Posts Tagged ‘supply chain’

Useful Tools – Pareto and the 80:20 Principle

“We couldn’t get our heads out of the trench for long enough to see which way the bullets were coming from”. The speaker was one of the many people I worked with; in my younger days, almost all of my male colleagues had been in the armed services. I thought that the expression was wonderful and much better than not seeing the wood for the trees. Over the years that I have been at work it has been very apt because, so often, people are fire fighting  the small stuff so much that they can’t work on the things that would deal with the cause of all that small stuff.

My colleague’s problem would have been solved by what we call in management speak the helicopter view, but it is one of the reasons why the military always like to capture the high ground; they can see what is going on and that makes it so much easier to manage.

In business we have that dreadful expression “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. I say dreadful, because I’ve heard it parroted so many times by people who want to spend so much time measuring and pondering over the results that they rarely ever get round to managing anything, but the expression is true. The trick in making it work is in what we mean by measuring.

If you are under constant fire you don’t have enough time to do the job properly let alone start producing all sorts of statistics, but measurement doesn’t always have to be so formal. Try this as an example: Walk into one of the working areas at your firm and just stand to one side for two or three minutes. What do you see and hear? Is it quiet and calm, or are people looking harassed with ‘phones ringing and high levels of noise? Is it tidy or is there stuff piled all over the place?

What you have just done is measure with your eyes and ears and you will have formed a pretty accurate assessment of that team. This may well be one that you would not have got from their numbers, because the performance statistics may well show that the chaotic team are hitting their targets, but observation is every bit as powerful a measurement tool as the graphs that come off the computer: There is nothing wrong with measuring by rule of thumb.

If you are a young manager wanting to make things work better then start by using those eyes and ears that you got as standard equipment when you came into the world. Even when you are under terrific pressure there will be information that you can use to help you. You will know where your biggest problem area is, so think a bit about why. Pareto’s 80:20 principle suggests that 80% of your problems come from 20% of what you do, so try putting that to work. Say you are getting 10 calls a day from Finance about invoice queries. If you can put that one thing right that could mean those 10 calls stop, and then you suddenly have that time free to look at another problem. You won’t solve every one, but if you can start to give yourself time to stick your head up and have a look around you are on the way to gaining control.

And if your boss is into formal measurement, just tell them that you are working to the Pareto principle, the 80:20 rule. Pareto is a probability distribution, but also works as a rule of thumb.

It’s 2062. Or is it?

For the third and final part of our holiday humour trilogy we move from the past to the future. Content after his New Year dinner and with a couple of glasses of claret on board, ThatConsultantBloke (TCB) is half asleep on the sofa doing his emails when he inadvertently clicks on a link and his video messaging software kicks into life. A silhouetted figure appears on his VDU;

TCB:       Er, hello?

Other Person (OP)          You are through to the Global Institute of Business Infrastructure Management, how may we help?

TCB:       I’m not sure. I clicked on a link in my email about speaking at your conference.

OP:         Yes, I see now. You were very active in the old Facilities Management arena and we were looking for someone to give our members some idea of just how much progress we have made, but also to see if there were lessons that we could learn from history.

TCB:       I’m not sure I follow you. I am still very active in FM.

OP:         Perhaps you are, but you are in 2012 and we are in 2062. That is why you may have problems seeing me as you will be on an old version of Windows.

TCB:       So you are 50 years ahead! My goodness! So how do you guys work with the likes of BIFM and IFMA?

OP:         These were absorbed long since and the GIBIM was formed from them.

TCB:       So you don’t call what we do FM any more then?

OP:         No. No-one really understood what FM was about and, in any case, Facilities was not a good expression. Did you not have a saying “Can I use your Facilities” as a euphemism for the toilet? What credibility could we expect naming a profession after a lavatory?

TCB:       (laughing) Well, the architects always used to say “Here come the janitors” whenever we arrived at a meeting!

OP:         Architects! They have learned their place in the scheme of things now. They do what they are told and we have few problems with them these days.

TCB:       So how do things work in FM, sorry, BIM now?

