hrXperts: Mr. Piepenbrock, you have been involved in infrastructural facility management for over 25 years. Their name says it all in the industry. How do you currently assess the order situation in the service industry?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: This is certainly a question of perspective. What can be observed at the moment is that the large companies in particular are increasingly losing orders and the medium-sized and smaller companies are mostly gaining orders. These orders are from the regional markets and from the medium-sized and smaller companies. On the whole, the order situation can be described as good, although it is certainly not yet at a satisfactory level for all areas. The reasons for this are Corona-related expansions of orders, but the flip side is also just as many, if not more, reductions, or a complete elimination of services, or orders.

hrXperts: Competitors on the market have recently suffered major customer losses – what do you attribute these to?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: Most companies that have to accept major order losses are predominantly preoccupied with themselves and take absolutely too little care of their customers. There are various reasons for this: On the one hand, many companies lack a clearly formulated strategy that is consistently communicated, and on the other hand, many companies lose the craftsmanship approach. People only talk about facility management, whether technical or infrastructural, forgetting that behind most areas there is a skilled trade, whether electrician, plumber, gas and water fitter, cook or building cleaner. Technical qualifications are increasingly taking a back seat here. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that behind most achievements there is a human being who wants to be motivated and guided. Customers particularly frequently cite the reason that a lack of support led them to change service providers. Often paired with poor performance, but clearly surpassed by staff shortages and high staff turnover.

hrXperts: How do you see the future of the service industry? What problems will have to be overcome in the future?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: The most important solution for the future will be to have personnel available for the existing orders. The company that succeeds in retaining employees and ensuring a steady supply of young talent has a “rosy future” ahead of it. In this context, the many promises that are already being made today must not be lip service, but perceptible fulfillment of promises. Clear structures, flat hierarchies and transparent, achievable and clearly formulated goals will be essential cornerstones of future success stories. The “old price war” and the motto: cheaper is always possible or “stinginess is cool” will give way to a new service and quality awareness, but above all, which company credibly has the necessary employee resources?

hrXperts: What challenges will companies face in the future as a result of advancing digitization? What can companies do/ What are you doing to stay ahead of the game?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: At this point, too, the focus is on the employee. What good does it do a company if it has the most amazing digitization project, but the employees don’t go along with it? The key here is to bring employees along from the start and explain to them why it’s important and what the goals behind each project are. Many employees view such projects as cost-cutting measures and see jobs at risk. Especially dangerous if you consider your own job to be at risk.
It goes without saying that digital workflows are an indispensable part of today’s working world and must be further expanded. These should in any case lead to further improvements in valid documentation and the further reduction of bureaucracy. The companies that succeed in sustainably increasing the willingness to make decisions and speed will be able to benefit from the positive effects of digitization, because it will continue to apply that the worst decision is the decision that is not made, and that it is not the big ones that eat the small ones, but the fast ones that eat the slow ones.

hrXperts: Is there a noticeable shortage of skilled workers in your job and how can this be counteracted?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: The shortage of skilled workers is noticeable everywhere, but it also varies completely from region to region. Each company must find its own way to counteract this shortcoming. The companies that are prepared to buy in expertise at the various hierarchical levels and also to remunerate them in line with their qualifications have already taken the first step. Then it is a matter of further expanding and multiplying the existing expertise. To achieve this, it will be necessary to agree training plans and development stages with each individual employee and also to follow them consistently. The importance of HR departments will certainly take on a new meaning at most companies. They will increasingly become talent managers than billing and recruiting departments. Employees should also be shown appropriate appreciation at various points. A good example of this is fleet guidelines, which serve purely to optimize costs. These should give way to those that serve employee retention. Surely this does not mean: make a wish.

hrXperts: The global pandemic is an impetus for many companies to question routines – which business practices could become established in the long term? What challenges did the pandemic pose for your company and how did you meet them?

Ekkehard Piepenbrock: There are also positive sides to the pandemic, and that doesn’t just apply to “professional optimists”. For example, it has shown many supervisors who were always opposed to home office arrangements that it has definitely led to productivity and creativity gains as well. Of course, there are those who have used this new situation exclusively for themselves and served the company less, but this is still a clear minority. This topic will certainly play an important role in employee retention and recruitment in the future.
Also, the meeting behavior has become a completely different. Long journeys and traffic jams on German highways are largely a thing of the past for many. Video conferencing will not disappear from business practices and is firmly established.

The bottom line for a personnel-intensive industry such as facility management should be: how do I tie employees to the company, how do I develop my own junior staff, and how do I succeed in training skilled workers and showing them future prospects so that they can help shape the company’s future in the long term. Satisfied and motivated employees result in satisfied customers and a high quality of service.

Ekkehard Piepenbrock born 1971, married 2 daughters 17 & 16 years. Active in infrastructural facility management for over 25 years. Managing director in medium-sized companies, formerly as umbrella managing director in a German group, and as management consultant for service companies, as well as their end customers. Expertise in the areas of sales & strategies, as well as organizational development and digitalization. Industry experience in healthcare, automotive, food and retail. Particular passion for employee development and junior staff development.