Voluntold to Tackle Global Business Services Leadership? Lucky You!

Add bookmark

Deborah Kops

told to run GBS

Increasingly, business natives are taking the helm of GBS or Shared Services models. And that’s a logical decision on the part of the CXO; after all, who knows how the company adopts changes in business model better than a loyal, tenured, trusted exec who knows the handshakes, where the skeletons are buried, has been drinking the Kool-Aid for many years and can actually get things done?

Take heed, lucky ones---it’s not an easy job.

So, you’ve been tapped to take the helm of the enterprise’s business services platform. It may be a reward for many years of contributions and fitting in with the crowd; or a nice pre-retirement gig with a big title. Or you might be seen as a corporate up-and-comer with a promised promotion to bigger and better things. It could be a short-term assignment until the boss figures out what to do with a business services model that isn’t delivering as advertised. Maybe an insider needs to come in to clean up the mess left behind by a bought-in GBS leader charged to make changes the business wasn’t yet ready for (see my previous post!).

Whatever your path to the top, companies that appoint loyal execs, or loyalists as I call them, as Global Business Services (GBS) leaders are usually looking for low drama. As a business native, you are tasked with making a mark on Shared Services delivery in the form of sufficient, measured change. Likely you’ll have a strong mentor who has your back, with little risk of impairing your career trajectory.

Expectations are reasonable, you’re acknowledged as a good corporate citizen, and you have a sufficiently strong network to mitigate a lot of the noise. What will trip you up?

Low expectations. Paradoxically, this often derails business natives’ ability to deliver performance from the model. GBS-led change is more widespread, more profound when there’s a high bar, a burning platform, a plan, and a quest for better. Delivering a less noisy status quo isn’t worth the work.
When management doesn’t expect much, they get what they wish for.

No clue as to what GBS actually is and should do. It’s understandable that you’ve come from a function or operation that’s hard-wired on the org chart and fully accepted and institutionalized – i.e., everything that a GBS is not. GBS is an adaptive model whose major purpose is to design and manage operations that constantly create change.
If you confuse running an operation or a function with running GBS, the organization will become very confused, as will your team.

Going native. Too often business natives think that preserving their corporate relationships is the name of the game. There’s some element of relationship repair. Often, the last leader pushed the organization too far and it is incumbent upon you to pick up the pieces. As leader, you are first and foremost an agent of change, not a yes-man to the enterprise.
You have to rock the boat. If you are itching for a peaceful life, GBS is definitely not the right opportunity.

Short-timer attitude. At times CXOs twist internal recruits’ arms with a promise of bigger or better roles – date TBD. The knee-jerk reaction becomes, 'this too shall pass' so you take the long view, looking beyond the opportunity at hand, counting the months, and reverting to a caretaker role as opposed to becoming fully engaged.
There’s no job on the org chart called 'corporate babysitter.'


What can the buy-in GBS leader do to succeed wildly not only on behalf of the enterprise, but also on his/her terms (and ensure employment until s/he decides to move on)?

Resign yourself to potentially losing some friends. There’s a reason you’ve been asked to be the GBS leader — you are trusted. Use that cache of trust built up over many years to push the edge of the envelope rather than holding on to established relationships to the detriment of model success.
If you are not breaking at least a few relationship eggs, you’re not doing your job.

Get help from peers. Likely you’ve come from a function such as finance or IT, or operations that’s hard-wired and institutionalized with clearly articulated do’s and don’ts. And you are walking into a situation where there may be a dysfunctional program. No one internally is going to be able to help you with industry best practices or give you sage advice when you are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges — save others who have walked in your shoes.
Voluntold GBS leaders who think they can bluff their way through without doing their homework will likely just perpetrate the status quo. Go to school. Talk to other leaders. They will be generous with their advice.

Build an external profile. You do your team and your organization a disservice if you spend all your time walking the executive halls. The organization must participate in the broader industry, not only to inspire your team but to prove to your leadership that your GBS, too, can be a leader (which in turn helps with model or career longevity when you have an external persona). Be visible—show up at conferences, participate in networks, write if you have the inclination.
You’ll have a story to tell, I promise you.