OP:         It was recognised that managing the business infrastructure, or what you called Facilities, was crucial to business success and that business in general was not competent to be in control of the infrastructure; that was a job for the professionals. Standards were therefore agreed that would be enforced and business could use. GIBIM are responsible for providing those standards worldwide.

TCB:       So how does that work with the clients then? How do they choose the supplier?

OP:         They don’t. They are allowed to use what they qualify for according to their business and their meeting the relevant KPIs. Let me explain: If you are starting a new business you produce your business plan and apply locally to have the plan approved. If your business plan meets the standards then you will be allowed to start up when suitable premises are available. If you succeed and maintain a profitable business and meet all of your BIM KPIs then you can continue indefinitely, but you must keep above the relegation zone. If you fall into that area then you will lose your place to a new business. On the other hand, if your business is very successful and you want to grow, then you compete for promotion to larger or better premises from a business in a higher division that has performed poorly and has been relegated.

TCB:       So business is only allowed to run as long as they meet these KPIs?

OP:         That’s right. It came out of what you will know as HSE. The idea of a Competent Person threw into light the fact that few business people were competent to be responsible for what you called Facilities, especially in terms of environmental concerns. The logical step was to reverse the relationship and have competent people running the business infrastructure along lines that were efficient and contributed positively to the environment and then to allow business to use that infrastructure, but only if their performance was good enough. It was probably the only good thing that came out of the nonsense that you call HSE.

TCB:       But HSE isn’t a nonsense! Well, some of it is a bit over the top, but it’s important stuff.

OP:         Some of the basic principles are correct, but the culture of litigation that it allowed was ridiculous. People have to take responsibility for their own actions. In our world, if you have an accident at work where you are to blame you take the consequences.

TCB:       So what are these KPIs?

OP:         Some are related to general business performance in the relevant field; they have to make profit for example, but in relation to us they have to behave as a responsible client.

TCB:       What does that mean?

OP:         Well for a start they treat the premises and the BIM people that operate them with respect. They will be scored down on issues like damaging the building in any way, abusing BIM employees, failing to observe BIM rules on use of the building and so on.

TCB:       (sounding puzzled) So BIM rules would be things like access control and meeting rooms?

OP:         Exactly! Failure to display your building pass would be a contravention, as would failure to turn up when you have a meeting room or desk booked. And environmental non compliances carry heavy penalty scores; using the wrong recycling box, not turning a device off and so on. Safety failures also are heavily penalised; say you hurt your back lifting something. You will have been given lifting and handling training as a matter of course, so if you do it wrong and hurt yourself, your salary will be docked by the cost of replacing you. Your employer will fail their KPIs as well.

TCB:       Isn’t that unfair under your rules to penalise the employer for the employee’s error?

OP:         I see what you mean, but they have to be penalised for employing an idiot. It teaches them to be more careful about who they take on.

TCB:       So if the clients can’t choose their suppliers, how does the supply side work now?

OP:         The supply side is still competitive in that the people who work in it compete for the jobs. There is a pool of suppliers who provide the services in each country. They take a fixed fee per square metre for supplying and running the services, but they run as not for profit concerns as a public service. There are only the required number of jobs to provide the services though, and competition to win them is strong as they are well paid and much sought after. BIM is a well respected profession these days.

TCB:       And this is global now?

OP:         Well not quite. The EU started it and the Americans and Japan fell in step because they had to. Pretty much all of the old Commonwealth  came on board with the UK and then others get drawn in because it’s where the world trades now; if you’re out you’re out, and that means that no people or goods can move from or to the Alliance countries from outside the Alliance.

TCB:       So what about some of the countries that were causing environmental concerns?

OP:         Well there were some issues about fencing them off, but then sport entered the picture and exclusion was easy.

TCB:       Sport?

OP:         Oh yes. The major soccer playing EU nations realised that excluding Brazil from the Alliance meant that they would not be able to play in the World Cup, and once that happened then the athletics people realised that they could have some of the serial Olympic winners banned and that was that. There was even a move to have the Yanks chucked back out at one time, but that was never going to happen.

TCB:       So what about the Euro Zone crisis?

OP:         Well that was easily solved. We just looked back to the colonial model and when a country got bailed out it was basically bought, so Germany and the UK pretty much own most of the EU between them now. The pound and the mark have parity and all of the EU uses one or the other.

