Coping in a Crisis: GBS as the Swiss Army Knife of Enterprise

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My good friend, Rob Bradford, posted a great article on SSON recently: “How to Leverage Coronavirus for Positive Change in GBS” and it got me thinking about other opportunities for GBS leaders.

How your GBS organization responds to this external threat can bolster the GBS business case – and increase Stakeholder Satisfaction. Let’s consider…

GBS as the Swiss Army Knife

A good GBS organization has traits that make it unique. You have scale. You have a global footprint. You have multiple labor sources (e.g. Captives, BPO providers, contractors, RPA, etc.). You may have Center of Excellence (COE) capabilities such as project management, analytics, reporting, or other support areas. In short, you have agility that other parts of the company may not have.

Operationally, you can quickly redirect existing resources to hot spots. You can offer supplemental staffing to other functions and line organizations that are dealing with a peak need crisis. You have established service provider relationships which you can tap into to add short-term resources to directly help GBS or provide help to another area of the company.

Take advantage of your Duration trait. You can have work performed overnight, in another part of the world, to extend productivity and compensate for geographies that are currently compromised. Look to offer temporary offshore staffing for other functions outside of GBS as a lever they can pull.

For your GBS leadership team, this moment is like the scene from the movie “Apollo 13” when the Lead Engineer walks into the room and says “Okay, the people upstairs need us to deliver. We have to make this, out of this, working only with this!”

Being #11 on the Top Ten List

GBS is an “out of sight, out of mind” organization. You’re like electricity. People don’t want to know how you “make the sausage”, they just expect it to work each time and every time – and flawlessly. You are part of the infrastructure investment of the company, and when a business continuity crisis emerges it is a great opportunity to step up.

A common issue for established GBS organizations is that they are a popular target for anecdotal stories. We’ve all had the situation where you proudly present and report your Service Level performance, and someone in the company screams that you nearly shut down their plant because GBS failed to pay an invoice on-time. When the post-mortem of this continuity crisis comes (and you know it will), you want GBS to be the recipient of positive anecdotes, as the function that rose to meet the unexpected challenge.

Tactically, every person in GBS should be extending themselves to help the rest of the company. Starting with your morning shift huddles, exhort everyone to put themselves in the seats of their customers who are dealing with negative consequences on the supply chain, sales, and manufacturing operations. How can you help the company avoid additional costs – such as forfeiture of travel reservations; penalties for suspending indirect or direct procurement deliveries due the demand changes; etc.?

(Re)Making the Case

You’ve established a global supporting business services capability for the company, created scale, and harvested the initial wage arbitrage savings. But now you are stalled politically. Many people in management have taken the wage arbitrage savings (thank you very much), but now haven’t been receptive to your arguments to extend the value proposition. Now is a time to positively reinforce the decision.

Go back to your original business case. What did the company expect from its GBS investment? Was it narrowly defined as a vehicle for headcount reductions and wage arbitrage, or was more expected? The company and management probably invested in GBS initially to reduce costs, and later to improve effectiveness / quality. Having a GBS as an organizational asset in a business continuity crisis can make the difference in how the company is perceived to be dealing with the impacts.

You should be a key player in your company’s War Room. GBS has the unique advantage of being a ‘horizontal organization’ that runs along end-to-end process lines. Leverage that. Right now, senior management needs real-time information on how the coronavirus is impacting daily operations. Take your horizontal metrics and show trends, gaps, and key line areas under stress. You should be able to produce a crisis dashboard that quickly delivers the information that is critical now. Work closely with Procurement and IT, as they are also horizontal organizations, to ensure your efforts dovetail and compliment theirs.

Leverage your Stakeholder and Customer relationships. A good GBS organization will have already established lines of communications with the key stakeholders and influencers in the company – people that really make the company run. Reach out to those stakeholders: What do they need? What are they seeing? Do you see common patterns across stakeholders? Can GBS help to cross-fertilize quick fix solutions that are popping up in the company?

Preparing for the Post-Mortem

You know that the inevitable post-mortem is coming, so anticipate it. Think about the key questions management, Audit, and Risk Management will be asking all the functions within the company and reverse engineer that to what you need to be collecting and actioning now. Start with your own GBS organization. Collect that data now. Collect data for other functions to anticipate their future needs for review. Collect opinions, views, and reactions from your people now, while it is fresh in their minds. As Rob pointed out, monitor your Data Recovery / Business Continuity plans daily, and track what is working and what is not.

Meet with Audit and Risk Management now. Help them anticipate the post-mortem needs. For the Functions and Line Organizations, provide daily SLA / KPI data feedback. You probably only give them that data in monthly reports, but now more frequent reporting with trend analysis will likely be well received.

Tap into your networks for help. GBS is a great discipline, and most leaders are willing to share their experiences and opinions. Reach out to other companies to find out what they are doing, not just for GBS but to help other functions. Now you need the counsel of practitioners more than you need consulting help. Talk to others who also “sit in your chair.”

Taking a Leadership Position

In times of crisis, management needs leaders, not followers. The true test of being a great Service Provider is not how you respond day-to-day when things are in a normal state. Rather, it is how you respond under extraordinary circumstances when the company really needs you.

Show by your words and actions that you can step up to the challenge, not only within GBS but also to help the broader organization.

I am a big proponent of ‘Servant Leadership,’ and at this moment you have a great opportunity to truly serve above and beyond what people might be expecting of you.

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Paul Nicolaisen is a 30-year practitioner of GBS and Shared Services. He has built, from scratch, multiple shared services and GBS organizations. To date he has built 21 captive services centers across five continents (all still in operation!). He has worked across industries, multi-functions, and geographic boundaries throughout his career. Paul has initiated and managed numerous BPO / ITO providers, and was an early adopter of robotic process automation. He also has performed advisory / consulting work, which means he has sat on opposite sides of the table. He is one of the few people in the industry to be recognized as a ‘builder’ of GBS organizations. Four of his GBS organizations were separately recognized as among the Top Ten in the world.

In 2019, Paul retired as the EVP of GBS for AkzoNobel, a €15 Billion multinational maker of decorative paints and industrial coatings. Since his retirement, he works with large-scale enterprises to help them navigate the GBS Maturity Path.