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From the tools: The making of a manager?

Many facilities managers work their way up from a frontline job, while others arrive as fully fledged graduates. FMJ talks to senior FM figures, HR and people-change experts to find out what makes a great manager and leader

Traditionally many people in the FM sector have ‘fallen into’ the industry and have ‘risen through the ranks’, working their way up to senior positions from frontline jobs in cleaning, catering, engineering and security. The industry still values this approach, but now also puts a strong focus on developing a career path through recognised professional qualifications. And, for succession planning, FM is increasingly looking for bright young talent coming out of schools and universities to develop the leadership pipeline.

A successful and productive business depends on the quality of its employees, and one of the most important contributing factors to employee success is the people who manage them. Researchers at the University of Sheffield Research Institute of Work Psychology have reported that, among manufacturing businesses, 18 per cent of variations in productivity and 19 per cent of profitability were attributed to people management practices.

Managers need to create an environment where staff feel passionate and engaged with their work, demonstrating the behaviours that are needed to drive positive results. Strong managers are crucial to the business bottom line and for nurturing happy, motivated and loyal employees; after all, it’s often said that employees leave their managers, not their company.

Every team should have a great manager, but first companies need to find the people with the skills and attributes to fit the role. A 2014 Gallup poll defined the talents required by a good manager as motivating every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision; having the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance; creating a culture of clear accountability; building relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency; and making decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Does promoting the successful cleaner, security guard, or maintenance engineer, who has worked their way through the ranks, knows the job back to front, and knows the teams, therefore create a better management fit? Or does it make more commercial sense to appoint the graduate with the latest theory, knowledge and understanding of business functions?

Duncan Short, HR director for G4S, can give many examples in the business where people who did not gain the relevant educational qualifications have gone on to become very successful managers. “They may have simply missed out on the academic certificates because of their personal background, or they may be late developers, or school may not have provided them with the right environment to thrive,” he says. “There are a host of reasons why people, who have subsequently moved up the ranks and flourished in management, can be held back.

“When they become managers, one of the main advantages they have is an increased understanding of what happens on a day-to-day basis on the shop floor. It’s not easy to pull the wool over their eyes and they gain credibility as a leader with the team trusting in their knowledge of the job. The manager with the professional qualification, however, may lack the same intuition, especially early on in their career.”

Where Short believes qualifications may have the management edge is by bringing a deeper understanding of business theory with a broader perspective of ‘why things are done in a certain way.’ Whether they’ve worked their way up from the bottom or started at the top, for Short the most important element in finding a good manager is getting the right fit for the organisation. “Katie Sparrow is one great example. She’s burst into life and blossomed, putting herself forward with energy and enthusiasm, and a complete commitment to her career and to our business.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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