Networking is an activity that, when things go well, can be invaluable for anyone in any business. But when things don’t, can prove to be just a waste of someone’s limited and valuable time. With the FM networking scene, particularly in London, often involving so many of the same faces, have things become stale? FMJ talks to people from inside and outside the FM sector and considers where networking might need freshening up a little Everyone involved in the FM sector up and down the land has had good days, where they walk into a networking event and immediately walk into someone who they can do business with. A match made in heaven, just like that. Equally everyone involved in the industry has had the bad days, where they don’t meet anyone worthwhile at all, or they just don’t have the strength after a long week at the coalface, or, worst of all, where everyone else seems to have turned up with the sole intention of getting as drunk as possible as fast as possible.
What can be done to ensure that everyone has far more of the good days and far less of the bad days? There are endless books, articles, websites and advice columns that promise to teach you how to network, how to be confident when meeting new people, how to sell yourself and presumably how to conquer the world in 30 minutes or less. But with FM being a relatively closed profession, and networking events all too often an excuse for the same faces to meet in slightly different places, is the industry missing something? Are there things that can be learned from outside traditional FM to make networking more productive for everyone? What about the younger voices in the sector, those who have, relatively speaking, spent less time in the facilities management arena, what do they think of the networking scene? Has anything struck them as in need of change?
To try and answer these questions FMJ spoke to two people. Paul Whitnell, founder of the British and Irish Trading Alliance (Bita) and Andrew Hulbert Managing Director of Pareto FM, Chairman of the Young Managers Forum (YMF) and the Facilities Management Association’s Young Manager of the Year in 2010.
The Bita was formed by Paul Whitnell in 2013, launched in the Irish Embassy in London during that November. Whitnell’s experiences in setting up his own business operations in Britain as well as moving his family to England were the driving force behind his aspirations to help not just individuals, but businesses and even the Irish economy to prosper.
They have three methods of achieving this:
Networking – Creating links between British and Irish businesses in order to increase and improve commercial opportunities.
Employment – Creating job opportunities for Irish people both in the UK and Ireland, across all sectors.
Investment – Creating a forum for UK based investors in search of equity investments and providing opportunities to Irish business and entrepreneurs.
But it is the networking experience that could prove of real value to facilities managers. The Bita does not limit itself by operating in only one sector of the market place, they welcome members from any spheres so long as they sign up to the maxim “People who know people that help people.”
This is the unofficial mantra of the alliance and underpins a lot of what they believe in. If one member can introduce another to someone helpful, they do. This might sound straight forward, simplistic even, but it is incredible how often Whitnell has seen people who seem to have no viable business relationship, be able to provide invaluable help to each other.
For example one Irish band, who approached the Bita were put in touch with a friend of a friend, so to speak, who organised a showcase event at the BBC which led to them being signed on an independent record label. In the past 6 months over 21 Irish companies have forged links through the Bita, links that would have remained unforced had they only networked within their own industry.
So, honestly, how many facilities managers can say that they have taken the opportunity to rub elbows and schmooze outside of their own sector in the past year? You never know who you might meet, or how they might help you.
YOUNG MANAGERS FORUM
Andrew Hulbert is, for a young manager, a man with a mightily impressive CV. His LinkedIn page reads a little bit like the Wikipedia entries for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, fairly quickly the achievements and accolades start to blur into one as you scroll down the page. And keep scrolling. Then scroll some more. As chair of the BFG’s Young Manger’s Forum, Hulbert has plenty of experience of networking, from an ordinary guest’s point of view, that of a guest speaker and even that of an organiser. His views make interesting reading. Frst of all he supports the notion that networking outside and beyond the FM box can be hugely beneficial. “This is really important for the industry,” he says. “It is good to get an outside world view on things and relate them back to our sector.”
As you would expect of someone in his position Hulbert is adamant that networking is definitely a worthwhile use of a manager’s time. “The people you meet, the subjects you hear about, the new ideas you come across are invaluable. As operational FMs it is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day drama that comes with facilities that we often forget to take a step back and put everything we do in to perspective. Going to a networking event and having a chat with someone that has exactly the same problems can be a great way to get new perspective on things. Also let’s face it, we work in a small industry, you never know who you are going to meet that may be able to help you in the future or vice versa.”
However that is not to say that there aren’t areas that could be improved upon. Hulbert says that the events he’s involved with for the BIFM and YMF typically see a dropout rate in the region of 40 per cent. A lot of this comes down to personal preference: “It really depends on the type of networking that fits your personality and style,” he explains.
“Some people the find social events more enjoyable where the formal stuffiness is removed. This can mean it is less daunting to enter a room potentially filled with senior and influential people within the industry. Networking can be a daunting thing, so to get the most out of it, find something you are comfortable with. The other key is perhaps to go for events whereby you are interested in the subject, that way you’ll have loads to chat to fellow networkers about on the night. I would say find which one works for you, go for those ones first to build confidence then start to get involved in different formats.”
But what is it that can actually be done to ensure that a networking event is beneficial?
“The key is creating an environment where people can easily connect. A social, buzzing, energetic environment where it is okay to walk over to a new group you don’t know and join a conversation. That is the best type of environment where everyone feels comfortable and can get the most out of it. Ultimately we are there to share ideas and this is the best way to achieve it. In terms of evolving I think locations, submits and methods will change in the future. It is hard to see how networking events will evolve, the whole premise is to bring people together in person and in convenient location. I very much look forward to seeing how they do evolve, and shaping that – we have some interesting ideas in the YMF on what we can do differently.”
Full article can be found in FMJ September 2014 edition or online at http://www.fmj.co.uk/social-network/