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5 + 1 Things to Do to Kickstart Shared Services

Jimmy LeFever   Oct 5, 2017      

So, you’re considering implementing a shared services center?

By now, you’ve probably recognized the benefits of integrating and consolidating your back-office departments, such as increased visibility into financial processes like procurement and accounting. Or the standardization of processes, management strategies, and data. Or the merging and strategic restructuring of a widespread workforce. Or the overall savings gained from consolidation and increased back-office efficiency. However, you’re also probably aware of some of the drawbacks to a shared services integration, like resistance to change from internal teams. Or the fear that the integration effort will be disruptive and harmful to the company’s operations and bottom line.

Sometimes these concerns and roadblocks simply come from not knowing where to start. The following items offer a set of beginning steps to kick off a shared services initiative in a way that brings the potential benefits and overcomes the potential barriers.

1. Get Executive Buy-In

A shared services initiative is ultimately dependent on the agreement and enthusiasm of an organization’s C-suite and other executive members. Gaining these stakeholders’ buy-in should precede almost every other step, except for the ones around building a business case. Those pushing for change should first build a business case that includes a current state assessment and an estimate of improvements and savings possible with a shared services center. This business case should also highlight the value of integration as it benefits the C-suite directly, such as the results of improved visibility into spend activity and the ability to make more strategic financial decisions for the company.

2. Don’t Forget About Everyone Else

While the project depends on executive stakeholders to begin, its continued success depends on the cooperation of all parties in an organization. Fear of change can create a lot of resistance to a shared services initiative, as the integration has major impacts on many different teams. The concerns of these teams should not be overlooked or underestimated—it is important that all parties feel heard and valued before such a large change in their daily work environment. It is also important to understand that internal concerns will vary based the size of the company and the teams, the industry, and how long current methods have been in place in different departments. Those pushing for change should ask how the initiative would affect different members and departments, and use that feedback to build out and adjust the shared services project plan. Organizations can also use this time to educate their workforce on how a shared service center will make their jobs more enjoyable. This will ensure the project is stronger and more successful in the long run.

3. Create a Plan—with a Change Management Team

As soon as an organization has gained executive approval to begin a shared services initiative, they should put a change management team with project managers in place. Depending on the scope of the project, this team can be sourced internally or from outside firms. This team will help to monitor the process and help keep it one track and within budget. It will also help to ensure that the change will have a minimal impact on some of more vital back-office functions, such as supply chain-related operations or supplier payments. A change management initiative should include a project definition document that outlines all the parameters of the shared service implementation, including the project phases, what will change, who will be involved, and other variables. The change management team should also include a manager responsible for risk management and damage control. By applying a change management approach to the project, organizations will be able to achieve a fully functioning shared services center much more quickly, and will start to see the benefits sooner.

 4. Make Sure Your Current Processes are Strong

The value of shared services is often lost when it is used to consolidate dysfunctional departments and broken processes. Organizations must improve the current state of its back office as much as possible before creating a synchronized environment. This involves readjusting a variety of processes and strategies, including workflows, management approaches, and communication techniques. During this process, the organization should once again bring all parties to the table, asking many different team members for their own view of how efficient or inefficient current processes are.

5. Understand the Value and History of Current Processes

Even though change management teams should try to improve current processes as much as possible, they should realize the baby doesn’t have to be thrown out with the bath water. Not all of the current state is broken, and the existing ecosystems within different departments have often been built from years of strategic problem solving and relationship nurturing, including internal relationships between different members or other departments, and external, supplier relationships. This should be taken into account before any major change is made. For example, if an AP practitioner warns that to change a process flow in a certain way would be harmful to a few key supplier relationships, their opinion should be carefully considered. To make hasty, forceful changes could potentially cost the organization supplier contracts, valuable employees, and productivity.

With that being said, change management teams can use this time to adjust staff behavior by changing current methodologies that are not as efficient as possible and adjusting how employees interact with each other. It is especially important to foster a common attitude towards integration, especially considering the different mindsets typically found across back-office departments. For example, the Procurement department will have much different goals than the Accounts Payables department, as well as different relationships with suppliers, stakeholders, and each other. By building common ground and talking points between these parties in the time leading up to a fully integrated back office, the organization increases the chance of a harmonious and peaceful transition.

6. Talk to Your Peers, Learn, and Prepare at SSL Conference!

One of the best ways to prepare for a shared services initiative is to learn from one of the top voices in shared services center management, sharedserviceslink (SSL). These financial services experts have an upcoming annual conference, the North American Leaders Shared Services Summit, set to take place October 10th through the 12th at the Crown Plaza Atlanta. This free conference offers a chance for business leaders to discuss their own journeys with shared services, and offers an agenda that contains sessions on building shared services centers from the ground up. The conference also gives attendees extensive time and networking opportunities for communicating with their peers. This collaborative environment fosters more ease and enthusiasm for shared services initiatives among those beginning those projects. PayStream encourages anyone considering shared services to also consider the Summit. Request an invitation here

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