How do we build a winning culture in our Shared Services Centres?

Philip Lanyon

In last week’s column, Simon Brown explained how to move from Vision to Customer Satisfaction, based on a popular breakout session that he and four other practitioners ran at Shared Services & Outsourcing Week (Europe), earlier this year. Here, Philip Lanyon from Lafarge UK Services, one of the other collaborators, shares his tips on developing culture.

Let’s start with the first question: What is culture?

My answer is: ‘Culture is the way we do things around here’.

Can you have a culture in your SSC that is different from the rest of the company?

The answer is an emphatic yes, based on my experience. Most businesses have micro-cultures that exist in different business units or functions (remember the finance trolls in Dilbert’s cartoons?), and your SSC is no different. The great thing is, you do not have to wait around for someone else in the company to tell you what to do, you can start improving it yourself right now!

What is the culture I already have?

You can explore with your team what culture you currently have by looking at the stories people tell about your team. You will have your own rituals and customs, symbols that mean things to you all. Your team will have its own unique skill set. What management styles are working together? How do your power structures interact with the organisational structure? What are the types of systems you use and how does all this translate into your team’s behaviours and overall mind set? It is quite possible that you may decide that no change is required. In my experience, there is nearly always room for improvement.

Can culture be changed?

The answer has to be yes, as individuals are clearly capable of change and are remarkably adaptable - when they want to be. However, we all know that getting people to change is not easy. I work in the construction industry where the number one priority is health and safety, due to the high levels of injuries and fatalities occurring at the workplace. In my company, for many years the message has been, "We don’t want to work in a company that kills and hurts people." You might suppose that such a change message would be an easy sell to employees, but whilst levels of injury and death have reduced substantially over time, we still experience incidents where our employees are hurt. The key point is that you have to work at change. It takes time and you need to be consistent.

What do we mean by being consistent?

How many of you have worked in a company where the priorities and values are always changing? I believe that priorities may change but values should be an underlying constant out of which your culture is born. If you want to change your culture you first have to identify and agree your values. These values need to be widely communicated and consistently held.

How do I go about changing my SSC culture?

Change will never happen unless your people believe it is necessary. You will need to start with your senior leadership team, bring on board your management team, and then the rest of your teams. Have an open and frank discussion about what has to change and enlist the support of your stakeholders to make your point more powerfully. Have you considered using ‘mystery shoppers’ to measure you how you are perceived? Our ‘mystery shopper’ was a person who visited the SSC unannounced, who walked around the office and gave us feedback afterwards; it was quite an eye opener.

You need to create a shared vision. It must be simple enough that everyone understands it and can say what it is. Focus on a small number of critical things and remember that vision is built on values. Creation should involve as many people as possible to ensure buy-in. Once you have your shared vision, your team can build the strategy to deliver it. For example, at our company we chose to be the ‘Shared Service Centre of Choice’ and decided we would ‘lead, develop and support to succeed together.’

You need to communicate the vision. This should be done frequently, and if the vision is concise enough it should be easily woven into all your communications. You have a lot of options, from conferences to displays in the office, and you should try and use as many of these as possible. What we did was to launch the vision at a conference and then reinforce the messages through posters, TV screens, desk top pictures, email logos, notice boards and branding.

Ensure your management structures and procedures reflect the values you agree, so the way you do things in the company supports and helps to create the culture you want.

You need to celebrate success. Do you spend 95% of your time looking at the 5% that’s not working? Focus on what went well – success breeds success – and take the time to recognise individual accomplishments.

And lastly, make it fun!