Talking FM in Brussels

Wednesday 10th November 2010 may go down as an historic day for the development of the facilities management profession and industry. All credit must go to EuroFM and particularly to vice-chair Fred Kloet for securing a “public” meeting at the European Parliament to discuss ‘Facility management and its benefits for Europe’ – see news item http://www.bifm.org.uk/bifm/news/6396.

True it wasn’t actually a “hearing”; we wanted to tell the policymakers about FM, rather than them wanting to hear from us but it was certainly a good start.

The debate that followed the presentations in Brussels reminded everyone that facilities management is not a pure management or technical discipline, there are always commercial and political (with a small and large ‘p’) dimensions. The latter emerged quite quickly as discussion focused on the internal market, sustainability, standards  and regulation.

There was clearly some feeling in the room that standards must not be foisted on an industry that hasn’t asked for them. At the same time, CEN representatives made the case that service standards can help cross-border recognition of professions.

This may be true and CEN set out a number of other benefits flowing from service standards. But there could be good reasons why they lag far behind product standards in number.

Put simply, the way a service is delivered is what gives most providers their competitive edge. So yes, we need standards for electrical safety and testing to ensure photocopiers don’t spontaneously combust but do we need one for the delivery of reprographic services or equipment leasing?

When does a standard become too prescriptive to allow innovation and flexibility in FM?

European communications

It was appropriate that a meeting of European communications professionals opened on the day that mobile roaming charges across Europewere cut. Of course technology, and particularly social networking, featured strongly at the EACD’s European Communication Summit (1st/2nd July,Brussels) – almost as much as the World Cup.

However, it was the basics of effective communication that speakers returned to again and again. These apply as much to a UKpolitical party trying to win power as to an international logistics firm; to a luxury car brand as to the world’s most famous soft drink – all of which featured in presentations.

They also hold good for those trying to communicate the benefits of FM.

Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, set the tone for the 500-strong audience, from more than 25 countries, with a plea to communicate “values”, with real passion, not just theatre, which is easily seen through. Of the European project she said: “We are building a continent where everyone feels at home.”

Talking of theatre, there was palpable anticipation in the hall as Alastair Campbell took the stage, billed as the Strategic Mastermind. Communications has to be integrated across the organisation, he argued. It must be connected to policy. What some saw as control freakery in Labour’s successful 1997 election campaign, was just the single-minded determination to stick to the core message of “New Labour New Britain”. Anything which didn’t fall within that frame was seen as a distraction.

UnderCampbell’s direction, Labour’s communications aimed to put “dots on the map”, over time to build up a positive picture of the party in voters’ minds which could survive the inevitable gaffes and onslaughts – goodwill in the bank. BP,Toyotaand Fabio Capello may all be overdrawn; Apple probably has such a good image with its fanbase that it can survive the glitch with the latest iPhone.

In a crisis, talk to the media as soon as you can, rather than wait for them to call, was the advice from a workshop on public affairs run by Grayling.

“Sure we can” is the new(ish) strapline for logistics firm TNT. It is supposed to reflect the firm’s “can do” attitude but as Group Director Communications Robin Boon, explained it only works if TNT delivers on the promise. So a company-wide campaign, at every level, asks staff to “be sure you are sure” when they tell a customer they can make that deadline.

“We need to spend more time finding out what people want to hear, rather than deciding what we want to say.” This advice came from Christof Ehrhart, Head of Corporate Communications at Deutsche Post World Net.

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The leader as conductor is a common metaphor but it was brought to life in an engaging interactive session with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra. Unconventionally, the audience surrounded the orchestra and faced the conductor, Gernot Schulz.

Schulz explained how the conductor must persuade the musicians, each of whom has his or her own interpretation of the piece, that his concept is worth pursuing.

Listening to the orchestra work on pieces by Brahms and Mendelssohn, we heard how the conductor can shape the music and the importance of communication within and between teams. Finally, four members of the audience got to wave the baton and feel the awesome power of controlling over 60 professional musicians.

European Association of Communications Directors www.eacd-online.eu