Identity crisis? What identity crisis?

Words by: Jo Sutherland

Westminster. Home to debate, scrutiny, and cries of “Order! Order!”. Once again, RICS’s HQ, on Parliament Square, was filled to the brim with a passionate and feisty crowd, panellists and audience alike, all set on debating the FM’. While some were keen to maintain order during FMJ’s most recent RICS-IFMA debate concerning facility management’s place in the 21st century, others were set on redefining FM in order to pinpoint what it might all mean for the future of the profession.

Depending on the side you sit on, the calls to redefine FM either stem from an identity crisis, from the industry’s passion to relish a new opportunity, or from a failure to define FM for the last quarter of a century – or all of the above. Whatever your stance, it appears FM has a branding crisis.

Before I channel my inner Derrida – a philosopher obsessed with unravelling the meaning of things – here is the current ISO definition of facility management:

“Organisational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.” (ISO 41011:2017 3.1.1) 

So, to start, does this definition need to be updated?

No, said Martin Pickard, president of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) UK Chapter. Although not entirely comfortable with the above definition, it’s nearly there, in Pickard’s mind.


“Workplace has always been part of the FM agenda,” he said. “It’s there within everything we do. If we redefine it as ‘workplace’, we neglect a lot of other areas – people running football stadiums, retail environments, education campuses, hospitals. If we only focus on the workplace, the industry will fail.”

HOK’s Trina Marshall argued that the obsession to nail this definition will be to the industry’s detriment. Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam University’s Owen Gower got to the root of FM’s identity crisis. “Potential clients, users, stakeholders and talent – they need to know what we’re about,” he said. “When I talk to people, I don’t say I work in FM; I say I work as a built environment property consultant. It doesn’t describe what I do exactly, but it is something they can hang their hat on and recognise. And those are the people that matter. This definition isn’t an egotistical thing; it’s about getting that message out to different people.”

What’s in a name? Well, a lot if you have to sell it.

For Andrew Mawson, director of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and creator of Workplace Week London, the FM/workplace debate is a strange one. He believes language is getting in the way.

“FM tends to be thought of as an operational discipline,” said Mawson. “It’s a really important operational discipline – but to many, it means managing the environment and focusing on the building. Whereas, the world of ‘workplace management’ is about designing and delivering multi-faceted, minute-by-minute, multi-sensory experiences that create an emotional response. It encompasses thinking about journeys and destinations, the fusion of space, information, and services – and how these reflect organisational personality, support human effectiveness, and lure in talent.”

Pickard agreed with the sentiment but deemed Mawson’s labelling as incorrect. “My generation has failed if people still think FM is about the built environment. Successful facility managers have collaborated with other disciplines, embraced new tech, and applied strategy to support the organisations they serve,” he said.

And that, it seems, is the one thing we can all agree on. ‘FM or ‘workplace management’, whatever you want to call it, has to be promoted and strengthened as a business-critical offering – both in and outside of our communities.

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Ben Keeley