One of the most common pieces of feedback that up and coming facilities managers receive is that they are not strategic enough - that they are too involved in the day by day grind and not looking at the big picture. Ambitious facilities managers often make the mistake of thinking that they need to know everything, so when they get this feedback they think it means that they need to understand more about how things work. Whilst this is important, this approach can sometimes get in the way.
As you become more senior you need to be able to step away from the noise and understand not only what is going on but why or how it’s going on. This can be hard when you feel your day is consumed with one client demand or crisis after another. The other difficulty with this feedback is that the manager often finds it difficult to explain what ‘being strategic’ looks like. They feel comfortable telling you when it isn’t there but are not sure how to explain how to change a tactical response into a strategic one.
If you look up the definition of strategic thinking you might end up more confused than ever.
F Graetz’s definition of strategic thinking was ‘To seek innovation and imagine a new and very different future that may lead the company to redefine its core strategies and even its industry’
Max McKeown thought that ‘becoming a strategic thinker is about opening your mind to possibilities. It’s about seeing the bigger picture…It’s about insight, invention, emotion and imagination focused on reshaping some part of the world.’
Perhaps a bit more helpful are Henry Mintzberg’s thoughts. He wrote that strategic thinking is more about synthesis (i.e., "connecting the dots") than analysis (i.e., "finding the dots").
To simplify all of these, strategic thinking is thinking that takes into account the bigger picture and the future: thinking which is imaginative and tries to see an issue from different points of view.
Not all problems require a strategic response. Sometimes you just need to fix something quickly. However, if possible it is good practice to step back from an issue and go through the following process:
- Articulate what the problem is you are trying to solve. Why does it matter to the customer or stakeholder in particular?
- What is the current approach to this issue?
- Why hasn’t this approach worked? What has the impact been on the building/business/customer?
- Rather than just asking what has happened, ask why or how it has happened
- If someone else is involved ask yourself high-level questions about the person or company presenting the issue
- Who are they?
- What do they want?
- What motivates them?
- What are the current vision and objectives of your customer and the business you work for and what are the implications of the problem for these?
- When you are thinking of solutions ask yourself:
- What are the likely implications for the building/business/customer?
- How does this solution fit into the overall plan for the building or company’s vision or objectives?
If you are able to develop this approach you will find it easier to identify and develop the essential skills you need to become a strategic leader - thereby transforming yourself into a highly employable and sought after facilities management professional.
Jane Hamilton, Former European Head of Corporate Real Estate at HSBC and trainer for the RICS Leadership Development for Facilities Managers course.
Develop these strategic skills by attending the RICS Leadership Development for Facilities Managers Course and see how we are supporting professionals in the built environment to position themselves as leaders in their industries on the RICS Leadership website.