2021: A Pivotal Year for GBS Talent? 10 Predictions That May Surprise You

Is your crystal ball as clear as ours?

Add bookmark


Is Your Crystal Ball as Clear as Ours?

Conjecture about the state of GBS and shared services human capital flew fast and furious in 2020. Strong talent mobility from January through March quickly morphed into a world where all old bets were off.

As a result of all the COVID-19 chaos, pundits took available empirical data and made bold declarations:

“The best GBS talent market in years,” came from anecdotal evidence that GBS organizations everywhere were cutting staff as volumes decreased.

“A new virtual talent market,” others declared, as work from home morphed into an assumption that enterprises would permit 'work from anywhere.'

Outsiders pronounced “the BPO chapter over” as some outsourcers had more than a few hiccups procuring laptops.

“Full steam ahead into automation” became the refrain from GBS staff, consultants, and software providers alike, believing that enterprises finally had the impetus to quickly shed humans and move to bots.

But, did these trends really pick-up steam? From our vantage point, 2020’s events did not foster any breakthroughs in GBS human capital management, but rather intensified some and surfaced others as the year dragged on.

The best thing about New Year’s prognostications is that, by the end of the year, if we misread the messages in the tea leaves, few will remember January's predictions. So, indulge us as we consider the top 10 bets we are placing on the state of GBS and shared services human capital this year:

1. Markets will become increasingly tight for hard process and management skills

This year, cycle-time-to-value is an imperative for GBS and shared services organizations. The COVID-19 knock-on effect has intensified the need for “make-it-happen” expertise—global process leadership, PMO, change managers, vendor management—especially when coupled with a keen command of the power of prescriptive analytics and enabling technologies like process mining. Building on the flurry of talent mobility from Fall 2019 to March 2020, the market will continue to tighten, creating a short supply of technical skills for the foreseeable future.

2. GBS generalists will find the market tough sledding … at least for the first half of the year

At the same time, GBS business generalists—managers, strategists, serial transformers—will find the market for employment difficult unless they recast their skills as delivery-oriented and business-critical. 2021 will be the year of doubling down on continuous improvement, not re-imagining the model.

3. The automation enthusiasts will finally come to the conclusion that 'It’s the talent, stupid!'

We don’t foresee mass displacement of transaction processing talent due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the bloom is off the RPA rose; GBS and shared services leaders have not yet reaped the benefit that so many software providers and consultants had promised. Second, budgets for back office digitization won’t open up dramatically; most expansive digital programs haven't yet sorted the critical interplay between human talent, machines, and technology necessary to achieve a truly digitized operation. Instead, this year, we foresee GBS leaders refocusing on the work their teams perform and the skills necessary to unleash the value of digital, before going full bore into automation programs.

Online Professional GBS Training Certification - Starts February 2021

  • Course is online 
  • Limited spaces available
  • Feb 25 start for next certification program
  • 15 % Team discount – available for groups of 5-10  
  • Receive a Certified Business Services Institute Professional™ (BSIP™ Designation)

4. Work from anywhere will not yet prevail as a talent model

The jury is out until COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Despite the relative success of work from home, most GBS and shared services organizations will dig in their heels when it comes to co-location when mobility returns, especially when it comes to top management. Technology will prove to be no replacement for physical proximity to align, solve problems, co-create and engage stakeholders.

5. Enterprise roles remain elusive for folks with long consulting and outsourcing careers

There will continue to be limited mobility betwixt and between for members of the GBS talent trifecta—enterprise, advisory and outsource providers. Even though the subject matter is the same, enterprises will continue to double down on hiring talent who have been on the hook for operating and managing stakeholders effectively. Consultants’ “do as I say” (not as I’ve done) experience will not be compelling to hiring managers, while a provider’s command and control environment will call into question the ability of outsourcing professionals to deliver value in an enterprise environment.

6. Spans and layers exercises will quietly take out middle and even top GBS management

Expect few GBS and shared services organizations to be spectacularly—and publicly—decimated by mass layoffs. However, as the implications of COVID-19 continue to adversely impact corporate performance, enterprises will put their GBS organizations under the lens, looking to take out the cost of long-tenured leaders. Look to GBS models that report to a COO or consolidator models with limited end-to-end functional shared services operations as the likely victims of restructuring.

7. Gigs as a source of GBS resourcing will remain an aspiration

Right now, GBS leaders talk gigworkers, but stubbornly stick to binary resourcing models—captive or outsourced. As leaders see the viability of alternate resourcing models (just like their IT brethren), they will evaluate the hiring of gigworkers or making more interim appointments. This will be exacerbated by constrained budgets, the high cost of consultants deployed as pseudo staff members, and the increasing availability of dislocated seasoned professionals finding themselves out on the street. The development of a platform connecting GBS talent to enterprises will speed the trend.

8. The pool of MVP talent will not expand dramatically

Transformational leaders with a verifiable track record will find themselves in high demand when GBS leadership churns or new organizations form. COVID-19 will ensure cautious herd instincts prevail with “I want one of those” approaches to securing top talent. Expect to see GBS’s most valuable players continue to move from company to company to company, with limited opportunities for emerging talent to take over top roles.

9. The trend to outsourcing will strengthen, requiring deeper service management skills

We see captive models increasingly peeling off in-house transactional processes to providers as part of restructuring efforts. At the same time, providers look to expand scope by offering free proofs of concept, usually up the value chain. What does this mean for GBS talent? Service management expertise (encompassing sourcing and vendor management) will become more and more critical, not only for effective governance, but also as the key to service value engineering and the creation of innovation funding models.

10. GBS organizations will start to eliminate silos

As a result of COVID-19, business has become far more dynamic and complex, requiring GBS operations to rethink the way they organize to deliver incremental value. This year, organizations will come to the realization that GBS success is predicated on creating and nurturing cross-functional teams, not maintaining siloed hierarchical models. IT’s agile-based models and pod structures, with less supervision and more self-direction, will start to show up in GBS talent models, allowing for continuous innovation and change.


What do we see as the overarching theme of 2021? GBS organizations will continue to form and reform … and talent is the single most critical success factor.

Those who assume that the business world has fully adopted the GBS model need to think again. Even in COVID-19 times, the model is expanding or rebooting, with some enterprises building GBS investments into restructuring initiatives. 2021 will see substantial activity as enterprises formulate their plans to transform in a much-altered world. And the right GBS talent construct will unlock that transformation.

Is our crystal ball accurate? Follow us on LinkedIn as the year unfolds: Deborah Kops and Janet Ramey.


Don't miss a chance to skill up your GBS team – join an talented group of leaders to optimize GBS performance. Find out about a brand new, online, GBS Training Program.

RECOMMENDED