The digital generation is redefining the gameplan

Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 06/01/2017

The digital workplace requires a skills rethink – and some innovative talent management strategies

As the workplace reflects a new demographic, the nature of Shared Services work changes, and technology offers a boost – successful organisations are rethinking talent management and training to equip teams for the digital age (and the Millennial invasion). SSON interviewed three Directors whose SSOs rank in the top 20 Most Admired Shared Service Centres globally (according to SSON Analytics) to ask them how they were recruiting new skill sets, what kind of training was most effective, and which strategies were most successful in retaining key talent.


The technological innovations of the past decade have driven what is perhaps the most significant revolution in the workplace since assembly lines appeared on factory floors. The impact on productivity and time-to-market has been enormous. And yet, what was true one hundred years ago still rings true today: ‘People’ remain your most important asset.

What makes today different, however, is that, right now, the generation most commonly represented in the workforce is that of the Millennial (also known as Gen Y, or those born after 1980). It’s a generation that has grown up in a technologically-integrated world where information is power, and all the information you could want is available at the touch of a button on a mobile device. Millennials have more power than Baby Boomers had, because they know how to make things happen – whether organizing a political rally or collaborating across virtual teams. They don’t just know that their vote counts – they have a different view of authority, too, because they tend to think about authority in terms of productivity rather than position. Millennial entrepreneurs succeed faster and bigger than any generation that came before, by being quick to recognise and leverage the demand for online engagement.

As much as Millennials represent an opportunity, they also represent a challenge to recruiters trying to build a solid talent pipeline and develop strategic succession plans. Millennials’ expectations around career paths are often inflated, particularly in hotspots like Eastern Europe or Asia, where it's not uncommon for a hiring manager to be faced with an ambitious young person who makes it clear they expect to be promoted every two years. Where this fails to materialise, we see the kind of shared-services-centre-hopping characteristic of these hotspots, where newly trained staff are easily lured to a new launch or an expanding centre on the basis of a 10-20% salary rise and a new job title.

If you're facing a similar scenario while trying to build up a strong knowledge-based team that will provide value adding services, you'll need to do something about it.

A new team for the digital age

To get the most out of your current workforce you need to leverage the strength of Millennials, explains Maciej Piwowarczyk, Director, Global Business Services at Discovery Communications. Maciej joined Discovery just three months ago, in time to preside over the go live of the new operation on April 2. Over those few months, he recruited a team of 50 staff to support P2P, payroll, cash management, corporate card, travel and expense, and tax compliance across the US, Europe, Latin America… and in future APAC, as well. 

“I had the opportunity to stand up a brand-new team and was excited to be able to do that," Maciej explains. “Today's shared services, however, are characterised by automation and digitalisation, in contrast to typical centres of a decade ago.”

In the past, process was King and the role of individuals was to support the process. Today the tables are turning, Maciej says: “At Discovery, our culture is highly creative, and the individual is king, while process exists to support that individual. In addition, we focus on individual capabilities around trust, intelligence, and empowerment to make sure the right decisions are made. Individual capability is a key skill we recruit for.”


Another important attribute for Discovery’s GBS is adaptability, whereby this is not to be confused with flexibility, as Maciej explains: "A former boss taught me: flexibility is where someone asks you to break into a run and you do it; but adaptability, is when you first consider whether running actually makes sense. That's what we're looking for in our team."

One way Maciej identifies the talent he is looking for is by intentionally running interviews via Skype video conferencing, as opposed to face-to-face. "The kind of skill sets we are looking for are valuable in a virtual world and are not immediately obvious face-to-face. During a Skype video call, it's quickly apparent how someone engages through that medium, whether they are a good listener, whether they can push back, etc. We need people that can leverage digital communications in engaging with clients around the world. Doing interviews via video is one way to identify an individual's strengths in that regard."

Operating experience trumps ‘shared services’

At Vodafone, Denes Lang, Head of Shared Services Europe is following his own strategy in looking for new recruits. "We don't want people with traditional skills or those embedded in legacy systems and process. We want people who bring a new outlook to service delivery,” he explains. To find them, Denes is casting a wide net, looking beyond shared services experience when filling roles. In fact, what he looks for is individuals with experience in operating companies or in marketing who could bring this operational awareness into the shared services environment. "We need to recognise shared services as more of a business partner rather than ‘servant’ of the business – people with live operational experience will have what it takes."

It’s a message that Denes is actively taking to the market – whether in interviews or at conferences. "Being recognised as a brand that engages with individuals on a personal level is important for us,” he says.

