Changing Markets Demand Changing Roles

Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012

Following the SSON survey we posted earlier this year, which asked readers to share the most important characteristics of shared services leaders, we received lots of feedback and discussion points on the subject.

One of these, which I found particularly interesting, came from Stuart Martin, a former HR Transformation "project management office" colleague at The Coca-Cola Company. He started an interesting dialogue when he sent me this searching question:

"For HR professionals -- how do we convince business leaders that the Director of HR Shared Services is more than a senior transaction lead? Rather, that they and their team are key to strategy and operations going forward? Thoughts?"

Stuarts’ question really got me thinking about a more fundamental point for shared services leaders than even that of "Boss Quality" -- something more penetrating. How do we influence the most senior members of the leadership team to ensure our shared services leaders actually get to be in the right place, at the right table, to influence business and HR transformation in the first place? After all, shared service leaders are so often found at least one level in the organigram below the HR leadership team – which is itself, in some cases, not where it should be either. So how can you influence the thinking on company vision, mission, and strategy -- or even one-year business objectives -- if your ideas and thoughts are filtered out somewhere between the agenda and the minutes of the last HRLT meeting?

My brain search for "Three Big Ideas" in response to Stuart’s question, led me to these essential entry requirements for HR shared services leaders to get to be real top table leaders:

One: Get the Branding Right.

HR shared services has certainly moved beyond the automation of HR processes, most of which have been done. Today, it offers substantial value in providing access to real-time workforce data analytics, and improving business decision-making speed and accuracy.

The HR shared services value proposition must be positioned as:

  • adding significant business value at the operational and strategic planning level,
  • transformational, and leading the way for the integration of business tools ,
  • improving both process and customer experience,
  • a leading business change agent for the required new ways of working across enabling functions.

… and not as the junior partner / administrator of HR, or even secondary to finance, IT or procurement. The brand goes beyond purely transactional excellence.

Branding across the globe now has immense power. For example: think of the commercial value of LinkedIn. The company has been sold for billions based on the service it offers and its strong brand value. We can see that there is a move away from traditional brands (brick and mortar) to virtual brands. Today’s shared services director who leads virtually and communicates through all social media has a far stronger connection and a much greater reach and potential to influence than the early triangle-model managers who pioneered Dave Ulrich’s "brave new world" back in 1995/6, when technology was in its infancy and the iPad just a glint in the apple of Steve Jobs’ eye.

Stuart adds that in his view: "It is quickly getting to the point where it is really possible to absorb much more HR process work from Centres of Expertise into Global Business Services (GBS). This is probably controversial, but I do think it’s time for the COE to let more of its work transition into GBS /Shared Services. Performance Management, Interactive Learning, and Talent Acquisition, are just some of the key processes which can be ably managed end-to-end from within Shared Services."

Second: Define and Find the New Skill-set and Leadership Style.

Today’s HR Shared Services leader needs to possess the clear competence and credibility to: act strategic, be a transformational leader, stay business-aligned, and think like an internal consultancy -- in addition to the usual bits such as the tactical/task-focused/operational delivery of "transactional excellence.

They also need to demonstrate in their actions that they are a truly "stractical" and commercial leader, capable of selling-in the benefits to the business with metrics and strong customer satisfaction scores. They need to be equal in stature to the head of a third party vendor, with the business acumen and commercial savvy to win, retain, maintain, and grow business.

Stuart agrees and adds the following additional skills to the list of requirements:

  • a deep understanding of various operating models (business and HR),
  • ability to identify how emerging technologies can be used in HR Shared Services model to enhance processes,
  • customer service and team dynamics,
  • ability to define and track workforce data for business trends,
  • inspirational and visionary leadership,
  • understanding of diverse business and country cultures and legislation
  • multi-lingual,
  • understanding of differences between developed (knowledge-based environments) and developing markets,
  • the know-how to generate business value in ambiguous situations (he means here that there may be different skills sets that need to be applied in Europe, given the tough economic climate and the assumption of strong focus on cost management/containment versus the emerging markets, where the focus is on aggressive growth).

In addition to the above skills, competencies would include the ability to collaborate with senior stakeholders, agility to move from operational to strategic discussions with ease, strong cultural sensitivity, strong solutions orientation and deep functional expertise.

So, whereas early shared services leaders were selected for -- and had strengths in -- transactional effectiveness, the current trend is for a transformational leader with strong business acumen, who is able to comfortably sit around the boardroom table (if you think it through) as s/he will manage larger budgets and people than most HR Strategic Business Partners. In fact, these types of HR leaders often manage/impact broader geographies.

One thing is for sure. After more than 15-20 years of shared services, there is certainly a need for a new skill set. Otherwise, how could we expect such step-changing results

Third: Do Provide a Real Opportunity for Your HR Shared Services Director to Lead and to Act.

Shared Services needs to be viewed as foundational to, and a catalyst for, HR and business transformation versus the add-on/low-end of the value-chain. To make this happen, somehow we need to get agreement and make appointments so that the HR Shared Services Director becomes a member of the HRLT with equal access, first, to influence that stakeholder group; and also with the mandate and opportunity to go direct to senior business leaders. Give them a business budget to manage, too.

Stuart agrees and thinks that, in addition, the role should be part of the Business Leadership Team as well as the HRLT. No presence on business leadership forums means there is generally an HR filter put on business needs.

All this becomes even more relevant in those large multi-national companies which are now looking to the enabling back-office functions of IT, Procurement, Finance, and HR to align in "Global Business Services" -- custodians of effective management processes and management, general administration cost management, and best practice.

Isn’t that at least one good reason why the Shared Services leader should be, at minimum, an HRLT member and an equal partner in the triangle model, rather than chief stoker of the fire in the engine room below?

Do you know someone who is in the right place at the right table in Shared Services Leadership?

What are your thoughts? Please use the feedback box below to share your viewpoints.

Simon Brown and Stuart Martin
Simon Brown has over 25 years of international experience in HR Management, working in change management, talent acquisition and talent management with a range of global organisations including Duracell Batteries, GlaxoSmithKline, Premier Farnell, The Coca-Cola Company, and NCR Corporation. He has been involved in the full design and deployment of HR Transformation including Shared Services six times since 1995, including vendor selection for outsourced partners. Simon has expertise in the selection and development of HR Shared Services teams and has worked with both onshore captives, off-shore, outsourced, and virtual teams. He has been a leader in a Centre of Expertise, a European HR Director, a Recruitment Director, a strategic HR business partner and a member of Global HR Leadership Teams, as well as a Shared Services Director.

Stuart Martin has extensive international experience in the successful deployment of large-scale business transformation initiatives, both in developed and emerging markets.

Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012


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