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FM’s professional institutes: how are they doing?

In the first quarter of this year we hosted a brief survey asking for views from across the FM sector on the roles and effectiveness of the two key professional membership bodies. Here are the results.

We wanted to hear what the FM community thinks about the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the British Institute of Facilities Management, including the benefits of membership, how well each is doing at representing the profession and whether practitioners believe there are areas where these organisations could do better or perhaps new areas that they should be exploring.

i-FM 30-second surveys are not intended as definitive market research. What they are is a snapshot of opinion, indicative of how many people in the marketplace view issues. Though they probably don’t provide a reliable basis for business strategy going forward, they do capture opinions and insights that merit serious consideration and perhaps more structured investigation.

This survey was not proposed, created or sponsored in any way by either RICS or BIFM. It was initiated on the basis of views received by i-FM from various quarters in the industry and more specifically as a follow-up to the session held at the Workplace Futures conference in February of this year. In that session, both organisations gave presentations on the strategy, objectives and deliverables the sector can expect each to pursue over the near-term. We came away from this feeling that BIFM and RICS are looking at both the present and the future from very different standpoints. The latter struck us as upbeat, ambitious, and enthusiastic about growing its involvement in FM and the benefits it can bring to practitioners; the former was downbeat and unexpectedly complacent, offering no particular vision for the future other than its continued focus on qualifications and training. There was much discussion about this session on the day of the conference, and this survey was subsequently launched to provide a wider base for gathering views across the industry.

Who’s a member and why?

First, for an insight into the points of view offered by respondent to this survey, we asked about membership in the two professional bodies. About 20% of the group said they were a member of neither, with about the same proportion saying they were a member of RICS (the majority of those hold Member status, with smaller numbers at Associate and Fellow level). Most of our respondents – 60% – are members of BIFM, with the nature of that membership breaking down this way:

  • Affiliate 6%
  • Associate 6%
  • Member (Individual) 43%
  • Member (Corporate) 13%
  • Certified 24%
  • Fellow 8%

We also asked if respondents had previously been a member of one of the bodies but resigned, or whether they were currently a member and considering resigning. This was relevant to RICS in only a very few cases. But nearly a fifth of the group (18%) said they had previously been a member of BIFM and subsequently resigned, and another 11% said they were considering resigning. In all, that puts nearly a third of our sample on the lost or at-risk list – potentially quite a worrying indicator for the Institute.

‘Churn’ in membership organisations is not unusual. At the BIFM a churn rate of around 15% appears to be typical, with the general membership growth rate over the years being positive albeit rather slow. What could be additionally problematic, however, is the level of free memberships provided to students and employees of some organisations if these do not convert ultimately into paid-for memberships.

The survey then went on to ask people why they had resigned or were considering resigning. The answers fell broadly into two categories, cost weighed against benefits and value based on effectiveness:

  • Fees excessive
  • Our corporate membership did not represent value for money
  • Recent events / webinars have left me wondering at the benefit of membership particularly with such high fees
  • Didn’t find them professional or leading edge. Trying to be all things to all people and failing.
  • Ineffective in promoting the industry and little kudos attached to membership
  • Ineffective organisation
  • Lack of purpose and direction
  • Not providing leadership, promotion of FM profession, innovation or collaboration

We then turned the question around and asked, ‘if you have never been a member, have you considered joining?’

Speaking about RICS, more than a quarter of the group (28%) said yes and they were still considering it. We got a variety of answers when we asked for the thinking behind this:

  • Carries gravitas
  • I believe RICS is the way forward. BIFM has lost its way and it’s time for it to fold
  • If RICS can offer insight, value and networking opportunities then I’m all ears
  • Probably via an FM route. I have an accredited RICS degree
  • The offer from RICS is now more appealing with IFMA association

Another 15% said they had considered joining RICS but decided against it, again for a variety of reasons:

  • Length of application/approval time etc to join
  • The cost to join – not sure of the benefits and employer probably won’t support it
  • Too exclusive in its membership approach and downgrades experienced but not qualified candidates
  • More focused on property management
  • Too skewed to property transactions, and in reality, FM is not RICS core business especially for technically biased operators

Interestingly, the numbers for BIFM under this question were smaller – 11% considered and still considering, 10% considered and decided against. The key sticking points for prospective members were these:

