The secret to shared services: excellent outputs require excellent inputs

What the manufacturing industry has known for years is now becoming commonplace in the services industry: good outputs are contingent on quality inputs. Translated to support services, this means that if you want to deliver excellent customer service you need to start with your employees.

As shared services is increasingly deployed as a proven solution to improving business efficiency, hiring a quality team is a core plank of the implementation strategy. This means: your staff are a key factor in determining client satisfaction.

Times are a’changin’

No one will deny this, and yet the industry – worldwide – suffers from a sense of lagging behind the current reality. This is because the shared services model has witnessed a significant transformation since its early days. Initially, shared services was based on centralization and standardization. That meant that you needed employees that were great with systems, spreadsheets, and metrics – and, to some extent, problem resolution. The human element, however, was not at the forefront of recruitment characteristics for what was largely seen as a transactional environment. Fast forward to today, and we’re looking at a very different scenario. We're seeing the emergence of the non-traditional workplace, incorporating flexibility in terms of where employees can work, as well as when. However reticent some elements of the business community have traditionally felt towards outsourcing – especially offshore – "the times, they are a’changin’."

Outsourcing becomes a viable option – supports new focus areas

A combination of global financial crisis on the one hand, and competitive pressure to reduce costs on the other, has made outsourcing an increasingly acceptable strategy for many organizations. And, as on-shore or near-shore delivery centers expand, companies hitherto uncomfortable with outsourcing work to far-flung centers may find themselves facing more palatable options.

Australia presents a good example of this trend, where "home-grown" BPO centers such as the IBM’s Delivery Centre in Ballarat, Victoria, are attracting strong interest from a range of organizations including local, multinational and government.

Peter Monk, Partner and BPO Solution Leader with IBM Australia, confirms: "Organizations are increasingly willing to outsource work to providers, so they can focus on adding value to the business. Bear in mind: the modern workforce is changing. As a generation of digital natives enters the office, they are expecting a lot more than just a good salary. They want career progression, a learning environment, and multiple channels through which to source data and communicate.

"Traditional HR functions, mired in transactional processes, are finding it hard to meet these expectations. So what we're doing is we're taking 80% of the transactional processes off their hands, allowing them to spend 80% of their time on developing the policies and strategies that are key to capturing the vitality of the modern workforce. And that is where value is created for the business."

Retained team: what services are you recruiting?

So, against the backdrop of a possible reduction in transactional processing inhouse, and an increased focus on value-add by the retained team, we’re back to the question: What skill sets should you be recruiting?

As you, by necessity, step up your shared services strategy, you need to re-evaluate your team’s skills capability. The skill-sets required are no longer the functionally specific ones of a decade ago. Today, a shared services employee wears a multitude of hats ranging from account handler to data analyst to social media strategist. The more, you might say, the better.

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We've summarized 7 core competencies we believe you should be recruiting, below.

As shared services have developed, the profile of the "right" employee has changed dramatically. No longer are you looking for functional expertise specifically. That’s a basic requirement, and what’s more, automation has replaced much of this need. In 2013, what distinguishes a successful shared services employee is also the ability to transcend silos, to network, to leverage social media, to understand analytics, to communicate across different cultures, and to understand, and align themselves to, outcome-oriented metrics.

1. Analytics Capability
Yes, it may not have been a favorite subject at school, but back then it was called statistics and it didn’t seem to relate much to the real world! Now, data analytics represents the blood flow of enterprise information, and it’s all around you. A shared services employee needs to know what to look for and to recognize what the data is telling them. What’s notable: it’s not about tracking data against specific baselines, but to track it against desirable organizational outputs – in other words: What does the data tell you about the impact of process on the business?

2. Communication Wizard
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: a good communicator gets results; a bad communicator creates problems. Many things you can teach, but when it comes to communication skills you better be hiring them from the get-go. You can’t teach people how to smile naturally, and you can’t really teach how to listen. For some jobs this doesn’t matter. For shared services, it’s vital.

3. Cross-functional Understanding
This is not as scary as it sounds, but the trend is for shared services staff to understand, and be capable of stepping into, colleagues’ roles – even across functions. Some companies rotate shared services staff as a matter of policy, not just within the business units but also across functionally-oriented shared services. Given a well-rounded and skilled employee, you’ll be able to take a "plug and play" approach to deploying him or her across your SSO.

4. Living – and Working – through Social Media
The great thing is, if you’re hiring GenY staff, they’ll be teaching you! There’s nothing those digital natives like more than to be told they need to leverage information from social media channels. They will, of course, already be doing so on their commute, as the "bring your own device to work" trend is fast becoming a reality. Where shared services demands a little bit more is in linking social media to data and application. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this. It’s called SMAC [social, mobile, analytics, and cloud] and it’s going to be defining the shared services workplace of the future.

5. Knowing the Business
This represents a significant departure from what was previously required of a typical Accounting and Finance role, or an IT role, or even HR. After all, in the past you were dealing with input information and you knew what to do with it. Today, that’s all changed. First of all, the shared services remit is about constantly asking yourself: just because we’ve always done it this way, does it still make sense? Shared services acts as a consultancy of sorts to its business unit clients. Given the multiple clients a typical shared services works with, there are also lessons to be learned from individual cases that can be applied across all customers. Regular meetings between the business units and the shared services team will drive far better results.

6. It’s a Partnership
The shared services/client relationship is not the servant/master relationship of old. Your average shared services employee is more empowered to make decisions and to fix problems. What you’re looking for is someone who understands that today it’s all about a partnership: you share risks, you share rewards; you share problems and you share their resolutions. This marks a fairly significant departure from a traditional support role, and you’ll want to make sure that your employees are comfortable with it.

7. Results Driven
And here’s one of the most important characteristics of your new shared services employee: understanding that the job isn’t done until the results are achieved. The shared services team and the client form a seamless team, with shared services driving the inputs to the client’s business. Your staff need to know how to agree on desired outputs, and how to align their services and support to them. You also want to make sure you hire people that recognize opportunities for improvement, and that grasp the chance to make changes. Your shared services will be judged according to its impact on the business; this starts with your shared services staff understanding the outputs.

Don’t miss the chance to hear from some of Australia’s leading practitioners as they take to the stage at the 16th Annual Shared Services & Outsourcing Week in Melbourne, 20-22 May 2013. Our focus this year is on "Creating the Intelligent Enterprise" – and that means hiring the right staff and training them accordingly. We will also be talking about talent and new trends in skill-set requirements within the heralded G6 Debate on 22 May at SSO Week - which top sell side minds would you like to see on the panel? Vote now!