The age of the “individual”

Eastern Europe today is at a transition point. For the generation that grew up under communism, and that lost everything in the transition period, capitalism was embraced to the detriment of nearly everything else – “even their private lives,” says Maciej. But today’s Millennial generation is promoting a new way forward, he explains. They have more confidence in demanding work-life balance, they know their value, and they're not afraid to assert themselves.

“To a large extent, the Business Services culture at Discovery is influencing the evolution of the workplace as a whole, and it’s being driven by Millennials.”

Vodafone’s Denes Lang agrees: “You used to be able to put a Generation-Xer into a transactional processing role, and they’d patiently carry on for four or five years. That's no longer the case,” he says. “With Millennials, that would not last more than a few months. But in today's world you wouldn't want it to, either.”

Millennials play well into the current environment in which jobs reflect communication skills and creative thought processes that come so naturally to this demographic. "We need their creativity in marketing roles and commercial finance activities," Denes explains.

One other thing that is changing is self-awareness. East Europeans are traditionally humble, and not naturally inclined to speak up and promote their ideas, says Maciej. “We have the knowledge, but we have traditionally not flaunted that knowledge – rather, we let the results speak for themselves. We are at a point now, however, where we need to encourage our people to be more confident in communicating what they know and pre-empting solutions. These are the skills we are actively encouraging and promoting to align with a market that is all about perception, branding, virtual, customer satisfaction.”

Leveraging the brand

As a telecommunications company, Vodafone is actively leveraging its advantage in offering state-of-the-art technology as a means of engaging with workforce – and potential recruits. The strategy is playing out well with a demographic that wants to be involved and wants to understand the company better in order to be an integral part of its operations. Each employee is immersed in the operations so that they live and feel the brand and understand the industry they operate in as well as its gadgets and its future.

"Every one of us is responsible for driving end-customer satisfaction. We have to be committed to the brand and by definition that leads to improved service. The greatest tool for attracting talent is not to compete on financials but on branding and engagement, we have found,” says Denes.

What attrition really tells us

With attrition such a buzzword, and indeed its cost to the enterprise, it’s important to understand the root cause of any excess, says Maciej. "For example, it’s important to distinguish between attrition rates in recent joiners versus seasoned staff. If attrition for recent recruits is unreasonably high, the root cause is probably “misplacement”, and the responsibility for this mis-match falls on both parties. If new staff are leaving quickly for a better salary or position elsewhere, then you can be certain they were not truthfully briefed during the interview. It's all about managing expectations.

Getting the best out of CEE locations

Vodafone runs one of the largest Shared Services operations in the world, with 20,000 staff globally, 3000 of whom are in the CEE region, namely 2000 in Budapest, Hungary and 1000 in Bucharest, Romania. The types of jobs in these centres are not standard transactional, but reflect more of the value-add services that customers are demanding today. “If it was transactional work only, it would be cheaper to offshore it to India or Egypt,” says Denes Lang. “But we recognised the importance of delivering service close to commercial activities.”

The two-pronged model effectively gets the best out of two talent pools, without overburdening one location. “Europe is not like India, where large hubs can support centres with 5000 people,” explains Denes Lang, Head of Shared Services Europe, Vodafone. “Our model allows us to leverage the finance and business intelligence skills that Hungary excels in, and combine it with the IT skill sets and Latin languages that Romania is known for. It's provided a complementary portfolio approach that works very well.”


“On the other hand, is seasoned staff are leaving then the problem is generally one of two things: either the leadership culture is flawed or career paths are not being communicated. If there is not adequate support in moving forward, then people are going to vote with their feet. Global business services is a dynamic environment and there is enormous pressure to deliver. Creating the right culture or atmosphere, and presenting a clear personal career path into the future, so that staff feel safe in the knowledge that they are supported, is crucial to retain them. That is down to strong leadership.”


While the threat – or promise – of technology looms large over Shared Services Centres that were developed on the basis of low-cost FTEs, the unique selling point of Central and East European countries always was, and remains, language and education. That advantage remains, and businesses like BP derive significant and ongoing value from their regional operations. Even Robotics won’t upend this model, at least not yet, says Jamie Anderson, Head of BP Global Business Services Europe.

"No matter how much robotics can do, it won’t be able to replace the CEE employee value proposition yet, at least not at a reasonable price. While we still see language and cultural value in service delivery, this region will remain an important location for multinationals seeking performance-based Shared Services. [See also The Millennial Secret: How to win them over by playing them at their own game.]


Also read: The "Gig-economy" – what are you doing about it?


Barbara Hodge, Editor
Posted: 06/01/2017


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