Look outside for new talent. Usually your first instinct is to stabilize the team and bring in your own circle of trust from previous assignments. However, corporate inbreeding works against you when running a GBS model. Instrumenting your team composition is a critical success factor, so bringing in a few outside experts and disrupters and putting them in the right roles where they increase capability and challenge the status quo is imperative.
Every GBS organization constantly needs new skills and a few contrarian thinkers in order to thrive.

Roll up your sleeves. Unlike corporate functions with defined roles, responsibilities and ways of working, GBS operations must constantly bob and weave. Issues and opportunities constantly come out of left field; today it’s a missed close and an irate controller; tomorrow it’s a call from the CSO telling you about an acquisition that must be integrated. You have experience, you know how to operate; your involvement is critical to sort out whatever pops up.
As the head honcho, don’t coach from the sidelines; enter the trenches with the team each and every day.

Focus on succession from day one. You’ve been put in the role as a safe pair of hands, often calming the waters post the turmoil that the last incumbent stirred up. Whether it’s your last corporate hurrah before your pension kicks in, or a trial to see how you lead, likely you’ll not stick around beyond 4 years. Selecting a successor is imperative; too often, the loyalist leaves and then the organization either scrabbles around for a new leader or tucks the model under a corporate function (usually Finance), which can be tantamount to dismantling all that hard work.
Look at your mandate as GBS evolution leader, and ensure that the organization not only outlives your tenure, but continues to thrive, by leaving a legacy of leadership.

Demand time to evaluate. When you take on a GBS role as an insider, chances are that the budgets, targets and expectations are already set. As a good corporate citizen, your first instinct is not to ask questions but just assume all obligations. However, to be effective, you need some breathing time to figure out what changes you want to make, some cash to implement, and some slack when it comes to delivering on targets.
As a condition of taking on the role, negotiate sufficient time to get the lay of the land, and come up with your own roadmap. It’s only fair to you.

Show that there’s a new sheriff in town. We’ve established that GBS leadership isn’t a babysitter role; and that you need a plan to succeed. But getting obvious wins on the board quickly is necessary to show you mean business. Whether it’s patching up the relationship with the Finance team, or stemming attrition in centers, provide evidence to your team and the enterprise that you mean business. And that you are in control.
Even as a business native, once you take up the role, the enterprise will ask “what have you done for me lately?” Evaluate, plan, but don’t take time to show change.

Be the number one GBS cheerleader of GBS. Even if you are a de facto caretaker manager until the enterprise determines what it wants to do with the model, you have a responsibility to engage and educate the enterprise, and positively rebrand GBS through your enthusiastic embrace of your new challenge.
Make sure your excitement and commitment are always visible to your team as well as your stakeholders. If you believe that the GBS model creates tangible value for the organization—and show it—you will achieve half of your objective.

Don’t underestimate yourself. GBS leadership offers you the opportunity to test everything you ever knew about management, operations, people, and change. Most of it is just common sense backed up by the lessons hard-earned experience.
You’ve proved you can succeed elsewhere in the business; GBS leadership is just another opportunity to show what you are made of.

If the stars are aligned and you go in with the right mindset, a GBS role can be a career godsend, even if you only expect to stay a short while. Where else in the corporate firmament can you manage a business within a business, determining which solutions move the dial for the organization, how to go to market, and what the optimum operating model looks like – with little adult supervision?

The role is arguably the best opportunity to see across the enterprise, learn about the business and understand how other functions operate. You can take that experience anywhere.

And when the going gets tough, remember you’ve got an ace in the hole: the trust you’ve earned from years of performance is like money in the bank. Your stakeholders will usually cut you some slack not only as you get your sea legs, but also as you make changes they don’t initially agree with – because of your institutional knowledge and network. When there’s a miss in delivery, or a debate over who owns what, you have a direct line of communication to sort things out quickly before situations fester.

Don’t forget there’s an added benefit: a favorable comparison to the last leader will burnish your reputation as an effective agent of change. You could go down in corporate annals as the guy or gal who finally made the GBS model deliver!

Business natives, you just might find that being voluntold into GBS leadership is an opportunity that’s set you on a satisfying new career course.

In many organizations, the best leadership solution is appointing a business native to deliver the best out of a GBS model. Kudos to the many loyalists I know who quietly…and some not so quietly…take up the challenge to transform their organizations.

With best wishes for every success