There’s a rejuvenation afoot for Global Process Owners (GPOs) within larger and more mature companies. These professionals are being asked to serve as the nexus for innovation rather than the watchdog for standardization.
The work I’ve done across the years with hundreds of companies has taught many lessons about how larger organizations drive towards strategic goals. Invariably, I find that companies concentrate on processes and procedures as the hope for achieving consistency, predictability, and a platform for improved costs and productivity.
Commonly, the convention of enterprise shared services has been adopted as an organizational and operating utility to focus responsibility for core business support functions. These functions may be centralized in a Global Business Services (GBS) model or aligned functionally. And, GPOs are designated to serve as the stewards for processes ranging from payroll, benefits administration, facilities, marketing programs, customer care, and the like.
GPOs may be inward-facing to service the needs of employees, or outward-facing to serve the demands of customers and partners.
GPOs are frequently chartered with defining and implementing a multi-year roadmap for increased cost effectiveness and service productivity for their respective functions. These roadmaps often specify technology priorities and/or the use of service partners as strategies to meet top-down goals for saving money, enhance features/functions, and improve service effectiveness.
The skillset of a successful GPO has often focused on deep understanding of the functional work required to perform their respective service. A Facilities GPO will be expert at lease negotiations, maintenance agreements, energy management planning, building operations, security services, and the like. The same holds true for a GPO with accountability for Payroll services – they are deep in the functional disciplines of policy administration, disbursement, tax compliance, and related tasks.
While these roles, and the shared services operating convention to which they are aligned, have proven especially effective in driving consistency and standardization, with attendant cost management, the art of innovation has never been a prominent expectation.
Disruptive innovation – that which is beyond the incremental improvement in features and functions that might come from some technology platform used to perform a function – has been elusive for mature shared services organizations. There may be many contributing reasons for this, but the obvious is worthy of mentioning: standardizing around the known and proven is a skill that demands discipline and focus. Innovation in finding ways to eliminate work, automate processes, and use data-driven engagement models requires a new muscle that is more expansive and creative.
The rise of nimble competitors within virtually every industry is helping to challenge the status quo in the corporate process world. It seems as though examples exist in every corner of our world of entrants to markets who are finding ways to run their businesses without the customary approaches towards virtually every function.
What this reality yields for established companies is the demand that their process experts become rapid innovators. Standardization is no longer the most important measure of success. Agility to drive change, and creativity in imaging new service models has become the priority for GPOs.
So, how does a GPO who is an expert at his/her function open their minds to new and clever alternatives? We’ve found that the recipe for inviting disruptive innovation into the world of shared services relies on a handful of key enablers:
1) Senior Leadership needs to proffer the permission for taking a greenfield approach
No GPO will wander too far out the limb of innovation without a clear message from the top that ideas for alternative service models are welcomed. Challenge every constraint and guardrail that which is assumed to be sacred.
2) Outside-in thinking must prevail
Much is being written about Design Thinking and Customer Engagement models. These are ways of saying the same thing … look at any service through the eyes of the service recipient rather than from the center. Don’t merely ask them what they want, because they might not know the art of the possible. Instead, find ways to offer up conceptual aspirations that engender excitement.
3) Failure should be celebrated
Failing fast is a great technique for learning, and the GPOs must foster a learning environment for uncovering new techniques for bringing innovative services to life. This means that a body of knowledge must be assembled to serve as the collective wisdom of the team that are thinking of new service models.
4) Avoid relying on process wonks
There are plenty of sources of best practice around yesterday’s techniques for driving productivity through process standardization. They even offer benchmarks and measures of ‘goodness’ to help guide actions. While relevant for incremental improvement, these are rarely the sort of free thinkers that one needs to craft a differentiated future.
5) Look for proxies in other industries
Your competition might be a useful source of reference examples, but so might companies in far-flung other industries that are reinventing themselves in ways that you might adopt. Be open to hearing about use cases that may not seem directly relevant can instigate new and break-through thinking.
Reflecting on some of the really clever and disruptive uses of analytics in closed-loop engagement models, activation of mobile service models, expansion of omni-channel customer touch points, provisioning of enterprise data for new services, and connecting devices and sensors into the information fabric are all examples of how we’ve seen open-minded GPOs reconsider their sphere of control for innovation. We’ve seen great collaboration between GPOs and business leaders around breaking from conventional and comfortable sources of incremental improvements.
Innovation isn’t merely the remit of IT or Marketing. It’s increasingly expected from GPOs for internal services, and for conceiving new engagement models for end customers.
It’s a great time to be a GPO … if you’re open to challenging the status quo.
Peter Allen, President Global Commercial