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Partners for Progress

15 March 2006

By championing ‘partnering’ through its PFM Awards, this magazine has played its part in developing best practice in the delivery of facilities management. Martin Pickard reflects on the impact of 13 years of this recognition of partnering excellence in facilities management.

"more and more organisations" are finding that the way to achieve excellence in facilities management is to form alliances with consultants, contractors and suppliers.” Thus spoke Richard Byatt, then editor of PFM, when launching the PFM Partnership Awards in 1993.

Byatt’s statement is still very valid today but organisational awareness of the partnering approach as a way to building working relationships in the facilities sector has grown significantly. With this awareness has come an increased sophistication in methodology and application but also considerable misuse of the term and not a few failures along the way.

Winners and finalists at the PFM Awards for the last 13 years have demonstrated the importance of good relationship management within the facilities sector. Their case studies serve as excellent best practice examples to new sector entrants. The development of better practice, more consistent application and greater trust within the sector will ensure that more companies realise the benefits that greater collaboration can bring. Partnering is now an accepted part of the outsourcing paradigm and looks set to continue far into the future.

PSL are strong supporters of the PFM awards. PSL were established by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in 1990 to promote the concept of partnering in business. The PSL definition of partnering is “…a commitment between two or more parties in a collaborative relationship to create value by striving to achieve shared competitive goals and operational benefit through a spirit of mutual trust and openness.'

PSL Chief Executive and PFM Awards judge, Les Pyle says “The facilities management sector is up there with the best in terms of embracing partnering principles in order to build successful working relationships.”

He puts this down to the nature of the FM discipline, saying “In other sectors outsourcing arrangements often mean contracting with remote organisations, but in facilities you actually bring the third party in to work in your much easier as good relationships are strengthened with increased contact and better communication.”environment. This makes cultural integration.

John de Lucy, Head of Estates and Facilities at The British Library, was a judge for the very first PFM Partnership Awards in 1994. He believes that frustration with the outsourcing process in the latter part of the 1980s led to the FM sector’s fascination with partnering.

“In house customers were under pressure to reduce headcount but were anxious to ensure that loyalty, control and customer focus were not lost along the way. Dealing with suppliers who just did what they were told led to difficult relationships, ” he recalls. “There was a growing realisation that partnering could help and that the old confrontation tactics were not working in the modern environment.”

The simple benefits to be gained by working together in pursuit of a common goal rather than toward individual agendas seem obvious but can be hard to achieve. As organisations began to experiment with partnering many have struggled with the concept of giving up the single minded pursuit of their own objectives in favour of developing a new joint approach. Others have failed by trying to approach all of their procurement from a partnering perspective when some things should be left as straightforward commodity purchases.

De Lucy believes that the fault here lies most often with the customer side. “There are a good number of service providers that want to partner but many in-house people still have much to learn”. This observation is reinforced by his judging experience with the PFM Awards where he applauds the excellent examples set by many, but has been surprised by others who have looked really good on paper but closer examination has shown that partnering is not “in their hearts”

This cultural buy-in to partnering principles is a critical success factor. Where either party enters into a collaborative relationship without a proper focus on how to make it succeed or the necessary investment in upfront planning and open communication the relationship is unlikely to succeed. While De Lucy talks about the need for suppliers to bring ideas and innovation to the table, Pyle stresses the importance of the intelligent buyer who is aware of what is going on in the market. When both parties bring their expertise together freely the result is a mature dialogue that will generate benefits for both participants.

The importance of trust and open and honest communication cannot be overemphasised. The FM sector has not always performed well in this regard. Many elements of the customer community believe that their suppliers are only motivated by short term profit and cannot be trusted to think of anything else. Indeed there is much anecdotal evidence to support this view.

Meanwhile the actions of some customers strongly influences the supplier view of them as being overly focussed on cost reduction with little time for value generation. When relationships breakdown in this way only thoroughly open and mature conversations can help. Some partners find benefit in introducing an independent third party to facilitate such relationship reclamation activities. The amount of time and effort required to return to the market, find a new supplier and mobilise all over again can make such an investment well worthwhile. The whole partnering process involves considerable planning and management. For this reason it is important that both parties can see a proper return on that investment over the life of the relationship.

Long term
Early commentators on partnering stressed the need for a long term view when partnering and the length of FM contracts has been a subject of considerable debate. There are certainly more five and ten year contracts around than in 1993 and the PFI phenomenon has created a host of 25 year contracts and longer. However recent surveys show that the three year contract is still by far the most common.

But in a dynamic market like facilities such long term relationships are difficult to maintain. The needs and drivers affecting client organisations change constantly and suppliers change in other ways. Early winners of the PFM Awards included many names that were familiar then including Procord, FPM, Chesterton FM, MTM, Stiell, Symonds and many others that no longer grace PFM’s pages.

However, the principles of partnering can be applied to any business relationship even a short term project. Tony Angel, managing director of Edifice, remembers well the Partners in Marketing award that the company won in 2002. “We had launched Edifice as a new brand in the spring, having spent many months working with our PR consultants on a host of issues relating to style and imagery. We were delighted to even be a finalist for the Award – the other companies hoping to win had also re-branded but our budget had been about one tenth that of the next highest spend.”

Les Pyle agrees: “It’s about achieving real clarity of purpose. At PSL we talk about relationship building and how you can apply partnering principles to every relationship. As long as the relationship is fit for purpose it will lead to positive results.” The PSL approach is called CRAFT which stands for Collaborative Relationship, Assessment, Fulfilment and Transformation and comprises multiple practical guides, tools and workshop applications which have been created and refined by PSL over the last few years.

Exit strategy
The need for an exit strategy, this is a key feature of CRAFT and is often overlooked by those who think that partnering must be a long term proposition. In many ways the Exit strategy which many would view negatively, is in fact the biggest catalyst for effective partnering and collaborative programmes. When everyone understands what happens at the end then the rules of engagement are much easier to define and implement.

For the facilities sector to benefit from the experience of the past and to progress the discipline for the future it is essential that exit plans include a post project review to capture learning gained. A circle of experience must be developed to ensure shared learning. The case studies generated by the PFM Awards can be of great benefit to aspiring partners.

The future of partnering in the facilities management sector looks good. The launch of a new BSI standard for partnering in October 2006 is an important opportunity for the future of partnering in facilities management. The standard is to be based on CRAFT and is currently under review by 20 third party organisations to build upon the work done by PSL.

As partnering enters a new era and the facilities sector embraces the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda, a structured and responsible approach to collaboration in the supply chain becomes necessary. In order for the sector to fully mature and to rid itself of an unhealthy aura of mistrust and conflict, more organisations must invest in building better relationships. Both the PFM Awards and BSI 11000 and will play important roles in the future prosperity of the facilities world.

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