Re-Engineering the Retained Organization

SSON: What were the main challenges within the retained organization of First Choice after a Shared Services Center was implemented?

Sharon Finch
: Initially the main challenge was huge resistance when we moved work from other locations in the UK. We recruited new people into our Sussex offices, and they then had to go into sites that were closing. So it was really quite hard, and when those roles went live in our Crawley office, it was quite obvious that we didn’t acquire all the knowledge that we thought we had. And so we have some really strong people that were committed - they really wanted to do a good job. We worked very closely to those people and made sure that they had the support of other people in the business. So that was a major thing for us, it wasn’t about outsourcing; it was about how we set the shared service center up in the first place. It was a time for a lot of change in our organization through major reorganizations.

SSON: I have heard you mention it was like moving fifteen years of knowledge and passing that onto someone who was expected to learn that in six weeks. How did that actually happen?

: When we started the training we had two approaches, there is train the trainer which is where you are training one person who then trains the offshore team or gives one to one training. And what we found was where we had more complex roles, where there was decision making, a bit more judgmental, we used one to one training and imparted as much information as we could. The people that were the knowledge experts were very supportive; they really got to know the individual. Our initial estimates were two to three weeks, but ultimately it was six weeks as we needed to see through two month end routines. We trained our onshore experts on how to train, what to look out for, what to expect and when to start stepping back. We had regular touch points, daily and weekly meetings with our trainers to see how things were going, we had training plans and we did tests as well. We had daily tests with the people that were being trained to make sure that they had understood what they had been shown the day before, and gradually layered up that technology and information.

SSON: So you had a year to move finance and HR into the shared service center, but you defied the odds and went live within 6 months – how did you achieve a shorter transition time?

: We had everyone working together. Our transition plans overlapped, so we didn’t wait for one piece of work to finish before we started the next. We actually had many going in tandem, which put quite a lot of pressure on the team, but we also chose our quietest time of the year, so we started training in January, in areas that we knew were quieter than they would be in May. So the timing was critical for us, if we hadn’t transferred processes by certain periods, for example with our collections area. If we hadn’t transitioned that work by May, it would have been too late and possibly postponed to the following autumn. So we had very tight time scales that we had to meet, to account for the peaks that we knew we would experience.

SSON: And how did you incentivize those that remained within the main organization, and those that were indeed leaving who were passing on this knowledge?

: We had incentive schemes, so for our knowledge experts we had three levels of subject matter experts. Payment was made to those who were training in one area. We had another level for a team leader who would cover two or three areas and we had another level for managers who were covering many areas. So we had a tiered approach to the SME payments. We also had a retention payment for all employees, which were structured across the whole department, and that was agreed with our working partnership representatives. So we had a reasonable retention scheme for everybody.

SSON: So when did the merger occur between Tui and First Choice? What percentage remained with First Choice?

: First Choice & Tui merged in Sept 2007 and the First Choice SSC in Crawley closed in October 2009. When we merged with Tui, First Choice was run independently and because we sell up to two years in advance, we knew we had three to four seasons of bookings to manage on the First Choice systems platform. And so the First Choice shared service center continued as is, there was no change until the trigger point where the next live selling season could go live on the Tui systems, and that was when our ramp down plan kicked in. So the team in Crawley continued to manage all of the First Choice transactions, relating to those seasons and those bookings. And then the Tui team in Luton, and their offshore team ramped up as the new future seasons went on sale. So, very clear cut off points which made it much easier - we knew those dates well in advance, we knew our business, we knew the volumes of what to expect.

SSON: How did you manage all of that change?

Working very closely with the management team, open door policy, we had team building events, we made sure that we brought some fun into the working environment, being honest and open with people about timelines. As soon as we knew what the time scales were for particular areas of work, we would communicate that to a team. I would hold, certainly monthly or bi-monthly whole team briefings, where we would go through related transition plans. Obviously, transition plans do change; they will be tweaked and updated as new developments happen. There were a lot of system complexities to move the First Choice business onto the Tui systems platform. There were a number of developments that were required on the Tui systems. Many of my team was involved in the development process, so they were involved in the movement of the work. So it was involving people, making them feel like they were an important part of the company, of the process and they weren’t being ignored.

SSON: When First Choice initially outsourced to WNS in 2006, how did your offshoring relationship work, did they operate more as a partner, rather than a body?

