Upskilling Your Workforce for the New Shared Services Environment

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Barbara Hodge

Building the Right Shared Services Team

The role and value-add of Shared Services are constantly being redefined as both the internal and external enterprise environment continues to shift.

Digitalization, demand for real-time data, and more recently, automation, are combining to pressurize Shared Services to react and adapt. Forward thinking leaders are looking ahead already, so that they can meet the demands of tomorrow, and hit the ground running.

The turning point for this new-and-improved approach hinges on empowered employees that can solve problems on their own. But given the significantly different type of work that will increasingly be asked of Shared Services, one of the stumbling blocks is making sure employees have the competencies to meet these new demands.

Traditional skillsets won’t suffice to offer the value-add that today’s business customers need to stay ahead. The challenge, therefore, is to identify the new skills needed to problem-solve, and then figure out how to resource and ‘teach’ them.


SSON’s latest industry survey clearly highlights the areas where SSO leaders recognize skill gaps: Data Analytics and Automation. Also high up on the list, however, is Innovation. This recognizes the value drivers for future shared services activity. it's no longer about functional or even process excellence; it’s about recognizing the opportunities provided through external sources.

Automation leverages existing data, but also throws out interesting analytics on the underlying data. An innovative mindset will grasp the opportunities thus presented. These are the skills that modern Shared Services organizations need in order to reinvent themselves.

What are the leading skills deficits within existing SSO staff?

In addition, Shared Services practitioners recognize that talent is no longer about labor arbitrage, but about effectiveness. In other words, it's not primarily about cost efficiency as much as it is about performance.

What is your top talent challenge in Shared Services?

Get the full 2019 State of the Shared Services Indusry report – free to you, here.


One sector that has led the skills-driven revolution in the 2000s is the digitally-driven industry that defines Silicon Valley, where the likes of Google and Facebook have made “empowerment” a mantra and flattened org charts to the extent that agility and innovation have become impressive weapons against the competition. And they’ve been successful.

Shared Services can learn from, and adopt, some of these proactive approaches that drive innovative cultures.

While today automation technology (increasingly driven by Artificial Intelligence) are often seen as the primary tool to drive improved service and performance, robotic process automation is not, after all, the be-all and end-all fix to everything.

A smarter strategy, as many are finding out, is to optimize automation to free up employees’ time, but to focus on what employees do with that time.

For example, in-house technical resources can create customized suites to automate existing technologies. The key is to leverage the thinking that is driving all the interest in RPA, without necessarily seeing the tools as the end-solution. Taking people out of the process – i.e. removing manual work – is the first step; then comes redeploying them on higher-level work, for example in analyzing reports.

It gets Shared Services a step closer to where it wants to be.


The onus is on managers to build capacity within each employee, not by simply replacing work with machines but by encouraging employees to figure out how their work can be made more valuable. This has far greater implications than simply automating. It's an approach that requires a different sourcing strategy, however.

One solution some companies are adopting is to pair a business person with an analyst or a technical person. Together, they are able to solve the problem by leveraging their combined skills – on the one hand, understanding business requirements and needs; and on the other, understanding technology and its language.

Another approach to building skillsets is via the Mid-Day Break – an idea borrowed from Silicon Valley. From noon to 1 PM every day, many companies there do not allow their people to book meetings. As an alternative to the conventional lunch, and as an option to make more productive use of this time, companies offer training on how to pitch ideas for classes to employees. These classes, in turn, are taught Friday afternoons (in Silicon Valley work typically ends at 2 o'clock on Fridays, in the summer months) and employees earn points both for teaching and for attending (as well as additional Fridays off, outside the summer).

These employee-driven and -taught classes are based on the fact that every employee has a specific area of knowledge that is useful to his or her peers.

Employees are encouraged to pitch the idea for a class, and then design and teach it, and are rewarded for their initiative with time off.

The net effect is that staff are engaged in employee-driven learning opportunities, with crowdsourcing deployed to both identify and validate interest in this learning. It's an initiative that is gaining traction across many enterprises, and Shared Services are recognizing its implications.

“The ideas for improving existing skillsets,” one North American SSO leader explained, “have to come from the people actually doing the work.”

These skills increasingly include hard skills, soft skills, and less easily defined skills around general business acumen, innovation and agility.

There is another benefit in that this data can be tracked to identify the most commonly cited gaps, and to identify those employees who have the matching skulls to leverage.

This strategic approach to developing learning amongst the workforce is based on a bottom-up approach. In the past, most initiatives were top-driven, which employees often pushed back against. So, taking the opposite approach (a “push” approach) pays off.

Example: Process Review

Taking a real-life example, a team challenged with a process review would map out processes on whiteboards, using sticky pads to identify where the processes worked and where they did not.

The teams are then given the responsibility to come up with a solution.

This immediately highlights where training would help to solve the problem. The pain point areas are those where additional knowledge needs to be deployed, and teams are incented to ensure they get the relevant training – they cannot solve the problem without it.

This strategy is based on empowered employees operating in a flat organization that are able to solve their own problems. It's very much self-driven.


Change does not come easily, and a significant cultural shift is required, away from what companies were used to – i.e. command and control – and towards an employee-driven and empowered problem-solving mindset. It’s a big shift for most organizations, but it’s the only one that will offer Shared Services the advantage it needs: the skills and insights required to solve real time business problems.