Core Values

Modern business speak is all about mission, vision, culture and core values and these are all incredibly important particularly in a service context such as Workplace and Facilities Management. Core values help define expected behaviour and so in the final evaluation, all that is unique about a service is the people who deliver it, everything else can be replicated.

This post was inspired by a post at by Anne Lennox-Martin which touched on the subject, What are FM’s Values?  This got me thinking about the issue of what are the shared professional values of our industry as opposed to personal or corporate values of the individual companies that make up Facilities Management.


In the blog, Anne touches on the issue of values in different contexts as well as the difference in values when you are moving towards a goal or away from an undesirable outcome. I encourage all of you all to read the article. What I want to explore is how we can collectively change the external perceptions of what FM is all about after all as an industry don’t even seem to be able to agree on a definition of what FM is.

I am not going to venture to suggest what I think these industry values should be but I have challenged all my readers to leave me their comments at the end of the post so that we can debate this at a future date. What I want to do in this post is to explore why core industry values are important.

The reading of Anne’s post coincided with me having to help my nine-year-old son with his homework this week. He had been tasked with writing a speech to be given to his class, about family rules. In explaining to him why we had family rules I had to explain that family rules originate from and are guided by our family’s values. Explaining family values to him and the inevitable ‘why Dad?’ took me down a number of rabbit holes that I was lucky to escape from alive!

In ruminating on this it occurred to me that the sort of unity that core values bring to an organisation could have helped us as an industry with the challenges we have faced over the last few years. The seemingly never-ending race to the bottom characterised by the increasing commoditisation of our service could have been avoided if as an industry we had stuck together around a core value of competing on the value provided, rather than the prices that we would work for. In the end, we only have ourselves to blame, we get the customers we deserve and as Jim Rohn once said “you are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”  perhaps this is true for our customers as well?

What are Core Values?

Although values definitely play a central role in ethical decision making there are variations about what constitutes a value. A value can be defined as an item of worth. People attach values to all sorts of things: careers, money, cars, love, education and so on. What people value they find worthy of their pursuit and pursue only that which they value. In short, values are one of the prime motivating factors in human behaviour.

In this respect, values are often very personal. Once we have chosen those items that we find most worthy of our pursuit, then our way of being the kind of person we are has been mapped out for us. The values that so define us are usually called our “core values.” These are basic values that we might be willing to die for, that we would not sacrifice nor abandon.

How then do we look at core values for a profession? Let’s start with a quick recap of what many of us would be familiar with, which is our companies core values.

  • What your organisation believes in
  • The organisation’s biggest priorities
  • The principles that guide your activities

Organisations will typically define 5-10 core values, and you can be as creative as you want with them. Once defined, the importance of your core values must be communicated to all employees, so staff embrace and ‘live’ your values in all they do at work. When it comes to an industries core values it’s not really any different. They should provide the framework from which an industry engages with all of its audiences to ultimately influence and shape the culture of the industry.

In the same way, that company values are communicated, it is important to recognise that these values, these underlying beliefs, attitudes and behaviours aren’t just words written in a handbook or a code of conduct that gets dusted off when someone needs to be reminded of them. They need to be consistently communicated to ensure they are lived and breathed by everyone within that particular body.

Values are hard to teach, unlike skills and techniques, and if they are not shared by the people within our industry, there can be conflict and disconnect. Whilst healthy competition between organisations within an industry is healthy it is important that the industry itself presents a united front to its competitors and particularly when representing itself and trying to communicate the value to potential Customers.<

What Should Core Values be?

Surely if we are guided by our personal values and those of the company that we work for what is the point of having a set of industry values? I hear you say. By understanding the things that you value as an industry, you can determine what direction you should take in everyday situations, but also during times of uncertainty.

I am not going to offer what I believe facilities management core values should be other than to say they should be inspiring, motivational and aspirational. They should not be rules, but they should intrinsically underpin all the desired behaviours that we believe are valuable to our stakeholders and Customers. A sound value framework will provide all members of our industry a guide on how to act in any given situation on a day-to-day basis.

What Core Values are not

I once worked for a Company where a huge proportion of our budget was spent on the rollout of company values together with cultural revolution workshops and other cultural change initiatives. This was one of the most progressive campaigns of education around the issues of core values I have ever witnessed. It was sorely needed due in part to the lack of change management that had preceded the recent outsourcing of public sector workers into the private sector that had formed the company.

What I found particularly peculiar about the values that had been chosen was that some of them I felt should have been taken for granted. They should have been expected and necessary as our licence to operate. Values such as honesty, integrity and respect are commonplace values which adorn the boardroom of many companies. I would suggest that the inclusion and promotion of such basic values which are there to underpin basic ethics and remind the staff of the behaviours that are expected, should raise suspicion rather than levels of comfort.

To shout such core values from the rooftops does not inspire confidence from Customers, particularly where issues such as Customer centricity,  service experience, quality or excellence are nowhere to be seen. These values and others like them would have been far more applicable in the service context.

Facilities Management Core Values

Values should not be selling messages, Business strategies or competencies, although a good value system would again be the foundation for all of these. We often talk about the ability of FM to add value but what are the values of the profession? The web abounds with examples of FM mission, vision and value statements, here are three.

