WHAT ROBERT BURNS CAN TEACH TODAYS FACILITIES MANAGERS

20th January 2015

On or around the 25th January, many in Scotland and around the world will be celebrating Burns Night. This celebration of the life and works of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns will involve the reciting of many of his works, a traditional dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties (haggis, swede and potatoes) and of course a wee dram of whisky or two.

So what could a man born over 250 years ago in rural Ayrshire have to teach today’s Facilities Managers?

For me, the lessons are there in some of his greatest works. My personal favourite is ‘To a Mouse’, the tale of Burns reflections upon ploughing up a small mouse’s winter nest when working the fields in his Ayrshire farm.

Robert Burns Mouse - Anabas FMThe second verse is as follows:

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
That makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An’ fellow mortal!

Burns clear connection between his farming activities and their impact on the wildlife that shares the fields is evident, as is his dismay at what has transpired.

So what does this have to do with a 21st century FM running one or more complex buildings in any given city centre?

The average facilities Managers job description is now so peppered with references to sustainability and environmental credentials it has developed a lexicon of its own. The problem is, that too often it has become just another set of terms and things to manage. Another box to tick or a form to fill. I feel that there are a generation of Managers out there who have lost the direct connection with the true ecological impact of their activities, and who can blame them? To really follow the chain of cause and effect in any one of these areas is now so very complex that few have the time and resources to follow it through.  Also, few really have the time to reflect in the deep way that caused Burns to stop, observe and capture the impact and the moment.

What would it take to really follow through and understand the true impact of just one environmental aspect of your building?

I’ve heard many an FM boast about their buildings BREEAM rating but do they really, truly know the ongoing environmental impact of the facility?

In the fourth verse Burns considers the mouse’s perilous predicament.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An bleak December’s win’s ensuing,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Turned out of its winter den, with no foliage to rebuild and December’s cold winds almost upon it the mouse is in mortal danger as winter fast approaches.

Sadly the mouse did not have the chance to turn to the favourite handbook of the facilities managers – the business continuity plan. The facilities manager has become an integral part, alongside the IT department, with keeping a business going when disaster strikes. How familiar is your facilities managers with the BCP for when there is a catastrophic event in your property. Or is that manual gathering dust on the shelf, unread for a couple of years and now out of date?

And finally, on that broader theme of the unexpected, this leaves probably the best known passage from the poem:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

man planning - Anabas FM

Every facilities manager I’ve ever met has always told me how much they love the variety of the job and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how well you plan and consider what might happen in your building, it’s a certainty that things won’t always go to plan. With a great dollop of common sense and a healthy dose of tenacity facilities managers almost always prevail against the daily unexpected challenges, with just the odd dose of ‘grief an’ pain’.

And so ‘To a Mouse’ provides some thought provoking consideration for sustainability, business continuity and the ability to deal with whatever the building or its occupants can throw at your average FM on a daily basis.

So this Burns Night, raise a glass of whisky, toast the bard and reflect on some wonderful thought provoking poetry.

P.S.- I have, of course, resisted the temptation to make any reference to pest control which can vex many a facilities manager……for obvious reasons!

Alistair Craig


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