Best practices for a changing shared services environment. Shared services organizations are embarking on the next phase of their development—one that will likely be fundamentally more demanding and important than anything shared services leaders have seen before. Are these leaders up to the job? What will it take to win?
Leadership priorities for shared services
There’s no shortage of advice available for shared services leaders looking for ways to shore up their leadership strategies. If anything, there’s probably too much: Five principles! Twenty ways! Eight tips! …the book titles and article headlines practically write themselves. Meanwhile, almost none of them speak specifically to the issues facing shared services leaders. Plus, many are based primarily on opinion or personal experience, rather than actual research.
What leadership skills and traits do shared services leaders rely on most heavily? We asked these leaders directly–and what they told us is a powerful, focused distillation of virtually anything that has been said and written about leadership. In order to succeed, shared services leaders have to master a handful of capabilities and qualities.
Below you’ll find what those leaders–from global companies in a range of industries, with median revenues of $23 billion–told us.
Look again at your shared services capabilities
Look beyond the obvious
When asked to identify which leadership capabilities are most mature among shared services leaders, “execution” and “inspirational leadership” rank high–perhaps not surprisingly. Both are clear prerequisites for success, and to be sure, they are important. But it’s just as revealing to look at which capabilities rank low–for leaders looking to truly reinvent their shared services organizations, those are the capabilities that may actually be most important.
Room for improvement
Take “competitive edge”, for example. Leaders in shared services should be constantly on the lookout for new ways to be faster, smarter, and more effective than the competition–and yet this is one of the leadership capabilities that appears to be least mature among respondents. View your leadership capabilities as a portfolio, and focus on shoring up those aspects of the portfolio that are least mature, not just further strengthening those that are already strong.
Empower your shared services executives to lead change
It’s time to learn
Given the rate of change underway in shared services business models, it’s going to be a challenge to keep up with new developments and disruptors–starting with robotics and artificial intelligence. In fact, in our survey of shared services executives, 94 percent of respondents identified robotics, artificial intelligence, and cognitive processing as one of their top three top-of-mind disruptors between now and 2025. The ability to navigate these emerging issues is certainly not innate–it must be learned. And the time for learning is right now, as these capabilities begin to take off.
Your people are looking for direction
This is a moment when it’s important for leaders to remember the importance of providing direction to their organizations. In the face of changes like those introduced by robotics capabilities, people in your organization will inevitably follow their own intuition, right or wrong, if not provided with clear direction. History indicates that this approach is likely to be inefficient at best, and catastrophic at worst.
This is about innovation
The ability to change in this environment may hinge on leaders’ ability to embrace innovation. Shared services leaders who are able to connect the dots between technological changes and broader innovation initiatives already underway in their organizations often find a more direct path to lasting change.
Execute well–but not at the expense of talent
Not so fast
Do you need to be reminded of the importance of execution? Probably not–at this point, you surely consider solid execution to be table stakes. Our research clearly indicates that leaders consider execution to be at or near the top of their concerns. But in a service delivery environment, it can be all too easy to focus so heavily on execution that other crucial activities languish – especially when it comes to talent.
It takes talent to execute well
After all, your ability to execute is a function of the people you have in place to deliver. Leaders say that if you’re not constantly working to develop talent, cultivate the next generation of leaders, coach existing talent, and so on, your current high level of execution is simply not sustainable. Treat talent as a priority that is inextricably linked to execution.
Know the limits of leadership
Yesterday’s skills aren’t up to tomorrow challenges
There are many leadership capabilities that can be learned, such as business judgment, inspirational leadership, talent development, collaboration, and more. But the next generation of shared services talent is likely going to face a host of new, more strategic challenges–the same old skills may not be enough to succeed, and the truth is there are limits to what can be trained.
The power of potential
When assessing leadership capabilities, look for another dimension: Potential. Do those people you have pegged for future leadership have the ability to change and adapt? Do they have the intellect to succeed? Can they skillfully negotiate interpersonal relationships? Can they be motivated to take on new challenges? These are dimensions of leadership that cannot be trained. Train for what can be improved–and always be on the hunt for the innate leadership qualities that your shared services organization will need to reach the next level.
Look where you least expect to find talent
You may find them in the places you least expect, if you remember that they don’t need to start with technical knowledge of shared services business models. Look for potential, which cannot be learned.