  • Attempting to understand what the benefits will be
  • Uncertain benefits from expensive membership
  • BIFM appear to be a financial mess
  • Unsure where FM professional bodies are going

Turning to a broader view of what FM’s professional bodies offer, we asked respondents to rank six benefits in order of importance and then invited comments on other benefits each body offers. The results for RICS were as follows:

RICS benefits ranked by frequency of mention

  1. Professional accreditation & recognition
  2. Qualifications
  3. Networking
  4. Professional development, advice & support
  5. News, information & knowledge
  6. Training

Other benefits cited

  • Access to business space in London – invaluable
  • Credibility outside specialist field
  • Links beyond the FM industry to govt
  • Visible efforts to progress
  • Chartered status
  • Post nominals

BIFM benefits ranked by frequency of mention

  1. News, information & knowledge
  2. Networking
  3. Professional development, advice & support
  4. Professional accreditation & recognition
  5. Training
  6. Qualifications

Other benefits cited

  • Learning and knowledge sharing
  • Practical hands-on FM experience
  • Promotion of the industry and its available skills and services
  • Wider representation of benefits of our industry

Views on performance

We then asked, whether you are a member or not, how do you rate each organisation’s performance overall within FM?

To round out these views, we also invited comments. The majority of these were directed at BIFM and clearly reflect the views of the respondents who rated the Institute more harshly:

  • BIFM is going through a difficult patch and I hope they can recover
  • BIFM appear to be losing ground to RICS which is becoming a stronger global player through its association with IFMA
  • BIFM does little or nothing for corporates or the promotion of the skills in the industry
  • BIFM is a casualty of an industry that has spent the past decade navel gazing and procrastinating about its identity…move on please
  • BIFM is becoming very complacent and not really supporting FM, other than in its commercial enterprises, such as awards and training
  • BIFM need to move form strong to very strong and become the leading Institute all things FM like RICS is the leading Institute on all things surveying around the world
  • Feel BIFM should be stronger but fails to properly promote itself adequately
  • Bewildered by BIFM – lots of goodwill but little strategic thinking

Other comments applied specifically to RICS:

  • RICS appears only focused on earning fees
  • RICS’ core business is not FM and consequently FM is always a second level interest
  • RICS is clearly in it for the membership and BIFM struggle to make the strategic case for their positioning
  • RICS has claimed the strategic offering
  • RICS’ performance is clearly growing nationally and globally with the IFMA partnership

Some comments appeared to be directed at both bodies:

  • Everything is all too ‘global’ and high level rather than what we really do
  • It still feels that there is a lack of FM representation in the built environment sector, despite the operational lifecycle of a built asset being far more costly
  • No visible leadership

With a more specific focus on performance, we asked respondents how they thought each organisation is doing in terms of meeting the needs of FM professionals now and for the future.

Again, we invited comments to add greater perspective:

  • Both are only interested in increasing membership to increase their income
  • Both can do more but I still believe one Institute rather than several should represent FM
  • Need stronger leadership and a clear vision
  • RICS is possibly trying harder than BIFM at the moment to meet member needs rather than turn into an “old colleagues” club. Neither is particularly representative of those working in FM particularly on the supplier side
  • RICS for the strategic contribution, BIFM for the tactical & operational levels
  • RICS’ area of weakness is having a broader reach right across the FM sector. Its FM representation is perceived at a higher level of management. BIFM has industry wide reach – but is not engaging enough people

Suggestions for the way forward

Finally, we asked respondents if they had any views on things either organisation could do to enhance its role, increase its value or boost its impact. This produced long lists in both cases – the quoted views below are typical.

Comments directed at RICS

  • Clarify why it’s developed an interest in FM, why it thinks it should have the leadership role in FM
  • Make FM entry process more FM focused
  • Research led guidance/white papers, to help empower the strategic FM
  • Work with FM industry and business to advance a broader model which not only underpins today’s FM but also helps develop tomorrow’s FM and business needs
  • Talk to BIFM

Comments directed at BIFM

  • Become a voice for FM, get a CEO and keep them and get them to change the outdated structure of the BIFM so that it can be effective
  • BIFM needs to look long and hard at its internal organisation and leadership function and take heed of the regional groups that appear better organised and committed
  • Clear strategy, better communication, more inspiring employees
  • Engage with senior leaders within our industry and beyond, demonstrate the benefits of doing this
  • Stabilise the leadership and get to being outward facing
  • Talk to RICS

Conclusions

Several ‘headline results’ jump out of this survey.

