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3. Facilities management and ethics
3. Facilities management and ethics
Bob GrimshawBob Grimshaw is Professor of Facility Use and Management in the Construction and Property Research Centre at the University of the West of England.
Keywords: Facilities management, Ethics, Behavioural science
In 1994 the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) decided that its future lay in becoming a "professional" institution that would act as the gatekeeper for the profession of FM. It set in place three routes to a rigorous qualification and the infrastructure to operate and monitor those routes. All are now functioning and the first professionally qualified facilities managers have emerged. This strategy is long-term and its success depends upon FM becoming widely recognised as a professional function.
Implicit in the view that FM is a profession (certainly as it is understood in the UK) and as opposed to the view of FM as a specialised field of general management, is a presumption that FM has a wider social importance outside of the contractual relationship between FM and employer. It implies that qualified facilities managers should operate within an ethical framework that influences and shapes the way they carry out their role.
In the established "élite" professions, like law, medicine and architecture, their social relevance and ethical battlegrounds are clear: debate is ongoing, vigorous and often controversial. No parallel debate has taken place in FM, nor is there any established view on what the nature of an ethical stance for FM might be. Indeed, as FM develops rapidly towards becoming an "organisational support mechanism", the grounds for an ethical debate are far from obvious. If FM cannot generate this debate and demonstrate its wider importance to society its claim to be a "profession" looks hollow.
It is interesting to speculate on what the nature of FM ethics might be, over and above the obvious need to act in a professional manner in all one's dealings. One area is easy to identify, but problematical, because FM appears to be moving away from it. The issue of how, or if, organisations should take account of user/employee needs in the workplace was prominent in early texts on FM. Frank Becker in particular saw FM as a channel of communication between the organisation and its staff in the commercial workplace. This was not justified in social terms but by sound economic arguments related to flexibility in a rapidly changing world. It could be argued that this is even more relevant today as knowledge replaces product or service as the focus of many large organisations.
It is not too great a leap from Becker's work, supported by evidence from research on organisational change and behavioural science, to present FM as a profession that promotes humane working environments. Such environments, developed to take account of both work tasks and individual or group needs, have an obvious social relevance. The elements for and against such a position already exist but debate needs to be instigated by the BIFM and joined by practitioners and academics alike. The outcomes may be unpredictable, but it would be healthy for a new profession to have a sense of its social value and a mission with which to enthuse its members. The alternative, which appears to be a sterile branch of management consultancy that can at best be called a "quasi-profession", cannot be contemplated.