Four Top Tips to retain and engage talent in your Shared Services Organization

As a leader of a shared service function, whether it be in Finance, HR, IT, or even a  combined enabling services model, you are often tasked with building infrastructure, leveraging technology, developing wrap-around software solutions, improving first call resolution, stakeholder engagement, creating a great customer experience.

This takes a lot of our attention, and yet to deliver all of the above we must be sure to focus on our most important asset – our shared services team. We need to retain and motivate them, listen to them and involve them, in order to be in a good place to deliver on any of these other business demands and to deliver on our promises.  

*Read more articles by Simon Brown

Shared services teams that are particularly prone to unwanted labor turnover are those who have just gone-live and are tired from the huge energy it took to get to that milestone, teams that have expanded beyond the small community to a global function, and those shared services teams who are reaching maturity after 2 or 3 years of stability in operations. So what can we do to retain good shared services people?

Here are my personal thoughts based on 15 years experience in shared services including 9 years as a leader of shared services teams.

Four Top tips to retain and engage your people

1) Re-recruit your good people

Do this with the same intensity that would be invested in recruiting an outsider to join your organization. Consider the amount of time you would spend interviewing and training a replacement. Invest that time with your good people. Employees sometimes feel unsupported by company systems and a constantly changing environment can make them restless and weary. They may become more willing than usual to consider jobs outside the organization .Typically it is the good swimmers who jump ship.

Solution: Tell them you want them and value them. Make them feel important. Show them what a great place your company is to work by reinforcing the messages about vision, strategy, values and where we are on the journey. Your company has already made significant steps on the change journey towards a better way of working. Wouldn’t they prefer to be developed now in preparation for this new world rather than join another traditional company with all the change yet to come?

Demonstrate your commitment to development by making time to review performance and development plans on a regular one-to-one basis, not just once a year. It is risky to assume that your key players are going to remain on the team just because they have not publicly announced an intention to leave.

2) Create ongoing challenges and broaden the goalposts 

Having continuous challenges in one's working life together with working to deadlines and enjoying a variety of work are all rated highly in employee engagement surveys. When individuals start to express concern over their lack of job challenge, watch out! If it goes on too long, they are prime candidates for the exit interview.
So what can leaders do to satisfy these job needs?

  • Communicate: Have frequent discussions to take the "challenge" temperature –check that the job is still stretching. If the job is not offering sufficient challenge, act fast to enrich it with wider responsibilities or new projects.
  • Create opportunities for personal growth and learning
  • Give individuals the mandate to tackle some of their biggest frustrations in their job as real business issues. Empower them, and sponsor them, to remove road-blocks.
  • Set milestones and deadlines.These should be challenging but not unrealistic. Do not shoot for targets that will be doomed to failure and frustration, but strive to engineer success experiences for your team and team members.
  • Build variety into roles where possible, considering work rotation and rotas where applicable.
  • Try to match staff to the work they love –motivational fit. This way you will capture their imagination as well as their hearts and soul!

3) Provide effective career guidance and support

It is common in flattening organizations for employees to become confused about where their careers are going and where the next promotion might be. This is particularly true in functions such as HR, Finance and IT where the traditional generalist model has been recently replaced by shared services, business partners and Centers of Expertise. Restless, ambitious employees are likely to opt for a guaranteed promotion now outside the company, rather than wait around for someone to figure out where they might go next in their current organization. Whilst individuals need to take control of their own career rather than " Waiting for Godot ", there is a tremendous amount that we as leaders can do to help enable our team members in this situation :

  • Gain personal knowledge on how the work environment is changing both inside and outside the company –and share this openly.
  • Set realistic expectations about career advancement and development in flatter organizational structures – "up" is not the only way to get development and personal growth. Emphasize that the new concept of career also involves lateral development, cross-functional project working, global functional projects, and rotations. All of which are additive and enriching for the career portfolio.
  • Offer advice and support with personal development plans, which should be encouraged and talked openly about with each employee
  • Assist  individuals in  selecting  an appropriate mentor, someone outside the line management structure, who has knowledge of the wider picture.
  • Visually demonstrate through the drawing of diagrams the actual career progression options within shared services – sub-process to process owner, to new process, to team leader, tier 1 call resolution to tier 2 consulting and advice on complex issues. Real case studies of people who have moved from tier 2 work to tier 3 centers of expertise, people who have moved from shared services team leaders and directors to senior level HR business partners. Yes, it really happens!

4) Understand the triggers for" jumping ship" and heed the warning signals!
There are a number of advance indicators which leaders need to be aware of as a signal that someone may be thinking of leaving:

  • Lack of job challenge reported
  • Personal change – move, marriage, birth, divorce, death in family
  • A known /identified "high potential" plateaus early
  • Compensation issues including job grade begin to be raised.
  • Repeated calls from head-hunters  ( Don’t let these calls be the best career coaching discussions taking place in your company)
  • Peers being headhunted
  • Conflict in relationship with manager (People join companies but leave bosses!)
  • Sudden downward trend in interaction with colleagues and communication with boss
  • Respected mentor leaves, and is suspected of poaching staff
  • Confusion expressed regarding future long term career with the organization (will we be outsourced, will we be restructured, acquired, span-off?)
  • People going to unusual lengths to seek recognition and appreciation for their effort

In summary, to retain  your talented people it's all about spending time  coaching and guiding them to become empowered and engaged contributors, involving them in the continued building of your organization , sharing with them the vision and the successes, and encouraging them to grow with you and the company …….