Some argue that benchmarking and best practices are essentially two sides of the same coin. The search can result in companies in like industries swapping FM information, or one company ferreting out best practices through nose-to-the-grindstone research.
Many measures of success
After hashing out all the semantics and definitions, what, exactly, are some of the day-to-day functions facilities professionals should be measuring? The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) lists items that are typically benchmarked, such as square footage per occupant; building efficiency rates (the ratio of usable space to rentable space); workstation utilization rates; maintenance costs; janitorial costs; utility costs; environmental costs (the costs of providing satisfactory air and water quality, waste removal, and regulatory compliance); security costs; project costs (improvements to or reconfigurations of existing space); overall cost of operations; and occupancy cost. Other benchmarked items include equipment downtime; the percentage of preventive maintenance vs. repair maintenance; and overtime costs.
But benchmarking can extend to other more nebulous FM tasks such as “vendor contracting” and “planning process.” Customer-driven benchmarks include response time, cycle time, satisfaction, and downtime. The customer has to be happy, and the culture in different companies is based on senior management’s view. Consider what your customer thinks is important. You (the FM) may have an attendance problem in your department that is being benchmarked, but your customer may not know about it, or care.
Look in the mirror
Where should FMs look when collecting data? While gut instinct might tell an FM department to immediately look externally and measure itself against other companies, FMs may want to review their own practices first. For example, a manufacturer might compare the facility operations of its plant in Toledo to its plant in Seattle.
Another benefit of internally focused benchmarking is that companies can zero in on operations that are truly vital. You have to know what’s important to your own business. You can’t say one benchmark is critical to everyone. Take “equipment downtime,” for example. This benchmark obviously would have a different level of importance depending on the company in question. In a company that strives for 24-hour equipment operation, downtime statistics are far more telling than they are for a facility where only some equipment is used some of the time.
Things get trickier when FMs start measuring their department’s methods versus outside companies. If they become too numbers-obsessed, FMs can drive themselves to distraction just trying to keep up with the Joneses. Critical benchmark indicators can vary by industry or market sector and can even vary within an industry, based on local conditions, business culture, geographic location, and age of facilities. As a result, the major focus of benchmarking should be on the process not the numbers. If you know exactly what you do, then you can look at other companies’ numbers and see how they got there.
Measuring only cost is a losing approach.The better approach is to compare practice. The payoff is not in the cost, it’s in the process. The facilities profession is to hung up on square feet. The only people who should care about square feet are real estate people. The better measure for FMs and senior management is ‘cost per head’ or ‘cost per seat’. When you move up the chain of complexity, that’s where benchmarking data starts falling apart.
The best in class for facility operations is a difficult concept. For example, allocating the least amount of space for offices may be best in class in terms of efficient use of space, but it may have a detrimental effect on employee morale and productivity.
What’s in it for me?
The original impetus for benchmarking was the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement, in which tangible measurements and hard data were often the yardsticks used. But now people are doing it for more experiential reasons. They are benchmarking for the same reason they go to conferences – to learn.
Furthermore, facilities professionals, who may not be particularly adept at corporate politics, can’t be shy about trumpeting their benchmarking efforts. Today’s facility management professional must be able to promote and market his contributions to the organization.
List of customer-oriented marketing initiatives that can be undertaken by facilities departments:
• Involve facilities departments in employee orientation;
• Publish FM department newsletters for clients and management;
• Offer facility tours and presentations;
• Use surveys, report cards, customer interviews, and focus groups to evaluate the facilities department’s performance.
The good news is that senior management may be willing to invest in benchmarking and best practices. They’re building it into their budgets. It’s hard for senior management to say ‘we don’t want to compare ourselves to our competitors’.
Benchmarking is only half the job. After the best in class practices are identified, the organization must be ready to implement them. Too often novice FMs stop the process after comparing their performance with others and learning they are ahead.
Maybe not quite perfect, but benchmarking and the adoption of best practices can help facilities departments get a better handle on both operations and customer service.