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Five Factors for Success in Shared Services Adoption

I started my career in the late 1980’s at a huge manufacturing business. The CEO of the company was a management visionary. He challenged the finance team to pay all vendor invoices, supporting facilities all over the United States, from one office located in Florida. Consider, at the time, there was no email. We operated with seven column pads, telephones, fax machines and multiple, unconsolidated, batch processed, COBOL general ledgers. It sounded not just impossible but absolutely crazy.

Success took a while, but we did it. From a process perspective, it really wasn’t that hard. It was the people part, the change management, that slowed us down. And, no surprise, the very same people challenges prevent organizations from successfully adopting shared services today. The available technology and outsourcing options make shared services realistic for most teams. But the people . . .

1. Know what you want to achieve before you start – have quantifiable goals. Even though your estimates might require a lot of assumptions, give yourself the freedom to imagine what might be possible, even if it sounds crazy. Put pen to paper and develop a hypothesis for efficiency and effectiveness gains. This might result in stretch goals, but it will keep you honest when the going gets tough.

2. Get executive level support. Without the highest levels of the organization championing a new way of operating, creating shared services will be a struggle. The road to success is a bumpy one. Leadership that is 100% committed will keep the team focused on the long-term results.

3. Use data to create a single version of the truth. My subjective assessment of a process that I control is rosy. When someone else takes over, I’m convinced that my awesome team performed better. But when shared data clearly shows that more invoices are paid on time and at a lower cost, my reaction to change is more rational.

4. And speaking of change management. Just because the data shows that the shared service is performing well doesn’t make it feel any better. No one likes to lose control of a process that is important to their success. Structured change management helps people get through the transitional stress.

5. Invest in trust. When the person in another state, who is processing my invoices, is someone I’ve met face to face, it is easier to let them take ownership. Establishing trust is the purpose of team building. When I know that my colleague, whom I now rely on, is also a graduate of Miami of Ohio, picking up the phone to work through an inevitable problem with them, is much easier.

In short, you will notice, there is not one technical or operational suggestion on this list of success factors. Putting the processes and technology in place to support shared services is simple execution. People are the hard part. Not only can the people slow you down, but they can also derail the entire initiative. Success hinges on a team's ability to shift their mindset and behaviors. Put your focus on the impacted people - ensure they feel heard and try to make the change feel good. Engaged people, from top to bottom, are the key to success.

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