were offensive to some, but in the context of our team and the moment they were just what we needed to lift the mood. The best ones were, of course, the ones that punctured my dignity and I’ll share a couple here.

My team and I managed a diverse property estate and most of the team would have to travel to get to a common location, so hotels provided a neutral venue, but at the previous couple of meetings I had felt it necessary to mention standards of dress; we were on show and the welcome board in reception told everyone which company we represented. After the second warning one of the team challenged me quietly and suggested that suits and ties were maybe too formal, so could we not have a smart casual regime, maybe golf clubhouse standards? I took the point and smart casual was the order of the day for the next meeting. I turned up in golf shirt and chinos to find the rest all in their best business suits – game set and match to the team.

Another time I had been banging the environmental drum and we had begun to have our site vehicles and equipment painted green in an effort to raise awareness amongst our tenants and generally push the Green boat out. Then came a meeting to discuss the issue of the latest set of site manuals for our tenants. “I suppose you want green binders?” I was asked, and the answer was, of course, “Yes”. On leaving that meeting I was reminded that I should wear overalls when on that site as it was both protocol and would be part of the new Health & Safety plan in respect of wearing personal protective equipment (lead from the front John). I mentioned, sheepishly, that my girth had outgrown my overalls and that a new set were needed. No problem, they’d be waiting for me on my next visit. And they were, in lurid green! Team 10, Bowen 0.

You can’t take yourself too seriously.you do, no-one else is going to take your side.

come in number 6, your time is up – when the boatman calls….


I wrote here the other week about how we might be remembered, a thought brought on by having seen a couple of the buildings I used to manage demolished. Time passes; things move on.

This week other incidents have sparked me off along the same lines though. One was being reminded of two 40 something ladies meeting on a road I frequent two or three times a week, and the other was the pictures of the water sweeping in across North Eastern Japan.

Like many of us I watched in awe as the water swept in. I’ve been through three earthquakes in my time, including one in California that I slept through, as well as a couple of hurricanes, so I have some feel for what nature can do and the sheer power that can be unleashed, but to watch helplessly as that tidal wave swept ashore was a humbling experience.

We sometimes forget that the gift of life is a privilege and not a right. It will take a while before we know what the death toll is in Japan, and other parts of the region affected by the earthquake, but it seems like we could be talking about a six figure number. None of those folks knew that this was the day that they would die. They went off in the morning to do whatever it was that they had to do. Some will have had to be in what became the danger zone, other will have been sent there by the law of chance; the maintenance engineer sent there rather that to higher, safer, parts because of a call for help for example. Fate is a fickle mistress.

When your time is up and the boatman calls your number it is all over and your time here is done. The meeting of the two ladies is a case in point. I was 6 miles up over the central Atlantic when they met, but it was a time that I might otherwise have also been on that road at about that point in space and time. Their meeting was no social encounter; each was alone in their respective cars when they both needed the same piece of tarmac. Travelling in opposite directions they met at a closing speed over around 100 mph and neither survived*. Up until four or five seconds before the impact neither would have had any notion that this was their time. Had I not been elsewhere I might have found the finger of fate pointing at me that afternoon, but the Berkshire Belle had booked us to fly on that day rather than the next as planned and I was safely parked in a window seat on a 767 at the time of the crash rather than driving myself home on that road.

In the words of the legendary Sid Collins we are all speeding towards death at the rate of sixty minutes in every hour. We don’t know when the call will come, so what we do with our time here is important. If we can do something positive for the world and the people around us then our time here will not be wasted.

As I say, our time on Earth is a privilege and not a right. We all have a choice of what we do with that time. What are you doing with your time here? Remember, life isn’t fair either, and we may not get as much of it as we would like, so never mind what you’d like to be remembered for; try and make a difference and do it today: You may not get another chance.

* I had been told this by one of the locals, but in 2013 I found that it was not true. In the accident one of the ladies died and the other was severely injured, but later recovered. In one of those awful examples of fate it was the innocent party who died instantly in the collision, but the survivor was the one who caused the accident. Having been observed shortly before the crash driving at high speed and erratically, according to reports, she had over twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system. She fled abroad to escape justice, but was returned to the UK where she received a jail sentence. Her recent appeal against the severity of the sentence was turned down.

The local paper summarised the incident here.

are meetings the bane of your life?


They certainly can be; the difference between a well run one and a poorly run one is like night and day, but what makes the difference?

The person chairing, or leading, the meeting is the key, but chairing the meeting is just one part of the whole deal. For me the issue is that so many people see the meeting as an entity in its own right rather than as an integral part of the process of making things happen.

So often the meeting becomes just an event that gets put in the diary and you get on with life in between the last one and the next one with no real connection. The agenda will turn up, maybe with some additional material, a few days before the meeting date and then you all turn up and go through the motions. More than a few will be ill prepared, not have read the papers or reports before the meeting, and those present will stagger through as best as they can. Where things haven’t gone right or deadlines have been missed there will be a few apocryphal stories trotted out, and everyone will want to chuck in their own version and, if the chair isn’t fully in control, there might be a bit of finger pointing to deflect blame. At best there might be an action to have got it done by the next meeting, but no-one will remember that until the agenda and minutes are circulated just before the next meeting, so it won’t be too much of a problem if people just ignore the whole thing. So you dispose of the coffee and biscuits and vanish until the next one comes round.

I’m being harsh maybe, and certainly cynical, but I’m pretty sure that some of you will recognise roughly that scenario. It is a composite of many that I have had to go through over the years. And they still continue, often even at board level, so goodness knows what meetings at those companies are like lower down the chain.

One factor that causes this problem is that people often don’t know how to make decisions. You may say that that is a daft thing to say, but it is true nonetheless; the ability to make decisions, or at least decent decisions, is sadly lacking in many organisations.

One of the worst excesses I have come across is the monthly review meeting. Everyone submits their departmental report, so all those at the meeting should have read it and be aware of how the others are doing. If there are any problems then they should be prepared to bring them up, but what happens? Everyone goes through their report at the meeting regardless and nothing really gets moved forward.

Meetings are part of moving things along, so they need to be treated as a point where the key people involved come together to resolve issues, so the first thing to be doing is making sure that the meeting is about the issues. What needs to be done, by whom and by when and what resource is needed to accomplish it. If people are armed with facts and not anecdotes they will be able to assess these points, agree on the risks of failure (so that the priorities can be understood) and make an appropriate decision. Job done; next issue, and do the same there.

At a project meeting last week we came prepared. Papers circulated had been read, the issues were discussed and we were agreed on who was doing what and by when and done in 30 minutes.