Going in-house

Tom Booton was an officer in the Royal Navy before discovering FM and spending more than 10 years working for Mitie and Anabas before taking his current in-house role as head of corporate real estate at The Law Society two years ago. We ask Tom to share his experiences.

Vice versa: We’re looking for an FM who has moved in the opposite direction. Have you worked in-house before switching to a service provider role? Get in touch at editorial@fm-world.co.uk

What was the most notable difference between working on supplier side to client side?

There are a different set of pressures working on the client side, delivering in line with the organisation’s business plan and bringing the suppliers along to help meet those objectives. On the supplier side you are trying to judge what the client wants. The clearest difference is that as a supplier, we were very focused on the inputs – what we thought contracts required, whereas as the client I am more focused on the outputs, the customer experience and the quality of the service we receive in order to enhance our organisation and how we operate. We are a membership body and we also host events from conferences to weddings so it is essential that these various customer needs are addressed.

Were there any challenges that you weren’t expecting, and how did you deal with them?

As suppliers, we all have views on our own businesses and those of our competitors, but through exposure to tender processes and pitches from suppliers you realise your competitors are better than you think they are and your preconceived opinions of them are probably wrong! Leaving those thoughts behind is an unexpected challenge. I also understand the daily pressures and requirements of working for a supplier so I am more empathetic when dealing with issues. I push my in-house team to support our suppliers to ensure we help them to perform and that we don’t delay anything that can impact on their performance and business objectives.

Another challenge was the sourcing activities. Having responded to so many RFIs, PQQs and RFPs, it is surprising how much of a challenge it is to produce a good-quality tender document for projects or services ensuring you pass on the best information and the right guidance to obtain the best responses. The more we put in and the better we structure our requirements, the better the response we get.

Is there anything in particular you’ve learnt from working for a service provider that you’ve used in your current role?

A key personal objective has been to be a ‘good client” by which I mean being empathetic to the needs of the supplier and ensuring we get the best from them for the Law Society. As a service provider, the biggest issues were always difficult clients who didn’t understand what they had bought from the supplier and so their expectations were not aligned to our own, which led to problems. Clients can understand facilities and their buildings, but don’t always understand outsourcing and how to make it work.

From a sourcing perspective, I also want to ensure we sell the opportunity to suppliers, to enthuse them to want our business by putting the right services together to ensure the best results for the Law Society, commercially and operationally. I also learned from the supplier side about commercialising FM to create a benefit rather than FM just being a business overhead. This is invaluable in an in-house role, proving that buildings and facilities are assets, not liabilities.

The clearest lesson I’ve brought over from the supplier side is being clear in setting out requirements and objectives for the services in the short, medium and long term.

What advice would  you give to an FM  making a similar move?

Client-side and supplier-side roles are different but with a common underlying theme of facilities and buildings. I’d recommend any FM to work supplier side to fully understand that market and models of operation, broaden your knowledge and understanding of outsourcing. Outsourcing is not just about delivery – it is about impacting, supporting and enhancing a client’s business.

What skills would an in-house FM be looking for that a supply side FM would generally possess?

Technical FM skills can always be taught. The important area is understanding service: how what you do contributes to the greater good of the organisation and the objectives of your business. Outside of this it is important to understand outsourcing, not just the service but models, benefits and drawbacks.

Sales is a skill needed in-house and in an outsourced setting. I have to sell ideas to the business to create compelling reasons to undertake activities or secure budgets. It is one of the key transferable skills.

What preparation is required before starting a new role as an in-house FM?

  1. Understand the business you are joining and be clear about the outputs you want to see. Who is the customer and what does that customer need from the building?
  2. Understand your supplier contracts and the operating model and how you can help make it work.
  3. Think carefully about how  to be a  good client.

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