Executive Bio

Critical Thinking is Critical to FM

“Understanding a question is half an answer.” – Socrates

Amid the hurried pace of the typical facilities management workday, it often seems as if there is not a moment to spare. Making time for thoughtful, reflective, and critical thinking, however, is one of the most important assets in your leadership toolkit.

In a society that is often guided by the popular trend of the moment or what is perceived as politically correct, it is too easy to make “safe” decisions. But are they really “safe” at all? Not if they cause us to look past core values and beliefs, or evidence that points to unrecognized risk and opportunity. That is why one of the most beneficial things we can do when facing important matters is to … take a moment.

Take a moment to stop and reflect, to ask, think, and challenge. Take a moment to dig deeper, to test, to question, and prove. Then you will know that your conclusions will stand and that you can stand for them.

As a parent I instructed my children to live their lives based on their values and beliefs, to think beforehand about situations they could be in and what tests they would experience as a result. I taught them to consider possible actions and consequences in advance so they would know where their values and beliefs would lead them, allowing them to make some of life’s big decisions based on who they really were and who they really wanted to become, not on the whims, desires, pressures, or feelings of the moment. Did I care which decisions they made in these critical moments? Of course, but I knew they would have to make them, not I. My job was to teach them how to make decisions they could defend which would benefit them and others. My job was to teach them to think.

The same can be said of our professional lives. Our first duty is to think, and as odd as it may sound it is not always as obvious as it seems. Thinking through important issues requires a deliberate process that investigates, analyzes, reflects, and reasons. It causes us to not only look at the data we have but to ask if it is the right data. More than testing if we are answering a question correctly, we must ask if we are asking the right question. It requires not only a skill set but also a mind-set, allowing for the careful dissection of a problem.

Why is this discussion relevant and important to FM’s? I would argue that it is a central part of our responsibility, and that it may challenge us to change behaviors that do not support critical thinking.

We must first make certain we are asking the right questions, not always the obvious ones. Analyzing data and making resulting decisions will not help, in fact will waste resources and hinder our efforts if we have asked the wrong questions.

The critical thinking process has a direct linkage to strategic alignment with the organizations we serve. It requires us to look outside the FM box, to engage with stakeholders, to anticipate and develop plans and options that benefit our customers and the enterprise.

It may require that we improve critical thinking, data management and analysis skill sets in  the FM suite. Investing smartly in our people, capacities, and capabilities is always a roadmap to improving the way we serve and help grow our business. 

It requires us to allow ourselves and others the time needed to conduct the process and presumes a willingness to accept conclusions we did not anticipate. The process must be honest, transparent, and inquisitive; letting the answers drive outcomes.

Transparency fosters understanding, commitment, and trust. It sets a standard of objectivity where “it is what it is” recognizes fact-based wisdom, not expediency, as the basis of decisions.

Exercised consistently, critical thinking becomes a distinct competitive advantage as decisions and actions are correctly focused, not only motivating right actions for the right reasons but also optimizing deployment of resources.

It positions FM as a thought leader in the organization, helping to build credibility and important relationships with customers and leadership.

Slow down. Take a minute. Think carefully. Act with integrity.

Do those things consistently and you will help establish a culture of objectivity and transparency that values right thinking, right decision making, and a results-based orientation.

Ken Burkhalter is a facilities and project management consultant, focused on strategic planning, capital projects, and organizational development. You can contact him at

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