: I think initially they were a body, and it comes down to trust and working with them and over a period of time you realize you have to be honest with them. Our business is changing all the time and I have to say WNS responded so positively to all the changes we threw at them, on the downturn to the upturn, to moves. It was a long term commitment but we didn’t know how it would work so we had no long term objectives.

SSON: When it comes to re-engineering the retained organization, in your own opinion how much should be invested in the retained organization, when a SSC has been established?

: I think that you have to invest a lot of time and effort in your retained organization. You need to help develop their skills, and quite often they have been doing most of their job before so it is hard to let go or move on. Most people step up into a retained role. They assume more responsibility, and you need to coach them, spend a lot of time with them, and reassure them. Also show them that it is a big organization to support and that you can work more closely with the business. But you do need to look at the skills that those people have. You are looking for different types of communication skills, people that want to see improvements, that they are positive about what you are doing. And if they have got that already it does make the job easier.

We spent a lot of time, not a lot of cost, but concentrating on internal workshops, be it two or three hours. For example we talked about managing conference calls, how you can take leadership roles in meetings, managing action plans, getting results and discussing difficulties. They needed a whole new toolkit. And so we armed them with a toolkit, we started them with a two day workshop going through what it meant for them, and got them to really work with that. And they came out with a list of things that they felt they needed, so it wasn’t just us saying this is what we think you need, it was actually them saying to us what they thought they needed as well. And trying to marry the two up. They have to own it and buy into it - this is their new role. And if you have the right people, they will come to you and say I am struggling with this, I need to learn how to do this and then find the people in the business that can help to support that. So, we had a very good training department that did a lot of work with us as well, so it’s a real mixture.

SSON: What influenced the decision on the tasks left behind?

: It depends on the culture of your company and your approach to customers and suppliers. Some companies are quite pragmatic, quite bullish in how they deal with their customers and suppliers; and don’t necessarily have a soft approach and so it can be easier to hand over certain decisions and tasks. If you like to have a more responsive approach to your customers and suppliers, you probably need to keep a bit more of that work onshore, until the capability of your offshore team is where you want it to be. So we did go through a process where we were reviewing certain processes and many tasks, decisions and referrals were kept on shore longer until we were comfortable with a team that had the next level of capability, then we handed over more tasks and responsibilities. So in areas such as collection we had a much longer handover period, in fact we extended it by a further three months, and broke it down into more reasonable chunks of work.

SSON: What advice would you give on choosing the retained team?

: As soon as you know that you are going to do this, you need to look at your team from day one. Examine how people have reacted to this; have they reacted really badly have they gone through the change curve really quickly, do they understand why you are doing it? And also, if you know your team pretty well, you ought to have a reasonable idea of the ones that will support what you are trying to do. We had a selection matrix which was agreed with our working partnership employee representatives. The matrix covered the various skill sets for every role in the retained structure. We decided the jobs that were staying in the UK, and we published these to everybody so there were files available for everyone to review. So these were the jobs, we shared the proposed structure to them, and then had one to ones with everybody. And we asked them if they were interested in staying within the organization or if they would prefer to look for other opportunities internally or externally, from there we were able to shortlist the people that were really interested in certain roles.

We probably had 60% uptake in people that wanted to stay, so that was a challenge because we clearly didn’t have enough roles for them. And then we went through a selection process. We used a scoring system to be fair, and it worked pretty well actually, we did get the right people. If someone was unfortunate and wasn’t offered a role we could talk to them about the selection criteria, and we talked honestly to them and they appreciated the feedback. We designed an appraisal system, we called it "Passport to Success" and every job was individually appraised, there were some generic aspects otherwise every role was structured individually, so people were already used to getting feedback on their performance. We made sure was that there were no surprises..

Sharon Finch, (former) Head of Finance Shared Services, Tui Travel

Sharon has over 30 years experience in finance processing, leading and developing teams and business processes that have created cost reductions, improved productivity and customer service. Sharon has successfully led major strategic change, including outsourcing, off-shoring, business integration, restructuring, data migration and system development projects. In March 2006 Sharon became the Head of the Finance Shared Service Center responsible for the finance transaction processing areas and in early 2007 several processes were outsourced to India.

Since joining First Choice Holidays Plc in 1991, Sharon enjoyed a number of finance management roles supporting the mainstream and specialist businesses. The First Choice Group merged with TUI Travel Plc in 2007 to become the leading global leisure organization providing all aspects of leisure and business travel for diverse customers & markets around the world. Sharon is a graduate member of The Institute of Credit Management, and held the position of Branch Chairperson as well as lecturing at Brighton College in Credit Management studies.