Managing buildings is a complex, issues based role. The best way to deliver excellent services to your customers and provide stewardship for the asset is to leverage the knowledge, ideas and solutions of others.

The most successful Facility Managers realize that they can’t possibly know it all. They either have a deep knowledge of a particular area or they have a broad base of general knowledge. Either way, they have to rely on experts or their network to find out about products, services, technology, techniques and tools quickly and easily.

Networking isn’t just about socializing or trying to find the next job. By networking, you interface and surround yourself with resources that at some point will help you solve a problem, leverage products, supplies and talents, or give you advice about an issue. By expanding your network, you’ll benefit over the long term.

Networking with Peers & Colleagues

Networking with peers is the most obvious way to network. It’s a valuable way to gain new knowledge and ideas. First, you need to recognize that there others who are willing to share locally and around the world.

Networking doesn’t have to be formal. Start by meeting your peers at the next IFMA meeting and then take it to the next step by connecting with them between meetings and getting several peers together to discuss issues once in a while. Don’t hesitate to share with your peers from companies you consider to be the competition – as long as they share with you too.

Even within your own company, take more effort to work with your colleagues. You probably only see them during company meetings, so make the effort to keep in touch in between. Call or email them when you learn something they can benefit from, or contact them when you have a problem or issue to deal with and need to bounce ideas off them. Talking with others about an issue usually leads you to a better solution than if you simply try to solve it yourself.

If you’re responsible for a team of Facility Managers, find projects and initiatives that you can assign to each of your team members that require them to connect with their counterparts in your group and possibly with other regions if applicable. Facility Managers are always busy with the day-to-day activities of managing their facilities and networking often takes a back seat. Giving them a concrete reason will help promote their interaction with each other.

Networking through Social Media

To expand your network through social media, consider business based social networking sites such as LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). You can link with other professionals and share updates and questions. You can expand your LinkedIn network by joining industry related groups to extend your network beyond your immediate peers and colleagues. Once you join a group, you can ask questions, join discussions about issues, share information and get input on issues.

Networking with Suppliers & Contractors

Networking isn’t just about connecting with other Facility Managers. You can learn a lot from suppliers and contractors if you make the effort. They are experts in their particular area and by talking with them, you can learn from them. Take the time to discuss their specialty with the supplier’s operations staff or even with the sales representatives.

Instead of worrying about receiving a sales pitch, take advantage of the time and ask probing questions. Often, they are more than happy to talk about what they’ve done for other Facility Managers, and you may discover something you didn’t know or learn about a peer you should be networking with.

Attend Trade shows and Conferences

When is the last time you got out of your office? If you don’t attend Facility or Facility Management related trade shows and conferences such as IFMA World Workplace or even IIDEX/Neocon or PM Expo, you aren’t keeping up with the industry or your peers and you aren’t discovering solutions and products that will benefit your company and customers. Sometimes you find solutions to problems you didn’t know you had.

At a trade show or conference, you not only get access to educational sessions, many of which apply towards maintenance credits for your designation, you get to look, touch and feel the products and talk to the sales folks.

If you’re afraid of getting sales calls, simply don’t give them your card or let them scan your badge. However, you can learn a lot from talking to the sales representatives. Most of them are friendly and won’t give you a hard sales pitch. You’ll see the usual vendors, but there are often many vendors you wouldn’t find out about except at the conference.

Don’t just go alone to a conference. Contact your network and see if they are attending and go with them as a group.  It’s an excellent way to spend time with people in your network. If you do have to go alone, make the effort to network with the strangers at your table if you sit for lunch or breakfast. You never know who you will meet.

While some organizations are more enlightened about the need to attend professional conferences, others don’t understand the value. To make the case for attending a conference, put it in terms of the benefits to your company and your responsibilities managing assets and serving customers.

If you have a hard time getting approval, identify specific seminars that are directly applicable to your issues and how they’ll help you deliver better results. Identify key vendors and exhibitors who have products or technical solutions you need, either for better efficiency, reduced risk or lower costs. Finally, outline how you’ll bring what you learn back to your job and share the knowledge with others in your company. It should appear as a working trip where you get industry information, education and solutions.

Getting Involved with your Association

Building a career means more than simply doing a good job for your employer. It also means getting involved in associations that represent your industry, such as IFMA. Involvement with your association brings a great deal of value to your career and your job, ultimately benefiting your employer at the same time. These associations are also the best place to start your networking efforts.

Since associations exist to further the industry and benefit their members, they also have resources to expand your knowledge in the field beyond the scope and experiences of your current role.

To get the most value out of your association, you can’t just sign up. You need to be an active member by becoming involved in the association as a volunteer in some capacity and you have to attend the meetings and seminars.

Being involved in the association itself can be quite rewarding, whether you hold a formal position or become part of a committee. By volunteering for a committee, you get more exposure within the association and increase your networking opportunities.

Michel Theriault is principal of Strategic Advisor, an FM consulting firm that helps Facility Managers plan, develop and implement strategic initiatives to improve results. Michel’s book, “Managing Facilities & Real Estate”, is now available. Contact Michel at michel@strategicadvisor.caor visit www.strategicadvisor.ca