For a long time now, leaders of business service functions such as Finance, HR, Procurement, and IT have asked themselves; How might they become an even better strategic partner to the business?

Many organizations have implemented business transformation programs to create reliable shared services and reduce costs. However, many such programs have failed to deliver on promises due to overreliance on structures, processes, systems, and service level agreements. In addition, there is usually too little emphasis on developing the people who will deliver in the new setup. As a result, they struggle to provide the desired impact and retain critical talent.

If real impact is to be achieved, support function transformation programs must focus on process efficiency and effectiveness, i.e., the actual outcome produced and the business impact delivered. This implies balancing short-term service delivery with strategic vision and developing a continuous improvement culture.

Furthermore, it requires embedding agile principles such as strong product ownership, increased transparency, reflection, continuous learning, and developing ways of working and collaborating with the business.

Finally, it requires a strong emphasis on skills development, functional leadership, employee self-leadership, team and individual collaboration, and performance management.

A case study

A leader in the mining industry in South Africa decided to start an HR and Finance excellence program to reduce costs and improve quality.

After an initial feasibility study, the organization decided to launch a pilot program and the first rollout across the entire country, building the first of more regional Centres of Excellence in Africa.

The pilot program generated an 18% cost reduction through process efficiencies, digitization, and organizational alignment, and a significant upgrade of competencies and skills for all critical roles within the new organization.

After the successful implementation of the pilot program, the company continued transforming the remaining operations in Africa towards the model, using the same co-creation-based approach with broad involvement of stakeholders, leaders, and employees. In parallel, the company has invested in competence development for its functional leaders to enable them to go beyond business partnering towards becoming strategic and transformational advisers to the business.

Ensuring a holistic and sustainable support function transformation has developed six components that provide a holistic and sustainable support function transformation with a strong emphasis on people development. The transformation components apply to service functions and other business functions such as Marketing and Sales.

The components are:

  • One sustainable organizational blueprint
  • One set of processes with clear roles and responsibilities
  • Intelligent digitization and automation, making the most of technology investments
  • One set of impact-centric metrics agreed on with key business stakeholders
  • One way of leading and managing that supports impact, agility, and collaboration
  • One common improvement culture that ensures continuous improvement

Organizations that embed these components in their functional transformation are likelier to deliver real business value because they are designed with a people-centric mindset.

These organizations are better at recruiting, developing, and retaining highly skilled functional talents. This is because they have a better employee experience with more development opportunities, higher intrinsic motivation, and therefore higher employee engagement.

With more focus on people, the journey towards true business service excellence can be achieved at an accelerated pace.

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