Optimising financial processes

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Does Your GBS Have a 5th Gear?

Does Your GBS Have a 5th Gear?

The “front office” is all about winning and sustaining our Customer relationships. The “middle office” is all about product (or service) design, manufacturing, logistics, getting product to the customer. The “back office” is everything else.

If GBS is to be the “back office” of a global business, then it’s not just about “processing orders and invoices”. We have far greater aspirations. We need to focus on business value, enabling the organization, influence, partnership, and development. This is the 5th gear of Global Business Services.

Here are some truths; 

  1. The majority of major global companies have set up a Shared Service (SS) or Global Business Service (GBS) function to support some of their operations.
  2.  Most of the business cases were centered on centralization (economies of scale) and labor arbitrage which have long been realized and probably forgotten.
  3. A lot of money has been spent to improve technology support for processes and the activities in these centers.
  4. The SS/GBS staff have a fundamental understanding of how the core business works along with invaluable relationships with business operations, Customers and Supplier-bases.
  5. Even the most successful GBS organizations have a limited depth and breadth when it comes to end to end process ownership and many still compete with the existence of “shadow” process teams in business units around the world.

For most of us, Shared Services and Global Business Services began as transactional centers and, if viewed as successful, were able to increase their scope to include areas such as vendor master data, some procurement operations activities, HR operations, etc. This begs the questions of who owns the end-to-end processes and how do companies gain alignment on these processes? 

The business unit’s (“front office”) core focus should be on driving revenue and nurturing Customer relationships. Key partners for each business unit should be both the “middle office” and the “back office” of Global Business Services. It is incumbent on the SS/GBS Leader to bridge any chasm where there is a misalignment on responsibilities and ownership.

This article will focus on that extra 5th gear, three key things that SS/GBS Leaders can do to drive greater business impact, agility and value. Those three key items are aligning on global processes, developing their team and establishing or nurturing a culture of partnership and influence. Global Process Depth & Breadth – “Winning hearts and minds”

Global Process Depth & Breadth – “Winning hearts and minds”

Many companies talk about Global Process Owners (GPO’s) and end to end process improvement and operational excellence, but in reality precious few companies have come even close to succeeding in this area.

The idea of a Global Process Owner is great but the practicality of instituting this role successfully is very hard. It is an organizational, political and human challenge. The primary reason is because it would take two lifetimes to garner the knowledge and trust to effectively lead in this type of role. Just think of the complexity in the Procure to Pay space, the number of stakeholders and participants, how many people do you know of have sourcing, buying, and payables experience. Oh yeah don’t forget, it also takes experience negotiating deals, finalizing contracts, implementing new technologies, managing people, etc. It is hard to find this person with the requisite stature, behaviors, skills and experience.

The solution is to start small with tasks and activities that are directly adjacent to what you own. Activities that directly affect your Team’s work. You have detailed knowledge of these items and what works and what causes issues.

An example in the Procure to Pay space would be to take on purchase order issuance and validation. Start with a small spend vendors in the indirect space. Prove the concept then expand. An example in the Order to Cash space would be to take on credit limit reviews so orders don’t stop because a good paying Customer had a spike in volume. Get involved. It’s okay to “ask forgiveness, not permission” if you are doing the right things for the

There are literally hundreds of examples, but the message is the same, “shift left”, pick an adjacent process pain point and improve it. Rinse and repeat. Before you know it, you will have expanded your Team’s influence beyond your remit and are on your way to true end to end process collaboration, alignment and excellence.

People Development – The “Fuel” Driving GBS Aspirations

Nothing is more satisfying than seeing one of your Team members absolutely “crush” a monthly stakeholder update and leave everyone wondering who this person is and how do I get them on my Team. Now, this doesn’t happen overnight, but I trust we all have untapped potential sitting
right beside us and all they need is a little encouragement, some guidance, and an audience to display what they can do. Confidence is a beautiful thing and building it in others is what separates good Leaders from life-changing Leaders.

As a Leader, how many times have you been asked by a direct report; “What do I need to do to get promoted?”. I always took this question as a challenge to find “stretch” assignments for this person. They will definitely need some coaching and feedback, but this is a small price to pay to truly evaluate their potential and, more importantly, begin to establish a culture of career ownership and accountability.

Some examples of tasks you can assign to this person are; take notes at one of your staff meetings and follow-up with them on what they observed, good and bad. Let them put together a slide or two for your next monthly Team meeting. Credit them during the meeting. Ask them to canvas the Team they are a part of for a process pain point that needs addressing then work it as a formal project.

All of these examples demonstrate a focus on education, communication, and elevation of skills.

Business Partnering – Increasing your “sphere of influence”

You have a boss, right? You know at times you need to exhibit skills such as technical expertise, effective communication, and strategic thinking. Then you typically need to exhibit the most important skill of all… Asking Good Questions & Listening. What you just did there was a textbook definition of stakeholder management. Nice work!

Applying these skills to your process stakeholders is truly an art form. There are many personalities, many conflicting priorities, and many items needing alignment. You may feel, as I often did, this is an impossible task and totally thankless. However, it is key to increasing the sphere of influence you and your center will have in the future. The good news is that you do not need to be perfect and organizing a stakeholder review will be seen as a tremendous step forward in establishing an inclusive culture.

Early in my career I thought if I had executive sponsorship for my initiative then I was “golden”. What I learned the hard way was that if I didn’t identify and engage with my stakeholders early and often, I would be on an island with my Team with little assistance in sight. This is a lesson I only needed to learn once.

I could write pages and pages on lessons learned around stakeholders, but you can wait for the movie (DiCaprio will play Dan French). Below are a few actions I found helpful when developing my stakeholder approach.

  1. Identify stakeholders that have influence and are respected within the organization.
  2. Initially, limit stakeholders to one per function, business unit, geography, etc. As an example, for Order to Cash, pick one national account manager, pick one regional credit manager, pick one business unit leader, pick one customer service lead from APAC or appropriate geography. Schedule an initial 1:1 meeting to share objectives and understand your stakeholder’s 1-2 key priorities. Prep them on this “ask” beforehand.
  3. Schedule a monthly stakeholder update that you chair and facilitate. These meetings should be 30-45 minutes in length. 3-4 agenda ideas are plenty for these updates. Stay focused to keep everyone’s attention.
  4. Gather topics for the meeting from the stakeholders. One standing topic I always had was a 5-minute KPI review otherwise I ensured the topics were from stakeholders.
  5. These meetings should be a combination of operational updates, strategic planning, addressing acute process issues, and people planning.

In summary, there are many challenges we face in order to expand our process scope, develop our employees, and partner with our stakeholders. Some progressive companies have included IS as a part of the GBS function and the CIO leads the GBS. If this becomes a prevalent shift then some boundaries naturally disappear allowing for even greater alignment along the business continuum. 

With that said, I am confident if you take a fresh look at the three areas mentioned above you will find an increased level of engagement from your employees, stakeholders, and adjacent process leaders that will lead to opportunities to demonstrate value for the entire organization!

Your colleagues will be asking you “How you got your “5th Gear?”

Author,  Steve Fox

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Our ‘Something To Consider’ snippets are framed as small, digestible, ‘dashes of insight’ around the pillars of what we define as “World Class Finance” – Process Optimization, Financial Control and Compliance, and Risk Assurance, all underpinned by technology enablement and integration.