And the winner is …

When Gyles Brandreth, writer, broadcaster and host for this year’s BIFM Awards, announced Comet Advisory as the winner of this year’s FM Excellence in a Major Project category (with BAE Systems for The Bowland Centre as the highly-commended project) there was the usual whooping from the winners and polite clapping (it was early in the evening) from the rest of the room.

Had the 1,300 people in the Grosvenor House Hotel known that Mr Brandreth had been given the wrong name to read out, we might have paid more attention. Instead of Comet, Vinci Facilities should have been receiving the trophy for their management of St Helens and Whiston Hospitals, particularly the close alignment of FM services to deliver extremely high levels of patient satisfaction, while maintaining hygiene and asset resilience.

BIFM CEO Gareth Tancred told FMJ that it was caused by an administrative error with one unfortunate BIFM staff member miskeying a spreadsheet code reference. Although the institute insourcing the awards after years of using a professional events management company – Sandra Light at FM Events – might also have something to do with it. The category judges, who would have known in advance the name of the winning project must have been more than a little surprised to hear the Comet name read out. Especially as according to the scores completed by the judges after interviews and site visits, Comet should never have been near the winners’ podium and were in fact low down the rankings.

But mistakes can be made. A few days before the BIFM Awards, a TV prize was presented to the wrong programme by mistake at the Bafta Cymru awards for example.

It’s what happened between the night of the awards (14 October) and late on 29 October, when the BIFM publicly acknowledged their mistake and released an official statement, that beggars belief.

Tancred told FMJ that the institute only became aware of the mistake on 18 October, five days after the awards. The lead judge hadn’t been at the dinner, and the category judges who did raise the alarm wanted to speak to the lead judge before alerting the institute which delayed the process. Once the mistake had been recognised, discussions about how to rectify the situation began. Because there had been a delay in acknowledging the mistake, the institute felt it couldn’t just remove the award from non-winner Comet. Sources close to the institute told FMJ that Comet was reluctant to give up their trophy as they had already informed all their clients and incorporated the win into their corporate literature.

So rather than simply apologising for the error and embarrassment caused, the institute eventually agreed to create a new post-awards award category – the BIFM Board Social and Economic Impact Award – and present it to Comet. Poor Vinci, which had rightfully won the award for “its outstanding management of two new-build hospitals in Merseyside” had to wait a full two weeks to bask in glory.

But of course the BIFM didn’t explain it like that. Talking to Tancred at the first BIFM corporate members event last month, he acknowledged that there was indeed a compensatory factor in the creation of the new category. But he maintains that the new category “was established to reflect BIFM’s key priorities and themes for the future – sector demonstration of significant economic and social impact” and that it is a not peer-judged category but rather a board decision. He claims that all the finalists were rejudged against the new award criteria and Comet found to come out on top. Which is, of course, very convenient to say the least.

In a statement Tancred thanks both organisations for the “grace and good humour they have shown over the mistake” although sources told FMJ that both companies are far from happy over both the original mistake and the poor way that the episode has been handled. The institute also felt the need to bring in professional crisis communicators – Four Communications – to deal with the issue, rather than rely on the more-than-capable skills of their existing PR representative, Andy Brown of Frank and Brown, who has a solid understanding of the FM sector and the key players. Tancred explained that this was because Brown represents Vinci and it was felt there was a conflict of interest. But it would be interesting to know how much this episode cost the institute’s members in terms of consultancy, let alone management time.

Communication is such a simple issue: be transparent and honest, admit mistakes, apologise where necessary and offer appropriate remedies. When people and organisations try to be less than open, it creates distrust and suspicion, often where none should be. What’s really frustrating about this episode is that Oliver Jones, chairman of the judges, and his team of volunteers, many of whom dedicate weeks of their time every year to judge the awards, have worked tirelessly to bring the BIFM Awards up to an extremely high standard. For the last three years I have been involved as a judge and can therefore appreciate first hand the great work that is done and the complete integrity in the judging process combined with the very high standard of entries.  For a mistake like this to be made is one thing, but for it to be handled so poorly brings the reputation of both the institute and the awards, into question.

Cathy Hayward