The GBS Adventure: Killing Negatrons
In a corporate jungle obsessed with hype, office politics and the never-ending race for promotion, position and power, textbook leadership skills are failing to bridge the gap between management and their most precious commodity: people.
From her humble roots growing up in a Malaysian kampung, Boonsiri Somchit shows what it takes to truly engage and lead from the heart. Taking inspiration from her childhood adventures with her rag-tag gang, kite seasons, rusty Raleighs, ghost hunting and the Carpenters, Boon brings her hilarious insights to leadership, life and dealing with rogue chickens in her best-selling book on GBS Leadership: When the Chicken Dies, Everybody Cries. This column is based on the book.
[Viewer discretion advisory: this piece may contain adult language]
They live and walk amongst us. They could be family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. They could be anyone. Who are they? I call them Negatrons (and no, they are not Transformers). These are real-life people who will always try to dampen your enthusiasm, sow seeds of negativity in your mind, question your ability, and make you feel so small that you begin to doubt your decisions. I’ve met them. Have you?
When AMD embarked on its Finance transformation journey in 2001, under the capable leadership of Bob Rivet, our then new CFO, I was the Director of the Manufacturing Services Group Finance. Bob’s message to the Finance leadership team was that we needed to move into the new millennium, and we needed to add value to the company through business partnering and the adoption of a Shared Services Model. Of course, back then, none of us had any idea what a Shared Services was. The thought of creating something from nothing got me all excited though – so I did what any clueless risk taker would do, I volunteered, and called Bob at 2am with a grand strategy and what I thought was an amazing, executable plan and timeline for the implementation.
For many weeks after that fateful call, all I could think about was the Shared Services. I read and reread Shared Services books while I waited for the decision from Bob and my boss, Devinder Kumar, our Corporate Controller, on whether I would get the job. When they called to tell me that I was selected, it was one of the happiest days of my life. If it were not for the fact that I was pregnant, I would have been jumping up and down.
I do have to admit that my excitement was short lived.
When news of my new role spread throughout the organisation – that I had volunteered to build AMD’s very first accounting SSO – I expected my colleagues to be happy for me. Unfortunately that was not the reaction I received. Instead, their reaction came as a huge surprise to me.
“Boon, you’re moving away from the sexy part of the business to become a bean counter.”
“Boon, why would you want to run a Finance backend transaction centre?”
“Boon, this is career suicide. What do you know about starting an SSO?”
I was disappointed because I actually thought they would understand and support my enthusiasm to create something new.
“C’mon Leong, I thought that you, of all people, would understand why I wanted to do this. My heart is telling me that this is where I belong. This is what I was meant to do. I think any job can be sexy if you love what you do and you get the people around you excited about it, too. That’s what I want to do. Create something new in AMD Finance,” I explained to my long-time colleague.
Leong sadly shook his head, “Boon, there you go again. The heart this, the heart that. ‘Happy’. ‘Excitement’. Are you mental? This is a job. Why do you want to single-handedly tear apart decades of financial tradition to create this Shared Services that you don’t even know anything about? Don’t forget you have a baby on the way. How is this good for you? I don’t understand you at all. What does your husband say about all this?”
That last condescending statement irritated me.
I couldn’t believe the nerve of the man thinking that he knew what was good for me. I couldn’t believe that he asked what my husband thought. Did anyone ever ask him what his wife thought when he was offered a promotion or had to spend weeks away from home on business? Of course not. He was a man and they always know it all and can handle it all. Shit, shit, shit.
I took a deep breath and told myself not to get mad at him. Think of the baby Boon, think of the baby… In my sweetest, softest most dangerous tone I thanked Leong for his concern for my health and walked off.
Back to the Negatrons. Negatrons are naysayers and I am sure that every team, organization and company has at least one. My GBS journey taught me a thing or two about dealing with them. Here are some tips:
The first thing that you can do is to use the Negatrons. If like me, you are a risk taker and someone who bulldozes their way to complete a project, Negatrons can be your devil’s advocate. Listen objectively but don’t get influenced or sucked into the negativity and use their feedback to develop solutions to proactively solve problems.
The next thing you could do is to kill Negatrons and transform them into Positrons (yes, these are the ones with a positive outlook). Do this by sharing with them how the project could actually benefit them. Use facts and data.
Finally, if you can’t transform them and all they do is put you and your team down, don’t let them get to you. Listen, smile and walk away. Continue on your path and if you fall, it’s okay, get up and try again. After all it’s your life and your project, not theirs.
To be continued….
Boonsiri Somchit (Boon) is a highly accomplished finance and operations professional with over three decades of experience. She has held senior leadership positions in several multinational companies including, Motorola, Komag and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and is recognised as a world-class leader in Global Business Services (GBS). In her 18-year career at AMD she spearheaded the set-up of its very first accounting and financial shared services organisation. Under her stewardship, the AMD shared services rapidly expanded to become AMD’s only Global Business Services company servicing all of AMD’s entities around the world. From a team of only 13, AMD’s Global Business Services currently employs over 300 staff based in Malaysia. From AMD Global Business Services headquartered in Penang, Malaysia, Boon managed and led teams in North and South America, EMEA and the Asia-Pacific. The culture that she built at AMD Global Business Services achieved the highest employee engagement scores for three consecutive years, not only within AMD but also when benchmarked with other high performing companies within the industry. AMD’s Global Business Services Organization has been recognized as a global industry benchmark and has been featured in shared services articles and academic white papers in Malaysia and in the UK.
Boon writes a regular column for SSON, adapted from her book, “When the Chicken Dies, Everyone Cries” available on Amazon.