TCB:       You mentioned architects?

OP:         Yes, well the old days of building monstrosities that took months to turn into workable buildings have long gone. Now we have standards for buildings in each usage type and only a certain number of each are built in different sizes in each area so that there is none of the old nonsense of oversupply; we just have what we need. Building stock is changed as and when necessary, but new build has to be to the standard. The only variation is in the external cladding, and here some flexibility is allowed, but only within limits; King Charles saw to that by Royal Decree in the UK and other countries followed suit.

TCB:       King Charles? You mean…

OP:         Yes, he’s still with us. Just. Now about your fee for speaking at our conference: For a half hour slot we would be happy to offer you…

Mrs TCB looks down at the slumbering figure and gently lifts the laptop off him. “I do wish he wouldn’t snore so loudly” she complains to the watching cat….

It’s about 1150BC, and an FM in darkest Wessex has just taken a call

It’s about 1150BC, and an FM in darkest Wessex has just taken a call from an Egyptian pal he met at the recent FM conference. In the best traditions of the wonderful Bob Newhart, we can only hear one end of the conversation:

Hey Jabari, when did you get back?

Four months? Took me nearly that. Too bad the Romans haven’t started their road building programme yet eh? So how’s that pyramid project going?

Just started. So how big is this thing?

Wow! That’s going to take a lot of labour.

OK, so you can get plenty of people in from overseas? You must have a great benefits, healthcare and welfare package down there to bring them in, right?

Slaves! Can you do that?

You do it all the time? OK, so if that’s how it is. I guess you don’t have a socialist government then? Say, Jabari, how do you do with accidents working with stone?

About 10% of the workforce? How many of those are serious?

That’s just the fatalities! Ouch! Good job liability lawyers haven’t been thought of yet. So, tell me, how do you get involved as an FM while the place is being built?

Trying to head off hand over problems? Yes, we get them too, and FMs do spend a lot of time trying to make new buildings work. Who’s your architect on this one?

No, I wouldn’t know him. How many of these jobs has he done?

This is his first! Why not go for someone with experience?

You kill them at the end of the job? I know I’ve felt like murdering one or two myself, but you must have been pretty dissatisfied right?

Client policy, eh? Rather you than me. I wouldn’t want to be failing my KPIs down your way!

Right. So how long are you going to be using this building when they hand it over?

All eternity? Goodness! Now I’m into future proofing, but this is in a different league. Sooner or later someone will invent stuff we can’t even imagine, so you might want leave some sort of access, and maybe carve some instructions into the stone to say what you’ve done?

OK, well, look: this pyramid shape, it’s not great in terms of user friendliness you know? Over here we’re still strong on the roundhouse for now, but what you need are vertical walls, right? But stick with the pointy roof on top; believe me you do not want to go with a flat roof. So your square shape with walls would give you a great useable space.

Yes, we’re still on open plan, but we have this great new concept; you have interior walls to break up that space, and then you can separate the masters from the animals and the workers.

You already do that? How does that work for you?

OK, so you call them chambers. So how are your occupancy numbers on these pyramids with chambers?

That’s terrible! With that floor plan, even as a pyramid, you need to be getting a lot more people in than that. I know! This some sort of scam to keep the rates down right?

Oh! It’s a tomb for the king! Yes, I get it, so you’re thinking security. We just pile tons on earth on ours so no one can dig through fast enough to not get spotted, but if you’re all sand down there I see why you need so much stone.

Talking about stone buildings, I told you we’re trying to build some over here? Well, I managed to get a couple of big piles of decent stones assembled down in Wessex ready for when we get some demand. Funny thing though, you remember that craze for crop circles we talked about at conference?

That’s right. Well, some crazies got into our storage yards and spread all the stones out into circles and patterns!

No, I’m not joking. They even hoisted some of the damn things up and stood them on top of each other. Goodness knows how, but those Celts are strong lads, especially when they’ve been on the mead.

No, it’ll cost a fortune to tidy it all up again, so I’m going to leave them as they are and just take the odd stone when I need it. Mind you, there’s some religious group want to rent one of the sites for a festival.