It is interesting to note that these are all universities, I am not sure what that says??

But what about our FM associations?  BIFM has a list of 4, our American cousins IFMA perhaps expectedly have a more expansive list of 11. SAFMA do not publish a list of their core values but I happen to know that they are Professionalism, Honesty, Openness, Integrity and  Inclusiveness.

I am not here to pass judgement on any of these institutions, two of which I am a member of, but it is interesting to note that the only value that is common to all three is professionalism. This is indeed an aspirational core value in an industry that is struggling with its identity as a profession.

I want to follow Simon Sinek’s example and understand the ‘why’ we have a set of values in the first place. FM has organically morphed into a profession from a plethora of other singular disciplines that represent an 180-degree view of the support industry landscape. FM has such an extensive spectra of services delivered by a broad church of people is it an impossible task to align them all?

In a recent meeting between a number of parties representing the FM industry here in South Africa I was heartened to hear agreement around the table to the statement that “there is no competition between outsourced and insourced providers of FM”. No matter which side of the commercial fence you operate on we have traditionally been bought up to believe that our way is the right way.

In truth, outsourcing is not an issue about facilities it is a commercial or business decision. Whether you are outsourced provider all an in-house provider we are all brothers and sisters in arms. To this end, our values should be the same. But because core values are so subjective, they will be relative to the individual who holds them and potentially biased due to our context.

But there are other ways that values can be defined as well. The idea of “shared values” is important. Here conflict about values is replaced with agreement and harmony. Groups, families, associations, societies and nations can be said to have and hold shared values since they provide the fundamental basis upon which these collectives are formed and so shared values are often called “social values”. A shared value is a kind of “cement” that holds and brings people together.

Organisations, such as corporations and professions, share values that help define their field of activity. In medicine, for example, helping and caring for others is highly valued. In the field of law, justice and due process are pre-eminent, while safety, competence and efficiency are valued by engineers. One can identify the shared values of the various professions and use them as one way to define what it means to be a professional in that field.

Thus, certain social values need to be preserved and protected by professionals. Social values like freedom, equality, justice and so on need to be the hallmarks of professional life. When they are replaced with the values of self-interest by a professional, then a lack of professionalism results.

The Importance of Core Values

I think it is fair to say that when we are around people with whom we share common values and beliefs, we feel safer and more secure, happier if you like. Having a set of shared values that everyone buys into is what helps to shape a strong culture. If we are happy we have a more positive outlook on all aspects of our lives, our environment, the people we work with, and the work we produce. So, get the culture right first and the rest should follow.

FM is in a period of transition and we need to face the challenges of our industry together, ‘united we stand divided we fall’  the ever growing commoditisation of our industry is our fault, after all, we give our client permission to treat us the way they do and we should not, therefore, complain about our lot in life. If we can come together and define the values that we stand for in FM and use them properly to serve our customer, whether fee-paying or not, then these can deliver real business value to us and our clients

We have seen that values can define influence and our entire culture. Which means they can impact everything from employee attitudes to the quality of our services. Establishing strong core values provides both internal and external advantages. Values are the essence of our identity the principles, beliefs or philosophy of values.

The simple truth is, core values are very important in determining how all of our stakeholders view what we bring as a profession to the market.

6 Benefits of Core Values for the FM industry

  1. They determine FM’s Unique Value Proposition.

    FM is not widely understood in the market, and we are forever having to educate our clients as to the value of FM to them. There are many competitors for our services, being clear about our core values and what that offers our clients, will set us apart as an industry from our pretenders.

  2. Core values are primary recruiting and retention tools.

    The shortage of both technical, business and service talent is one of the biggest threats to the sustainability of our industry. FM needs to recruit people with the right stuff, to attract large numbers of young, bright and vibrant talent from alternative industries such as hospitality. In order to do this, we need people who are in alignment with our values. Today’s career seekers are doing their homework on the identities of the industries they want to work in and weighing whether or not these sectors hold the values that they consider important. By advertising what we in FM stand for, we can attract applicants who share our core values and are inspired by them.

  3. They communicate what is important.

    Our core values as an industry enable us to communicate to our clients what is important to us. Most of our value delivery proposition rightly focuses on our clients but we also need to communicate what is important to us in these partnerships. Clarifying our values to our customers and clients will enable us to engage in a better conversation and subsequent collaboration.

  4. They influence behaviour.

    Sub-contractors and suppliers who deliver services to our client’s sites are often employed by several different FM suppliers. A consistent set of values across the industry would make it easier for us to ensure that these important stakeholders are upholding the FM Brand image at the coal face. It influences what our Clients can see and how our staff live our values inside the four walls of their facilities.

  5. They contribute to the overall success of the industry.

    No two FM companies are the same. However, the guiding light of a set of industry core values allows all operators to take positive action because they aspire to live up to those core values.

  6. Aids in the Decision Making Process.

    With the current increasing focus on the workplace, its impact on productivity, health and wellbeing together with the impending impact of technology and compliance, FM is at a crossroads in its existence. As an industry, we are faced with a situation where the appropriate action may not be clear. Reviewing our core values will give us all the information we need to make a decision.               

 Thank you for taking the time to read to the end I would like to set a challenge for this week. Please leave a comment below as to “What do you believe are or should be the core values of FM “