Loaning Your Expert Talent to the Business
Shared services organizations generally exist to provide back office support to the company’s core business departments. Cost is a constant theme for most. The challenge for those who manage SSOs is to distinguish their operations by providing unique and/or greater value to the business. Competing with third party providers on price alone just won’t work. So how do you get your SSO to provide that "competitive edge?" Boehringer Ingelheim’s shared services, BIUSA, accomplishes this via three steps: high quality service, strict internal controls, and developing its human assets. The latter is done via an initiative called L.E.A.P., which attracts and retains motivated employees who can provide high quality service throughout the end-to-end processes. It all comes down to people, says Phyllis Alesio.
How do you get your shared services operation to provide the needed competitive edge? At Boehringer Ingelheim, we’ve been guided by two key ideas: 1) never compete with outsourcing options based on price alone – you’ll never win; and 2) never outsource your core functions – that is where the competitive edge comes from. From a shared services perspective, we have focused on three initiatives to provide maximum value to the organization: driving out inefficiencies, maintaining tight internal controls, and developing our human assets.
Driving Out Inefficiencies
How do you provide high quality service that goes over and above the strictly mechanical activities of processing transactions? The best – and simplest – approach is for your staff to adopt the continual goal of driving out inefficiencies. Through training, guidance and the correct tools, you can develop the talent in your organizations to identify and analyze the root cause of process inefficiencies. By doing so, you drive downs costs and improve delivery. Organizing in teams, where individuals are completely cross-trained in all aspects of the end-to-end process and where they use those skills daily, encourages and maintains the bandwidth necessary to keep the business humming while projects are being developed and implemented. This, in turn, incentivizes staff to continue to learn and hone their skills in order to "move" ahead on their career path – frequently by moving into the organization(s) they support.
A key rule: Keep it simple. Set the expectations and raise the bar as appropriate. Employees will rise to the opportunities provided and become champions of change. Insist on focused, extraordinary service to customers, give your people the freedom to take calculated risks, and emphasize the need to partner with internal customers. Your reward will be cost containment, multiple efficiencies and highly skilled individuals.
Once you are able to measure productivity through the metrics you have developed, how do you put appropriate internal controls in place to check the work is of the highest quality? Learning and training are essential. Each team member should know and understand the key controls over financial assets inherent in the processes they are responsible for. A great learning exercise for a small group of employees is to develop, routinely review, and maintain process flow diagrams with the controls highlighted. These flowcharts make great training tools for periodic learning reviews. To ensure that these controls are understood and are being applied, assemble a small team with proven higher-level skills to carry out regular internal process audits on daily work completions. Tie staff’s compensation to measurements of productivity, quality and identification of process improvements.
Hiring in the Right People
When you hire the right people, you get employees that want to do a great job and grow their careers. They will soak up knowledge and appreciate your developmental guidance and performance improvement feedback – particularly, if they can "see and feel" the changes.
Here are some pointers that work for us:
- Hire college graduates. Teach them the ins and outs of the end-to-end process they are working on, and tie their earning ability to their speed of learning and the quality of their output.
- Employ college interns as part-time help. They are motivated workers who come in with incredible technical skills and knowledge and, most times, are interested in full-time positions upon graduation.
- Exploit your economies of scale. Cross-train all employees supporting the same function and leverage your technology across all operations.
- Create a flat but empowered organization with the average ratio of management to employees of 1:10, and keep costs down while motivating staff to higher levels of performance.
- Once employees have mastered the core job, provide them with higher-level opportunities to develop their analytical or project management skills. Guide and counsel them to implement process improvement opportunities they identify. This will result in a more streamlined, automated operation that, in turn, will result in better control over, and reduced costs as well as headcount. Now is the time to transition your well-trained, skilled and knowledgeable employees to the core business functions of the operating units you support. Talk about added value!
Developing Your Human Assets
None of the improvement activities mentioned earlier in the article can be accomplished without the continual and aggressive development of your human assets. How do you motivate the accounts payable or customer service associate to take on more responsibility, seek out process improvements and maintain the highest level of quality and productivity? We know from multiple studies and real life experience that money isn’t the primary influence. Start the process by putting yourself in their shoes and asking the question, "What’s in it for me?"
We have emphasized transitioning employees away from transactional and into more analytical functions that provide a more competitive edge for customer interactions. We’ve also adopted some traits that work for outsourcers and applied them internally – exploiting economies of scale, for example, by cross-training team members, leveraging technology and creating a flat organization. We empower our staff and encourage them to take calculated risks. This has made our staff more confident in their own skills and abilities, which pays off in their day-to-day work.
Loaned Employee Advantage Program
An innovative approach that has worked very well for us in developing staff is a program we’ve called L.E.A.P. – Loaned Employee Advantage Program. Through L.E.A.P., we assist departments that need temporary help and that contact us by "loaning" them one of our shared services staff for up to six months. Such loan assignments or projects are delegated to "ready to launch" shared services employees, who, after maximizing core job skills within shared services, receive additional training in reporting analysis, financial analysis, project management, and system analysis. As a result, we have become a company "feeder program," distributing our expert staff into the business units. (The backfill temp workers hired to fill these employees’ jobs are paid for by the business units – and are considerably less expensive than hiring higher skilled temp staff into the business unit.)
As shared services staff are very familiar with the processes, already know their way around the buildings and the organization, and understand the product line and the culture, they do not require extensive orientation in the business unit, thus saving time and money. Their insider knowledge and high-level work ethic make them an indispensable tool for improved work practices both within the business unit and as a liaison between the unit and the shared services group. As a result, a majority of staff are hired into their ‘loaned’ positions once these jobs are posted. Since 2004, we have loaned 28 of our shared services employees into business units, of which five are still "on loan," 13 have been hired into the new department, and 10 have returned.
L.E.A.P. has enabled us to focus on developing a highly-skilled talent pool within our shared services group, which we are able to deploy into business units as needed. The expert skills and deep process knowledge these staff bring with them are of immeasurable value to the business, and further serve to facilitate good customer relations between our shared services group and our customers. Additionally, it supports the career planning and development of our staff which is not
only personally motivating and rewarding for them but raises the Corporation’s retention rate of good employees. It is an approach I highly recommend.
About the Author
Phyllis Alesio, Director of Revenue Operations at BI Services Center, joined Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals in 1985. She was a member of the task force to form and then implement the Shared Services Center for the Boehringer Ingelheim companies in 1995. She was a Revenue Process Coach responsible for Customer Service and Chargeback Administration until 1999 when she became the Training & Development Coach and developed and maintained the Pay-for-Skills compensation and Loaned Employee Advantage programs currently in place. In 2003, she moved into the director position responsible for the order-to-cash revenue stream.