Good point! I’ll put a clause in about no sacrifices. They make such a bloody mess.

Your money’s running out? OK Jabari. Good talking to you. Maybe see you again next conference.

great customer service starts from the top

Customer service has been prominent in my thoughts this week, especially as I have experienced some really good service, together with someone trying to put right something that had gone wrong.

Many years ago I came up with something that I called the Ghent Agenda, named in honour of some really good service I had experienced from hotel people first in Brussels and then in Ghent. It was a blueprint for our facilities management team to raise our game, and it did make a difference, but it is how you make these things happen that intrigues me.

It is the leader that sets the tone for the way their team will work, and various old and new adages describe this; setting the tone, leading by example, walking the talk and so on, and these are, like all such sayings, very true. More so than many realise, because the way a leader acts and behaves will have a huge influence on their team (very much in the way that children are influenced by their parents).

It is all very well to try and influence your team towards providing a high level of service, but how do you yourself behave? Is the example that you set one that you would like your team to follow as they deal with your customers? For example, how do you treat people? You may be good with your team, but how about others?

My premise here is that leading by example, or whatever we want to call it, comes from setting a personal standard first. If you truly want to be a role model then you have to become that model and apply the standard. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Sir Laurence Olivier during the making of the 1976 film Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman’s character had to portray levels of exhaustion commensurate with having being awake for 24 hours or so, and kept himself up to experience the effects. When Olivier asked him what he was doing Hoffman explained his need for accuracy in portrayal, only for the former to suggest “Why not try acting, dear boy, it’s much easier”.

And that is the issue, acting is much easier, but leadership is not acting. If all you are portraying to your team is an act then you will be found out at some point, so you do need to live the role.

If your team here you tell them about the importance of giving good customer service, of treating people with respect, but then see you behave poorly towards others then how can they truly believe in the message when the person delivering it lets them down? And if you do not strive to apply the standards to yourself in everything that you do, are you not applying double standards?

We can’t be perfect. We are, after all, only human, but if we are going to try to achieve the highest standards then we have to raise our game. A record of continuous success does not come without constantly pushing yourself and your team, and that is what the better leaders do, and they push themselves hardest.

If you want to be that great role model for your people then try to apply the highest levels of behaviour in everything that you do; be polite and show respect to others, regardless of who they are. If you treat the ticket collector on the train or the barista in the coffee shop the way you want your people to treat your customers then you are setting the right tone for them. Lead from the front.

More musings on Winston Churchill and bullying in leadership

This week’s blog is inspired by what I am reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for a start, and across a broad range of subjects where the common denominator is, to varying degrees, personal success or failure. And as for fiction, well a good story almost always revolves around the interplay between the cast of characters. Yes these are creations of the author’s imagination, but a well written book will involve a lot of things that apply to team dynamics and can provoke one’s thoughts on how well, or otherwise, things can be handled in the real world.

Talking of characters, a TV commercial has just been on featuring Darth Vader. As an example of a great fictional character there is a classic villain; just far enough over the top to still retain credibility, but leaving you in no doubt where you would stand as a subordinate. Compared to some of the plonkers I’ve worked for over the years Lord Vader would have been a welcome change.

Amongst my reading over the coming three weeks or so one Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill will loom large. He is a man who fascinates me. My parents could not stand him at any price and they both knew him best from his years of greatest triumph in World War 2, Dad having joined the Royal Navy at 19 as a stoker (like his Dad before him) and Mum serving as a 20 year old nurse in Coventry at the start of real hostilities.

We accord WSC heroic status these days, naming him as the greatest Englishman and so on, but this is all largely based on what he did in around 5 years of a 91 year life that, in many ways, saw so many failures. He did badly at school and had more careers than most people could contemplate; soldier, journalist, writer, historian and politician as well as being an accomplished artist. Crossing the floor from Tory to Liberal (and later back again), Under Secretary for the Colonies, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty and then leaving for France to command an infantry battalion on the Western Front at 40.

So many of these, and later, positions led to failure of some sort, but there is little doubt that he was the man for the moment when, in those dark days of May 1940. At that time the British Empire stood alone against enemies on many fronts around the globe and WSC gave us the focal point that we needed.

