Successful Shared Services Leadership Characteristics: Sustainable Energy

Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012

Successful Shared Services Leadership

Key Principle # 4 – creating sustainable energy.

Read part 1: Key principle # 1

Read part 2: Key principle # 2

Read part 3: Key principle # 3

Read more Simon Brown articles

Since April when we conducted a global survey to identify the characteristics of effective shared services leadership – good boss quality – we have looked at three key principles:

  1. Having and positively communicating a clear vision for future success.
  2. Taking time to fully engage with your team and your clients and proactively managing the change agenda.
  3. Being an effective team boss – delegating, empowering, coaching and supporting your team to play to their strengths versus playing the traditional role of micro management and control.

In the last of our deep dive follow-up articles, building on the Shared Services Leadership Survey we conducted globally via SSON in April, lets focus on what is often overlooked:

4.Creating a positive working environment based on trust, transparency, and with genuine work/life balance.

This is all about the leader role-modelling and enabling a working culture in the shared services environment where a balance of energy, resilience to deal with deadlines, peaks, and high volume demand, can be managed effectively.

So how do we categorise this area, this key principle for effective leadership, which sometimes feels like wrestling with something not quite tangible? You only feel it when you don’t get it right –that’s when you or your team experience burn-out.

Is it work/life balance or life /work balance?
Is it a soft touchy-feely topic with no business value, or is it building resilience for stronger performance, sustainable over time?

My vote is that there is a strong business case for building resilience in your team and creating sustainable energy to deal with the ongoing demands of change, high volume transactional excellence, and the ever present quest for continuous improvement…in all that we do. [See also my article: Building energy into your shared services team ]
High achievers tend to set high targets for themselves and their teams. Conscientious individuals hate to say sno to extra challenges, additional objectives, more opportunities to please the customer, or to stretch further the performance of the team and deliver success.

There’s a big adrenalin rush when we start shared services…all that planning, then the Go-Live, the migration in of extra work from the business, the management of new vendor relationships. This creates a high energy feeling that, over extended time, can move

  • from pumped to drained
  • from eustress (positive stress ) to distress

Anne Pringle , a colleague at GSK, and now Occupational Health Manager for the London Olympics, advises that pressure is inevitable within our personal and professional lives, in fact, we need a certain level of pressure to perform as the below curve shows (see Figure 1). However, we need to be aware of the level of pressure we are experiencing and the impact it can have. People perform best when they are in the "stretch" zone. It is inevitable, though, that you will tip into "strain" at some point. This is the zone where you start to experience signs and symptoms of stress. The key factor with resilient people is that they recognise when they are crossing into this zone and have a strategy to get back into either the "comfort" zone (if they have experienced a prolonged period of time in "strain") or back into the "stretch" zone. If this does not happen and people continue into the "crisis" zone, we tend to see exhaustion, serious health problems, breakdown in relationships/mental well-being, and burnout.

It is also important to emphasise that people do not have a separate pressure performance curve for home and work. They both interlink, which is why it is important for managers to know their people as people, and not just as company workers.

Look out for these indicators – in yourself and also in your team:


  • missing deadlines
  • errors
  • memory lapses


  • sleep loss
  • heart and stomach problems


  • withdrawal
  • bullying
  • moody, irritable
  • sensitivity

Other behavioural

  • increased use of alcohol, drugs, smoking, coffee
  • acting out of character

Other strong Occupational Health advice tips include:

Talk about how you feel to someone you trust. Be open with your team about work life balance/resilience as an issue to address, encourage team and ultimately individual responsibility to ensure we:


  • If you feel yourself getting stressed, take a step back and have some time out – take a walk or listen to some music.
  • Go home at a sensible time – There is no record of anyone, on their deathbed, saying "I wish I'd spent more time at the office".
  • Look after your health consciously.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Identify what causes you to feel stressed at work. Is it the work itself, your boss, demanding customers, unreliable suppliers ? Take steps to address the root causes.
  • If you are still struggling, see your GP or call the Employee Assistance Programme, if available. It is not a weakness to ask for help.