First, a significant proportion of our respondent group described themselves as former members of the BIFM and now resigned or current members who are considering resigning. This suggests the Institute has a problem with, or could be facing a problem with, attrition. If that’s the case, it needs to ask why?  Our results suggest that costs and value for money judgements together with concerns about direction and effectiveness are undermining members’ confidence.

Second, how ‘the target population’ of these organisations ranks the benefits on offer at each is intriguing. Professional accreditation & recognition and qualifications are ranked first and second in importance at RICS, exactly what one might expect from a long-established chartered professional body. News, information & knowledge and networking are ranked first and second at BIFM, perhaps indicative of the expectations of a younger profession where these services are a more central part of career development. The Institute may find it disappointing that qualifications and training, the key areas where it has sought to differentiate itself in recent years, were placed at the bottom of the list of perceived benefits. Qualifications and training have been a major focus for the BIFM for many years. The interim CEO’s background is in this area, and it was clear from her presentation at Workplace Futures that she sees this remaining a major focus. Further evidence for that lies in the Institute’s campaign to extend its qualifications programme beyond the UK; and, within the UK, its separation from the longstanding BIFM Training joint venture in order to bring training operations under its full control. Training and qualifications are important, of course, but numerous previous surveys, as well as take-up numbers over time, indicate that these have a limited audience – one that is not likely to be sufficient to serve as the key plank in a professional organisation’s growth and development strategy.

Third, the spread of opinion on performance overall at RICS is mainly concentrated in the middle of our scale, with the greatest proportion of our group labelling it ‘mixed’. At BIFM, the spread of opinion is much more varied, with more people holding views at the high end of the scale and the low end.  The former is good news; the latter is not.

Fourth, in the succeeding question, regarding views on how well the organisation is meeting the needs of FM professionals now and for the future, the weight of opinion for the BIFM is at the bottom of the scale – also worrying for the Institute. It is no secret that BIFM is suffering from a lack of leadership, vision and strategy, to some extent caused by – and evidenced in – the repeated change in Chief Executive over recent years. There have also been (again) financial problems associated with, amongst other things, the inability to successfully deliver a new website and CRM system. Issues like this damage perception of the Institute and undermine its ambitions.

Fifth, there are clearly lots of ideas out in the marketplace concerning what customers would like to see from these two organisations. If either or both see a need for input from the base of members or potential members, some structured market research would uncover such input quickly.  In this connection it is worth noting that this survey produced a number of comments from respondents praising the exercise and expressing hope that the results would be taken on-board by RICS and BIFM to improve both clarity in the marketplace and their own individual performance.

Overall, the clear impression conveyed by the results of this survey is that both RICS and BIFM do some things well and meet the needs of some practitioners effectively. That is mixed with a fair degree of criticism of both organisations.  Some of that criticism is probably inevitable – not everyone is going to be happy all the time – but unquestionably a good deal of this criticism arises from the fact that FM professionals are confused and concerned. Clearly, many feel that neither body is making a concerted, convincing case for its place in the FM landscape, the value of its offer to members and prospective members, or its importance to the future of the industry and the professionals within it.

Inevitably, given the composition of the respondent group (60% are BIFM members), much of the weight of the key messages emerging from this survey is directed at the Institute.  If the BIFM is to have a bright and successful future it needs to be seen to be more in touch with the FM community, it needs to resolve its leadership issues and develop a clear and sound strategy for the future, and it needs to communicate at various levels much more effectively. To facilitate all this, it needs to ensure that senior positions are filled by skilled, talented and experienced people who can work as a team to resolve – and be seen to be resolving – the sorts of issues that have been highlighted here.

It is difficult to recall a time when both confidence and optimism regarding the BIFM were at such a low point. We hear concerns and negative views regularly from stakeholders at all levels and from people in the industry generally. It would be good news indeed to hear of the appointment of a new Chief Executive; but in the meantime – as we have said on many occasions in the past – a carefully crafted external communication strategy could go some way towards laying the groundwork for the turn-around that the Institute clearly requires. The ‘keep calm and carry on as usual’ approach can only do so much.

This article first appeared in i-FMon 13th March 2017.

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