In a recent discussion with a client regarding the scoping for their HR Shared Service Center I began to reflect on the lessons I have learnt in my experience leading Shared Services. When I closely examined what worked and what didn’t, it became apparent that across industries and service lines there were three key takeaways to empower your employees to support a successful Shared Service Center (SSC):
1. Enrich your team’s understanding of the business
To truly be effective in delivering a value-adding service to the business, the SSC team needs to understand the business they serve. This goes beyond the business facts that can be read in the annual report. A deeper understanding of what the business priorities are and how the work of the SSC team fits into the bigger picture of the business strategy is necessary.
One organization I worked for in a previous role had a key strategic driver of operational excellence to minimize risk: in the discussions with the SSC team, it was obvious that the daily governance structures applied in the payroll and HR administration are aligned with the business objectives. This created good energy in the team as they could see how important their role was and how they contributed to the overall business success.
This example shows how important it is for the team to understand how the business operates and how the work they do supports these operations. To achieve this, it is best to let the shared services team members visit business sites to see the operations and experience firsthand how their tools are used and experienced in the business. With remote working and shared services centers often in offshore locations, onsite visits may not be feasible. This could be overcome with video calls and guided online tours.
2. Articulate your service from every viewpoint
Often the training scope for shared services employees covers their role within a process, how information will be received, how the shared services are to process it and then how the shared services feedbacks to requesters or moves the process along. In practice within the business, this is one part of a process with many functions where each of the other functions may log queries with the shared services should they not fully understand the process or experience any issues. It is therefore important for the shared services team to understand not only their part within the process but also how their step fits into the full process and how each step of the process is executed.
This knowledge gap became apparent in one of the first shared services I worked in, when a manager approached a shared service associate to ask on how to view and approve a workflow on Manager Self Service. The shared services team had been trained on how to handle the workflow when it landed in their inbox, but as they were not managers of employees, they had never been trained on how the Manager Self Service tools worked. The knowledge gap was an easy one to fill – by having the shared services employees go through the training tools for all functions. This way, they could serve not only as experts for customer queries on any part of the process but they also better understood the impact of their role within the process.
3. Build up subject matter experts and promote continuous improvement
Whilst a robust onboarding and training curriculum for new team members joining the shared service is a must, it is important to be mindful that in-depth knowledge of systems and processes can take time to develop and team members may require some time to build their repertoire of knowledge.
In order to support them during this upskilling period (and potentially beyond) leaders can:
- allocate time within team meetings to share queries and learnings for the week. This offers an opportunity to be exposed to further potential queries and how to handle them. This also leads to a common understanding and consistent messaging with the team when faced with the same challenges. Essentially it is an opportunity to learn from each other rather than being exposed only to what comes across their own desk.
- empower team members on what to say when they are asked a question they do not know the answer to. It is disempowering for team members to tell a customer they do not know or that they will need to ask their manager as this gives the customer the impression that they are not a subject matter expert. A nice rebuttal for team members to use in such situations is to simply say “I will look into this and get back to you”. What is then key is for the necessary follow up and feedback to the customer to take place in a timely manner. This example can then be used in the feedback loop in the team meeting to share learnings with the rest of the team.
Over time, team members should become subject matter experts in all areas within the service lines. Business needs are ever evolving and the world of work and technology is changing. This calls for a continuous improvement of services to stay relevant, which is why it is increasingly important to foster a culture of ongoing continuous learning and improvement within the shared services. To support building up subject matter experts and instilling ownership for learning and improvement, I found it both empowering and necessary for the team to be included for instance in the testing of HR information system changes and upgrades. In light of the above, it is best practice to include subject matter experts when integrating new business processes into services rather than have an IT project team deliver a ready-made solution.