To add to this occupational health advice I have developed these additional leadership tips, which I strive to apply:

• Measure outputs not hours at the desk. Trust people to deliver, rather than check their every move or record their presenteeism.

• Virtual working is ok – there are times when your team can work from home to balance and manage external factors. Technology enables this so easily now.
[See also my article on Virtual Working Teams]

• Recognise in yourself and your team when you have peaks and troughs of energy in your day. Every team has early birds and night owls – go with your energy.

• When you have team meetings – provide time for regular breaks. Our concentration span is usually no more than 40 minutes anyway, so build into your meeting agenda breaks of 5 or 10 minutes every now and then. The body language of the group will usually signal when it’s time to do this !

• Often, in HR, we are keen to please, to help, to do things for our clients. That’s positive intent but being a pair of hands doesn’t get you where you want to be. And true business partners are able to contract and consult for service levels and set and agree standards, rather than chase the wishes of the client who shouts loudest. Sometimes we need to be better at saying "no" with a smile. Particularly where we have a self-service intranet and clients can be directed to go find the answer themselves, in a couple of simple clicks.

• Yes is not always best – redirecting the traffic to tier 0 self-service is a great win-win for the client and ourselves, freeing us up time to focus on added-value activities and outputs.

• Teach them to fish – encourage self-service direct access. As the old proverb says: "If you give a man a fish, he eats for one day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life."

Teaching your client managers and employees to fish rather than giving them the fish is the difference between a traditional HR generalist, who absorbs administration and subservience, and a fully-fledged shared services team member, who sees every opportunity to enable rather than rescue their clients.

Create a climate where fun and laughter are allowed –it’s a great stress buster to be enabled to share and show humour from time to time. Better to laugh than cry when the going gets tough.

Confession: Burnout.
It’s happened to me at times in my career, particularly early on, in my late twenties, Dinky (dual income no kids yet) phase, when carving my career and spending long hours at the office.
Also, I remember that time just after Go-Live of the new shared services model, when all the euphoria of building the new solution transforms into the downside of needing to make the inevitable adjustments to process or resources to get the right fit, and we all get sucked into the habit of just staying on a while, to get things fixed.

As a leader and as an employee we have all been there – when we feel overloaded, there are not enough hours and days in the week, or we are under-resourced.
Think back to the bad times – when did you get closest to burn-out and why?
What can you do differently now to avoid a repeat performance?
What are the key learnings for yourself that you can share with the team? What stories can you share as examples of what not to do?

Openness about these issues creates a culture of trust and can definitely lead to a team support network. This is where we help each other to build resilience and sustainable energy.

Final Thought: Shared services is a journey and we evolve along that journey. Take time to enjoy the journey of life, be here in the day, rather than always striving for the end destination, which other than death does not exist, in any case.

About the Author
Simon Brown has over 25 years experience in HR Management working in the change management, talent acquisition and talent management space, with a range of FMCG, B2B and Pharmaceuticals sector organisations including Duracell Batteries, GlaxoSmithKline, Premier Farnell and has successfully completed a 3 year change management assignment at Coca-Cola. Simon has recently left Coca-Cola to launch his own consulting business, specialising in shared services design and selection, virtual working, coaching and mentoring. He has been involved in the design and deployment of Shared Services four times since 1995, including vendor selection for outsourced partners. Simon has a strong expertise in selection and development of HR Shared Services teams and has worked with both onshore captives, off-shore, outsourced, and virtual working teams where a blended solution of retained and outsourced has been chosen. Based on his own learning Simon advises companies to choose carefully the right HRO mix for them relevant to their business profile and current situation. Simon is currently assigned to NCR as HR Shared Services Director, Europe Middle East and Africa.

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Simon Brown
Posted: 07/09/2012


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