We have used stories to pass on information for thousands of years and they remain the most powerful way we know to communicate. Indeed, the power of story is magnified in today’s super-connected, transparent world – the truth gets out fast and can be widely communicated – to millions of people all over the world – in such a short space of time.
Here is a story which illustrates how employees’ “felt experience” every day strongly shapes their perception of an organisation and how the impact compares to official “corporate messaging”. This, in turn, highlights the critical (often underappreciated) role played by facilities management in reinforcing organisation brand and values. What are the implications for the role of Facilities Management and the wider HR agenda?
Please allow me to introduce you to Sam. From a young age, Sam had shown early promise, excelling at school, not only in academic subjects but also in art and music and a range of sports too. And he was popular too. Sam was one of those people we all wanted to be like….and some of us secretly hated!
Sam realised his early potential, gaining a first in Geology at Cambridge and going on to complete an MBA at Harvard, where he achieved an all time record score.
He fell in love with Claudia, an international jewelry designer, and in 2014 they welcomed baby Derek (!) into the world.
Their new arrival helped reconfirm Sam and Claudia’s commitment to protecting the planet. They had met in Oxford at a Greenpeace event and continued to develop an active interest in how best to protect the planet for future generations. This had just become a whole lot more personal.
Looking for a job was no straightforward task for Sam. Of course, he was in high demand from prospective employers but he had very specific criteria. In addition to an organisation that could offer interesting, challenging work, personal and career development and reasonable remuneration, Sam wanted to work close to home….and most importantly to work for a company that had a similar level of commitment to the environment.
Big Utility Co fitted the bill from day one. The Environment was one of their core values and received significant coverage in the annual report by the CEO. It was heavily featured in all of their recruitment advertising.
At the assessment centre, Sam was a big hit. No-one had scored so highly in the tests before and the assessors were amazed at Sam’s equally impressive social skills. One executive suggested that Sam was “future main Board material”.
Sam was offered a role where he would be working on projects across functions and with some of the senior leaders. He would be based at the office just 5 miles from his home. Sam was delighted … and so were Claudia and Derek.
On Sam’s first day at the office, he cycled to work and on his way from the car park to Reception, noticed a number of gas guzzling 4×4 vehicles parked at the front of the building. Being a curious person, he asked the receptionist whose vehicles they were. “Oh, the red one is the IT Director, that silver one is the Head of PR, and I think that blue one is the new lady in Health & Safety … sorry I don’t know her name.”
In his second week, one day there was a lot of activity in the vending machines area. The engineer explained “we’re installing these machines on all the office floors. Look, you choose which strength you want, put this foil sachet in here and “Bob’s your uncle”.” When Sam pointed out that the sachets were virtually indestructible and could not be recycled, the engineer said “I don’t know about that, mate, don’t you want better coffee?”
In week three, Sam emailed his PPT presentation to the fifteen people attending the review meeting the next day. At lunch, one of the PAs took him to one side and whispered “They like to have the document in front of them at meetings, so I will print a colour copy for everybody. You weren’t to know but important for the new boy to create a good impression. See you later.”
Week four was very busy and Sam had a number of deadlines to hit so one day he decided to work late into the evening. On the walk to his bike, he was reflecting on his first few weeks and turned around to look at the office building, only to see that all the lights were on, on every floor…
The Felt Experience is What Matters
You can imagine how Sam felt about the company he was working for. What was printed in the corporate literature was just not being followed through in the practical day to day operation of the business. A commitment to Values? I don’t think so. It was Sam’s “felt experience” that mattered rather than printed words in glossy corporate literature.
It is interesting to note that cars, vending machines, printing and night cleaning/utilities are all within the remit of Facilities Management. The FM function was clearly not playing its part in reinforcing the organisation values to its employees every day. This could have been for a number of different reasons and at a number of different levels, either within the FM/Real Estate function or more broadly in the organisation.
From a commercial perspective, the story raises several questions: What was the cost of attracting and recruiting Sam and others like him? What is the opportunity cost of having lost “future main Board material”? What is the cost in productivity and effectiveness of similarly disenchanted employees? What is the reputational risk of Sam’s experience and his views about Big Utility Co?
What are your organisation’s values and how could they be reinforced every day? I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and comments, please share them below.
Post script: Sam left Big Utility Co after three months and joined a political movement where he is expected to give the current representative a run for her money in the forthcoming election. Sam’s campaign is centered on the importance of values and bringing these to life every day at a personal, organisational and community level. A dialogue has been started with the CEO of Big Utility Co.
Footnote: This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Illustrations by John Montgomery