I mentioned him here in the context of bullying in leadership a few weeks back. I am in no doubt that he was, in many ways, a bully, but does that diminish his leadership? Like so many things, it isn’t a straightforward question to answer. On the one hand how can we defend bullying, but I think that we also have to acknowledge that in doing so we are applying the standards of today to an age where things were very different. It was a time of urgency in getting things done and where hard decisions had to be made and objectives delivered.

The difference is that the type of bullying we need to stamp out is where someone torments the weak for the sake of it, but also acknowledge that there are people who will need to be coerced to do what is necessary to achieve a mutually required objective. WSC may have bullied the strong around to his way of thinking, but he never bullied the weak for personal pleasure.

Things that go bump in the night – More fun on the Facilities Front Line

We tend to talk about the things that we’ve done well, but we learn more from the things that go wrong, so with Halloween approaching , and in the spirit of things that go bump in the night, maybe it’s a good time to look at a project that went wrong. And so here’s a skeleton from my closet.

The project was to replace the water storage facility for a substantial sprinkler system. To repair it was a difficult job and would have taken the system out of action for at least 8 weeks which was not acceptable to the client or their insurers and there was also a desire to expand the system which would have required additional capacity. On that basis we elected to go for new storage which gave us the option of repairing the original one at our leisure should it be needed in the future.

In working through the options open to us the most economical way forward was to install a pair of cylindrical tanks about 50 metres from the original installation where we had an available piece of ground that would require little preparation to accept them. An appropriate engineering contractor was engaged to design the system and provide us with a specification that we could put out to tender and it was during this exercise that we made a mistake in communication, although no-one realised until much later. We had our own mechanical and electrical team and had given them the lead in working with the design engineer. When the subject of connecting an appropriate power supply to power the pumps came up, our man said that we would do that and this was true; we would do the connection at the panel. We meant the one in the nearest building; he meant the one in the new pump house.

Specification done we went out to tender. There were not too many companies capable of a job of that size so we short listed three for the final stage and had them all in on the same day for the site inspection and a question and answer session. At some point the power supply question came up and the answer was given “Client is arranging connection” by the design engineer. No-one on my team queried that because we had no reason to.

At the time our biggest issue was getting planning permission for an installation that would be partially visible to residential neighbours, many of whom were openly hostile to the site and we were into the games that one plays in these circumstances and were happy that we got through that stage with the decision that we wanted.

A contract was placed for just over £100k. It was not a hugely disruptive project because of the site that we had chosen and work proceeded quickly. At about two thirds of the way through I took a walk around with the contractor. Both tanks were substantially complete and the pump house was up and being fitted out. Laying the power cable from the pump house to the nearest building would involve digging up the road causing my occupiers possible disruption so I asked when that was scheduled for.

“But you’re doing the connection” he said, and the misunderstanding back at the start of the design stage began to emerge. Our spec did not allow for cutting and filling a trench to bridge the 50m gap and it cost us £10k to do it. All because of an ambiguity in the spec: Always read the small print, especially if you wrote it yourself.

Computers & automation can help get things done, but who programs the machines? It’s us, the people

October 10, 2011 1 comment

At the moment am working on a supply chain project for a client supplying into a just in time manufacturing business looking at the various processes supporting the supply of components and sub assemblies work well enough for the lines to keep running.

Delving into these though there is the one factor that, however good or bad the process, the whole thing depends on and that is the human element.

In many ways what you have is more of a chain mail that a chain of single links, but there are points at which the whole thing holds or fails on a single link and one challenge that you have is to assess the risks. These things are a balancing act and the amount of engineering redundancy you build in is a cost so you make the appropriate decisions on whether or not you go for eliminating the risk or just mitigating it.

One of the things that I enjoy about these sorts of projects is that they are a microcosm of business in general, but they are quite easily modelled and fiddled around with. You can accurately predict things such as the effect of failure. You may not be able to eliminate the risk of the occurrence, but early warning of the problem might be enough to avoid the worst consequences.

Automation and robotics take away some of the issues of human frailty in these chains and computer simulation will help the decision making process: It becomes easy to make decisions when the magic box has worked out all of the possible permutations and told you what your three best options are complete with all the consequences of each. All you have to do is to chose one and do what it suggests.

