Starting Your Global Shared Services Center? Give Communications its Due

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Launching a new shared services center is a challenge! Decisions need to be made about priorities and apportioning communication spend. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a leader tasked with opening the shared services center for a global organization. With investor backing and pressure from the headquarters to make the ‘launch’ a success, he wasn’t sure where to begin with communications. He had a few questions and had been advised to start by hiring a public relations agency. That resulted in a proposal that didn’t make much sense. Was he on the right track? He seemed to be in a dilemma. How could he get visibility among other global capability centers, especially when you are competing with some of the best? It prompted me to share some thoughts on this...

Often, shared services units or global capability centers are incubated through acquisitions, organic growth from an existing operation or a greenfield project. Whichever route is taken, organizations often ignore the importance of starting on the right note with communication.

As a leader, the focus is on hiring the best talent, getting the best space to operate from, managing investments and sorting regulatory needs. When communications take a backseat, the novice center can take a beating from competition.

As a leader, where do you begin? How do you know it is worth the effort? When will communication spur dividends?

These and many questions may be on the minds of leaders. The decisions depend on a few factors and varies by the maturity of the organization and the center in the country.

Assuming it is a greenfield center and the brand is relatively unknown in the new market, there is no better option than to invest in communications – investment in terms of basic communication infrastructure and channels, industry engagements, employee communications and public relations to begin. This can be a challenge if the center has headquarters which want to have a say in terms of how local communication must be managed. Without knowing the local context, managing ‘from afar’ can be a bad decision. Investing in local insights and players allows agility, deep connection and successful deployment.

Assuming it is a greenfield center and the brand is relatively unknown in the new market, there is no better option than to invest in communications.

In most geographies where global shared services centers already exist, building a brand that attracts talent is hard. Competition is fierce, and well-entrenched players don’t cede an inch.

For example, in India, there are over a 1000 global capability centers, many have operations for close to a decade and above. Policies are attractive, numerous jobs are available and retention strategies are robust. Paying high salaries can only be a short-term strategy but unless employees feel proud and connected to the brand, they will jump ship.

Therefore, investing in curating the right narrative for the global capability center is a good starting point.

The priority must be to communicate why the new capability center exists, what made it choose the location, what it is for local stakeholders and what the commitment of the company’s headquarters in staying for the long run is. All this means is: regular and consistent communication. Ideally, from the inside-out. Which alludes to employee communications.

Without knowing the local context, managing ‘from afar’ can be a bad decision.

There are multiple ways to engage during the initial set-up. Often, HQ pitches in till the center is up and running with a full-fledged communication team. Or, an employee doubles up to support untill there is more scope for a professional to pick up the thread.

Alternately, the organization can have a resource embedded from an agency to support communications. There is a lot of communication to do irrespective of the maturity of the center, even if the operation is relatively small in size.

For example, the ‘site’ leader needs to brief employees on the center’s strategy, periodically engage business teams on projects, gauge the pulse of the workforce, get involved in local partnerships and connect with industry bodies and government authorities. Apart from keeping stakeholders across the organization informed and involved.

During this initial process, trust and credibility matter. With stakeholders having ready access to information, most shared services centers are at risk of getting exposed about practices done across the globe. Therefore, having a brand and reputation expert or agency to engage during the early months and years can help immensely.

If the center is new, it will mean opening a facility, inviting local regulatory and governmental bodies to partner and communicating this in the media. At the launch, media professionals will be keen to know the story of the business, what the center aims to achieve, how much of the work is produced locally and the investments made to get the center up and running. It is possible that the center is privately or publicly funded, which again can decide how the communication must be crafted.

Talent acquisition and employee engagement becomes a priority when the center is an established entity.

If the center has inorganically grown, there is already a story which must be told. Also, talent acquisition and employee engagement becomes a priority when the center is an established entity. The narrative needs to focus on contemporary policies, practices and initiatives which make the center unique. Considering the scale of competition, not having clear differentiators can hurt the employer brand.

Internally, the site leader is often a local recruit who understands the market and landscape or an expat who brings consistent global practices to establish operations in the short-term. Or, it can be a hybrid model of shared ownership with HQ and the local leadership.

Whichever strategy is adopted, communication, again, is the glue that holds the center and its various constituents together. Employees need to hear, first and foremost from their leaders – and consistently. This will mean ongoing messages about the workplace, customer visits if any, the showcase of work, cross-functional training, strategic priorities and lots more.

The return on investment is easy to measure and very tangible when it comes to investments in communications. Be it through user pulse surveys to digital dashboards, brand awareness to industry mentions, there are ways to know the value and impact.

All this indicates the strategic importance of investing in communications early and consistently. Without which the global shared services center has an uphill task to be noticed.


Aniisu K. Verghese is an award-winning corporate communications and social responsibility practitioner with over 20 years of experience in leading multinational organizations. He is the author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models, and is passionate about engaging communicators and students through workshops, speaking engagements, teaching assignments and blogging. He has served on the International Association of Business Communicator (IABC)’s South India Chapter Board, the SABRE Awards - South Asia Jury and the IABC’s Gold Quill Asia Pacific Award panel. Aniisu is the recipient of the 2015 PR Hall of Fame Award from the Public Relations Council of India. Look up his blog and website for more articles. He can be reached at Views expressed in this post are personal.