As previously covered, shared or business service functions are an essential part of any large enterprise operating in today’s environment. Once transactional hubs designed to take basic admin off the plates of departments like finance, customer service and HR, the best shared service centres are adding significant value to the wider organisations.

Yet to get to that point takes hard work, investment, and commitment.

One person that knows that better than most is Sara Peters, Shared Services Director for the UK and Europe at Genesee & Wyoming Inc, a leader in transportation services. Prior to joining the company in February 2020, she helped establish and run shared service centres for a variety of businesses across the world, encompassing a number of different sectors.

Over the years, she has developed a set of five guiding principles that have helped her build shared service functions into value drivers for their parent organisations.

Sara’s five steps to shared services success

1. Customers are everything:

“When you move to a shared services model, you gain internal stakeholders– you need to treat them as if they were paying customers of your business. That means you prioritise the level of service and make sure that what you’re giving them is not only of the highest quality, but relevant to their needs. If you don’t embody that principle, you’re never going to succeed. You also need to be transparent with your external customers, and clear on how your shared services function will benefit them.”

2. Never underestimate how much processes require transforming:

“A common mistake many organisations make is to assume that processes can be handed over to shared services and that any problems will be fixed afterwards. You need to review everything that’s going to go over, no matter how small. It doesn’t matter how a process is supposed to work, they never operate exactly as intended, so everything has to be audited and clarified before being passed on. Otherwise all you’re doing is giving a different function the same problems.”

3. Be conscious of cultural differences:

“If you’re deploying shared services in a separate country, you cannot think that what worked in one country will work in another. You need to be conscious of how different cultures approach communication, respond to management styles and how they want to interact with colleagues. Both the wider business and shared services need to be aware of the cultural differences across the organisation.”

4. Have a solid governance and transition plan:

“It’s the worst thing in the world if you have to reverse a transition, so make sure you have a plan in place. You are going to be constantly challenged by stakeholders as to whether the move to shared services is working. It’s not going to be a smooth ride, but if you don’t have a plan in place you’ll struggle to react appropriately to issues, and you won’t be able to pre-empty things going wrong. With a plan, you’ll be able to communicate where you are and demonstrate how everything that’s happening is part of the process.”

5. Be rigorous in your recruitment:

“Shared services functions are built on the talent of their people. From the top down, you have to get the right people in order to build a culture that promotes success. It’s not about filling seats – whether you’ve got 50 or 500 people in your function, you need to be confident that your leaders, your management layer and your heads of team are the best people for the job, and that they all buy-in to what you’re trying to achieve and the philosophy behind it.”

A roadmap for developing value-added shared services

Shared services can be a significant advantage to the business if it’s deployed in the right manner. Get it wrong, and the damage could be irreversible, and prevent the business from enacting beneficial change elsewhere.

But get it right, in line with Sara’s principles, and organisations will be on their way to building a modern, dynamic and efficient enterprise, capable of tackling whatever disruption the current climate throws at it.

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