This is all very well, but one of the key skills in managing, as well as in leadership, is in making good decisions. It may well be the best thing in some circumstances to have the machine give you options, and even to evaluate them for you, but there are many times when you will not have such support and so to come to the right decision in those times.

So to have your own decision making process is a vital tool for your skill set. It isn’t that hard to make a decision if you have a system that works for you, but the basics have to be a pragmatic approach to the facts as they are know and an ability to understand what the consequences of the choices you have will be.

Taking a calm approach and working with what you know, and what you can find out within the time available, will almost always lead you down the right path. It is, in essence, what the computer is doing when it models options in a supply chain sense. Sure it can do a lot more and much more quickly, but the only experience it can apply is within the algorithms that it has been programmed with, and they came from people.

It is us, the people, who gain the experience that we can apply to decision making, whether that is in making the decisions ourselves or explaining to the computer software how to examine them. Automation has made enormous strides in delivering consistent standards and reducing costs, but it all has come about from people.

People with ideas and leaders with vision do guide the way, but there are all those people who turn up and just make it all happen. These are the unsung heroes who really good leaders acknowledge and cherish.

when it comes to leadership, one size does not fit all

I’m talking about effective leadership here rather than use other adjectives like good or great. This week I am writing about leadership that works in that it gets people following. To digress for a moment, the term following is something of an ambiguous concept here because, in most cases, the followers are usually in the van doing the things that the leader steers them to do, but the leader getting behind the followers, watching their backs, is as much a part of leadership as anything else.

It may be a slightly abstract concept, but the leader is not necessarily in front with their followers behind when it comes to the execution of the leader’s plan, and that does need to be understood. You can still lead from the front, sometimes you have to, and other times it’s just good to do so, but most of the time you will in the rear. Good leaders learn this, great ones do it intuitively.

Back at effective leadership though, the point that I wanted to make this week is around styles of leadership. Everyone is an individual and has their own motivational triggers; some will respond best to flattery, some to bribery, some, odd as it may seem on the surface, to bullying (please don’t interpret that as me being in favour of such things). Understanding individual needs is very important in a small team where you need every member to have total trust in each other as well as in the leader. In a larger team it is good for the leader to know all of their team, but such things take time and effort that might be better deployed on other things in the short term.

The crucial need is to instil in the team a feeling that individual failures are acceptable because the trust and support within the team will compensate. There is a point at which the desire to not let your colleagues down kicks in and drives performance up, but that comes from knowing that you can fail whilst believing that you won’t because people have shown confidence in you.

One of the easiest leadership tasks is taking over a team with low morale or who are faced with adverse circumstances. Here a siege mentality can be created without too much effort and an “us against the rest” spirit flows through your team. One of the problems with this approach is getting out of it once you’ve got the team firing on all cylinders because it has dangers in the long run. Using a little paranoia to kick start things is all very well, but you do need to ensure that it is quickly replaced by the confidence that will come as positive results flow in.

Overcoming fear of failure is one of the hardest things to do, but it can be done. Fear of failure will paralyse even the best team. If you allow people to fail and deal with those failures in a positive way they start to lose the fear of failing, but it goes beyond the individual; you need to have that collective feeling within the team that people will cover for each other. As long as everyone can see and believe that all are doing their best, that mistakes are dealt with positively (and that includes dealing with some things in a disciplinary sense when the need arises), then fear of failure starts to fade from the culture.

There is no one leadership model; as a leader you have to be able to understand what will work best in any set of circumstances.

Standards, Good Practice or Guidelines – why and when do we need them?

I’m writing this with facilities management in mind, but it is applicable to business, society et al. It’s on my mind because of something lurking round the corner that I have been involved in commenting on and thinking about the specific has got me thinking about the general point of why we have such things as standards, rules and the like. What is the point?

If one were to live entirely in a vacuum you could do without standards of any sort, but once there are two or more people you start to need to define things; boundaries for example and ways that you will behave towards each other. So in life and business we have a range of things that are set out; money and measurements need some definition so that we can trade, and other standards come along such as the notorious EU efforts to define the sausage, along with more sensible things like regional wine & cheese definitions.

