Reflections: Learnings from my Journey (5: Philip King)
Fifteen years in shared services, and I'm still learning everyday. Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, or is it that every shared services project is different, every client is different? Or are these projects just so action-packed that there’s bound to be something you hadn’t thought of?
Getting serious now: clients pay us for sharing lessons learned, those "hard won knocks", the "scar-tissue". One thing I always say, and repeat until I am accused of being parrot-like, is "manage your stakeholders". Why? You have to, otherwise it can be the thing that comes back to haunt you. The project team can put in many months of technically excellent hard work on process and organization design, only for MDs or other managers of local business units to refuse to sign off the design. Or, the shared service center makes one error in ten thousand and all of a sudden it feels like World War 3 has started with all the cross-fire. And another one I’ve seen – after progressing close to Go-Live, all of a sudden there are more urgent projects that have to take precedence and somebody important manages to persuade the CEO to postpone the project.
How to do it? Well there are formal methods such as stakeholder-mapping, "a graphical illustration of how the stakeholders are disposed towards your change project, helping you to identify who to influence and the action to take". All very well but more often than not I have seen lip-service given to this tool, and there is no action! If the shared services operation is live, a governance framework is useful, to "establish trust between shared services organizations and their customers". However, interest in this can wane, as shared services moves to the "business as usual" operational phase. It’s also of course useful to have that strong executive sponsorship to rely on. Constantly ensuring this is firm and secure is a great place to start.
However at the end of the day perhaps it does come down to having a strong radar, or nose for what might go wrong. Perhaps it is as much the informal relationships that count as much, if not more, than the formal processes and structures. I recall one particular stakeholder, who started life as a journalist and was now a manager of an administrative department whose functions were in the line of sight of a shared services project. He was not only resisting, but very noisily, and he had the ear of senior management. Well I’m not saying that journalists like a drink, maybe times have changed, but myself and the country Finance Director taking him out for a few beers seemed to dramatically improve his attitude.
I guess I learned that you have to approach change on the terms of reference of those people that need to change. I think that’s in a textbook somewhere too! When it comes down to it, the key to stakeholder management is to get out and meet them, understand their concerns, communicate, show you are human too and do your best to keep them onside. There is no substitute for action! Oh, and don’t leave any gaps in your sponsorship cascade!
About the Author
Philip King is Associate Partner and Shared Services Global Solution Leader for Atos Consulting (part of Atos Origin, an international technology services company.) He is a well-known speaker and presenter in the shared services community, and an author of many articles on shared services. Now a consultant in shared services feasibility, design, implementation and optimization, he has had first hand experience of Shared Services leadership in both industry and a variety of interim roles. www.atosconsulting.co.uk