Moving the Masses (Physically and Mentally) to a Shared Service Center
Prior to January 2000, Simmons Bedding Company was described as a hierarchal environment, where decision-making rested in the hands and minds of a very few individuals at the top of the organization. In addition, all operating units were highly decentralized and frankly concerned only with their own performance relative to their specific goals/objectives, inhibiting the free flow of information or ideas as
well as communication from top management across the organization.
This unhealthy structure – which took years to create – not only stifled talent internally, but also affected our customers, many of who reported that it was extremely difficult to conduct business with us on a day-to-day basis.
In 2000, Simmons restructured its top management team and hired Charlie Eitel as chief executive officer. Under his leadership and vision, the company overhauled its culture to be customer-focused, both internally and externally. For the first time, associates had a feeling of connection to the overall mission of Simmons and that each person had a role in the company’s success. Our external customers began to view Simmons as a partner, with our associates always willing and able to help them grow their business in the spirit of cooperation and support.
Our culture’s history certainly gives perspective to the Simmons Shared Services (SS) teams’ pride in creating a shared services center. The 2000 change in leadership was the early catalyst for us to enter the planning stages in mid-2005; even so, it took the courageous leadership of our entire executive leadership team to "buy-in" to the concept, which we considered the very first task. Without their commitment, the prospect of a successful transformation was bleak.
Our second task was to recruit external expertise to lead us through the decision-making process, accurately weighing the pros and cons so that good choices could be made. We interviewed several firms who specialize in shared services and ultimately chose ScottMadden, Inc., a firm with offices in Atlanta, GA., and Raleigh, N.C.
ScottMadden understood that we needed to "own" the project from beginning to final phase and would ensure that we understood and could be accountable for all facets of operation before exiting the project.
Our third task was to develop a communications plan to support and sustain the evolution to a shared services center. (Note we used the word evolution to describe it; a project can denote an end date, whereas evolution more accurately describes the on-going entity that becomes a critical part of the overall success of a company.) ScottMadden helped us shape the communications strategy and key messages from mid-2005 until we opened the doors of our new facility in February 2007.
As the leader of the shared services center, I delivered the message to various audiences, including our executive leadership team comprised of our CEO, CFO, COO and heads of sales and human resources, as well as, our external board of directors. We communicated frequently with the team members of the shared services center and with our future customers who resided at the plants. Brad DeMent, our engagement partner from ScottMadden, emphasized the importance of early and frequent communication to the constituents of the shared services center. As most of us know, the result of communication many times is actually misunderstanding, so it was critical to get the message articulated very clearly so as to not send conflicting signals to the field. The HR department also should play a critical role in this function to ensure the team stays on message and avoid creating a backlash.
The fourth task was to build a team of qualified associates to staff the shared services center. Our goal was to first place our internal talent, then recruit from our manufacturing sites and relocate ideal candidates to the shared service centers to take new roles in the organization. Finally, we brought in new talent from outside of Simmons to fill the remaining roles.This blended talent pool – which currently numbers 44 – encourages a free flow of ideas and information among the group, as we are always searching for the next best right answer.
The overarching goal of our team has been to drive effective behaviors within Simmons and achieve excellent customer satisfaction. One key to instilling this mindset in each shared services associate was to create a mission statement for our group. The statement is the backbone of our attitude toward excellence in execution and quality of customer service. We quantified this by developing several key metrics by area, which are reviewed with the team each week. Through this process, we create goals that are attainable through diligent effort every day. And by keeping the metrics visible, we foster an environment of teamwork and collaboration, so that the team becomes more important than the individual. With that mindset, success can be achieved.
Every company that embarks on the shared services journey must grapple with the question of how to instill a new customer service culture in their organization. Employees must undergo a change in their daily attitude and learn to treat their own businesses as if they were external clients. The Simmons Company took into consideration the fact that they had existing accounts payable, credit and collections, and payroll expertise located in their corporate headquarters. For this reason, they made the decision to build their shared service operation in the vicinity of their Atlanta corporate offices. Though there may be good reasons to stay near headquarters, moving away from home can also serve as an effective technique to shift some focus from the corporate offices to the business units. For many companies, like Simmons, "Greenfield" operations are not a viable option, so they must think of other techniques to instill the customer care focus in their operations:
Design and implement a dedicated Customer Care group – Restructure your organization to include a dedicated customer care group. Position descriptions should demand expertise in friendly telephone interaction, talking down agitated clients or vendors, promptly following up, and quickly resolving issues. A customer experience that begins with a potential issue and concludes with a satisfied client will be remembered by your business unit clients.
Develop a brand – Instilling a customer service mindset requires people to change their attitude toward the people they deal with on a daily basis. This can be particularly challenging when companies use the same people for their shared service center that have been ingrained in a centralized corporate environment, potentially for years. Re-branding the organization will not only establish a brand for your customers, but also a new identity for your employees. The new mission, logo, and energy should be synonymous with customer service. Small, inexpensive techniques, such as a using a different letter-head, your own colors, jackets, caps, pins, and business cards that carry the new brand can help shift the employee’s mindset away from the old corporate organization.
Redesign your facilities – It is difficult to instill a customer service culture in the organization if everything still looks and feels the same. Simply hanging the shared service sign on the door will not change employee attitudes. High cubicles, narrow halls, and closed management offices are not synonymous with good customer service. Consider redesigning floor space to use low cubicle walls and open work space. Shared services staff should be able to see how their piers are interacting with their clients so they can learn about and/or share ideas. Open management offices in close proximity to the work floor or even shared management space on the work floor will foster a culture of teamwork and better customer service. "If you build it, they will come": building dedicated space or "thinking areas" on the floor will encourage employees to group and share ideas on improving processes or customer service. Ample lighting, preferably with open views and break areas, can also help foster creative thought.
Instilling a new culture in a shared services organization won’t be accomplished overnight; it may demand new employees and new leadership. Creative changes that are visible to your employees over time, however, will shift mindsets and change attitudes. We believe clients should envision the future culture and employee mindsets and make tangible changes to their organization such as those made by the Simmons Group. Today, there is a new look, feel, and energy at Simmons Group Services that is focused on customer service, and that was ultimately accomplished without relocating and re-staffing the organization.
About the Authors
Brian Breen is the senior vice president and treasurer of Simmons Bedding Company. He has been employed at Simmons Company since July of 1996. Breen has direct oversight of Simmons Group Services which includes accounts payable, credit and collections, payroll and risk management. He is an active board member of the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) and is a Certified Treasury Professional. Before working for Simmons Bedding Company, Breen served as the Controller for Six Flags Over Georgia.
Simmons is the second largest domestic manufacturer of bedding products, with annual revenues in excess of $1 Billion. It employs approximately 3,000 associates with a total of 21 manufacturing plants across the United States including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Brad DeMent is a partner at ScottMadden and the leader of the finance and accounting shared service practice. He has more than 15 years of business and technology consulting experience, and he has extensive experience designing, implementing, improving, and merging financial and human resource shared service operations in the U.S. and in Latin America. DeMent’s areas of industry expertise include energy, pharmaceuticals, media/entertainment, non-profit, and consumer products. Prior to joining ScottMadden, he worked for the consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton in Washington D.C.
ScottMadden is a leading management consulting firm that specializes in the design, implementation, merging and expansion of shared service operations in the US and Latin America. ScottMadden also has a strong foundation in the energy industry and outsourcing advisory services.