All of these are good because they allow us to function in our lives. Then we have laws, many of which are stupid (because they are unenforceable), but society has to have some foundation. Some laws help, others hinder, but we rub along.

Experience is a big part of life in all its forms. The wilderness can still be a dangerous place as witnessed by the Eton school party last week, and we learn that there are dangers in pushing the boundaries (one of the things about elf & safety for me is that it could be a danger in the long term if we remove all risks and cease to learn; if we remove all risk of falling over, will we forget that it hurts?). As we have evolved we have learned all sorts of things that we can pass on, and these become as Good Practice.

In business we do a lot to encourage good practice; benchmarking and peer groups, professional bodies, continuous professional development and so on, and these are often taken a step further by trade bodies that have codes of practice for their industry. All of this is good because it takes us forward and gives our customers and markets confidence.

And then there are the standards. Imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have an electrical wiring standard; visual signage standards are another good example of a beneficial standard that we work with on a daily basis. We don’t even perceive some of the standards that rule our lives like those that allow us to use our various mobile devices, but they are there and we all benefit from them in life and work.

But then there are another range of standards, and these are closer related to the Euro sausage that we might think. To some degree they are good things. ISO, BS and CE assure us that something has been made to a standard that we can rely on; that we can plug something in and not put ourselves or our families at risk of electrocution, say, is a good thing and one I will defend.

However, I think that there are dangers in taking good practice and turning it into a standard without good reason to do so. Often good practice should be adopted just because it is good, not by enforcing it. Leaders drive good practice forwards; complying with a common standard can stifle that, and also competition and that is bad.

So let’s keep standards for where we need them and let business leaders thrive as unfettered as possible, because that is the path to recovery.

just another quiet day on the facilities front line, then Anders Breivik came along

News from Norway last week shocked the world, and we feel for the families of those who lost loved ones. The media have made much of possible motive and the whys and wherefores, but I am more concerned about the impact on those who had responsibilities for the security of people at the two venues that were targeted, because those of us in facilities management walk in their shoes.

I’ve written here about the time, just after the Columbine spree killings in the USA, that one of my sites had a suspected gunman outside. That came to nothing, but we learned some lessons that we built into the way would handle any future incident. I’ve also covered a suspicious package incident, one of three that I have experienced, but I have also had someone gain access to one of my sites and start brandishing a knife, demanding to see their estranged partner, and four or five other incidents involving domestic issues that got to the edge of violence come to mind.

When you are managing a site where there are large numbers of people, probably also with public access, you walk a tightrope. Now I don’t want to suggest that this goes on all of the time, but you don’t know when an incident will occur. When one does, then speed and level of response needs to be on the money if you are to have any chance of dealing with it. How you cope with something like the second incident in Norway is mind boggling and I can empathise with my opposite numbers up there. What they must be going through is something that I never want to have to face. My thoughts are also with the forces of law and order. Expectations on them are enormous and the media cane them whatever they do these days.

In our world, the FM team need to be well trained and to understand what they should and should not do when something flares up, but also in spotting the warning signs. We do have a variety of states of alert, and raise the level of vigilance if we are warned of a specific threat, but so often incidents arise without warning, especially the domestic ones. All of the incidents that I have mentioned came on ordinary days, albeit a couple of the suspicious package ones were are the height of the IRA campaigns. One minute you’re quietly getting on with something and the next you’ve switched to crisis mode: that innocent looking visitor grabs your colleague, pulls out a 12 inch kitchen knife and holds it to your colleague’s throat.

Thankfully the majority of us don’t ever face these situations, and those that do probably only get one in a lifetime, so how do you prepare? The start for the reactive side is in the basic emergency process; you get used to handling these things in a calm and structured way so that when something happens it is dealt with. Regular practice helps, both in desktop exercises and live ones, to settle the team into being able to react effectively when an alarm is raised. The proactive side needs a culture of vigilance, and that applies to the whole team; you have to have an escalation process and you need an intelligence network.

If you do these things then you have a chance of reducing the risk.  I doubt that we will ever prevent a determined solo attack like that seen in Norway last week, but we might be able to limit the impact. When did you last review your process?