Successful Shared Services Leadership Characteristics: Being an Effective Boss

Simon Brown

Following the recent global survey we conducted with SSON to understand from our shared services members what makes a good Shared Services Leader (Boss Quality article), we are doing a deeper dive to look at the big themes emerging from your answers.

Read part 1: Key principle # 1

Read part 2: Key principle # 2

Read part 4: Key principle # 4

In this third in-depth article we look at the characteristics of what makes an effective team boss, and conversely, what does ineffective boss quality look like in terms of the impact it has on others?

The characteristic of an effective team boss can be summarised as someone who is prepared to let go of some tight management control to grow and enable their team, versus micro-managing them.

Key activities for an effective team boss therefore include:

Delegation of some of one’s own work tasks and projects to members of the team. Letting go of your power a little bit, not trying to hold on to everything yourself as the leader.

Empowering others to do work, come up with ideas, and proposals for how work can be done better, without micro-managing their every move or criticising their every mistake. It’s about creating an environment where it is ok to make mistakes, so long as we learn from them and don’t repeat the same mistake next time! It’s about creating a learning environment where open and constructive two-way feedback is allowed when reviewing meetings, project outcomes, key milestones. It’s also about asking the right questions more than just giving answers:

  • What are the key learnings from today/this meeting/ this project?
  • What went well? How can we build on that and repeat that?
  • What can we do differently next time?
  • How can we get even better?

Coaching your team to be a winning team, to grow their skills and knowledge, and become more effective.
This is a big area of focus for successful leaders – the best leaders coach their teams by helping them think through goals and their own actions, rather than using the exertion of their power in a negative way (the famous "hair-dryer shouting" approach) to tell team members what to do and how to think in order to control them.

Effective coaching enhances team member performance and promotes a climate of motivation. I like the method advocated by John Whitmore, known as the self-directed learning method,
the GROW model of coaching. This is where the leader is coach and asks the learner, who is the team member, a series of structured questions to facilitate the learner owning the learning derived from those questions.

It starts with:

G=Goal – what do you as the learner/team member specifically want to achieve in a work area/topic/skill development space?
Then it goes on to invite you, the learner, to describe:

R=Reality in the current situation – what issues/challenges/barriers are you being faced with right now?

Next we move on to look at:

O=Options to consider to resolve/work through the current reality to reach the goal. What choices do you have within your control? What could be a plan A, or plan B? What can you do?

Finally we ask the learner to take action with:

W=Will. What are YOU going to do next? And this is an important piece to conclude the coaching session with, because our goal as leader is for the learner/team member to take responsibility for action to deliver the goal they have shaped in discussion with you.

Supporting the team through the hard times, defending them when they are unfairly criticised by others in the organisation, is equally important for successful Shared Services leaders (and all leaders). The team needs to know that their manager/leader wants them to do well, will help them to do well, and will champion their efforts, praise their achievements and successes, and defend them against the enemy – those who are looking to shared services as a target for their wrath, a reason for the faults of the whole function. (We referred to these in key principle #2 article – as change terrorists.)

Some things you can do as Leader here are:

  • Active listening to what your team members are saying
  • Restating their issues to show you have heard them
  • Going out to reframe the wrong perceptions of shared services and the team directly with the critical stakeholders
  • Finding out about how your team member really feels during the hard times by asking questions such as
  1. What’s not going well for you at the moment?
  2. What’s making your life unhappy at work?
  3. What can I do to help resolve this?

And these actions really do help to emphasise that you care about your team and you are their best supporter. This kind of leadership can turn unhappy employees to happy employees.

Ashley Ward, in his research as director of European Leaders, states that "Effective leadership from your manager is key to building motivation among employees, and by making work engaging and challenging employees to reach their full potential, helping them to find something that motivates them in the workplace, and being transparent as a leader as well as being clear about the company and function vision." (As we described in key principle #1). All of these help to bring passion into work.

The opposite of all this is the leader who abstains, controls, bullies, and ignores. Sadly, these people do exist in our organisations as some of you have indicated in the original survey about the shared service leaders who are nit-pickers, critics of their team, and generally don’t have good Boss Quality.

As the saying goes: we join companies and leave bosses, and exit interview reports are full of examples where the bad characteristics of one’s own boss have been a large contributory factor in breaking the psychological contract. And as this poem illustrates, that feels bad. Let’s not go there!

Click here to read: Boss Quality

*View more articles by Simon Brown


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.