Organically Grown Mini-Shared Services: Is It Time to Evolve from Workable to Optimal?

Organically Grown Mini-Shared Services: Is It Time to Evolve from Workable to Optimal?

While working with a client recently, we learned the organization, at some point, had created a small dedicated team — effectively, a mini-shared service — to support various finance teams with analytics and insights support. Although the team was working hard to meet these internal customers’ needs, its ability to effectively deliver was compromised by a variety of process-related issues, most notably, the absence of a formal intake process. Prioritization was done on a first come, first serve and whoever speaks the loudest basis. The team faced a backlog of 500 open requests, driving customer dissatisfaction and reflecting not only high customer need, but a service approach not designed to effectively keep pace with growing demand.

The scenario is usually the same — a service need emerges in the organization and we assign someone, usually a high-performer, to solve the problem and fulfill the need. They do a great job, word spreads within the user community, and demand for this service grows, so we put more people on the task. Before we know it, we have inadvertently created an under-the-radar mini-shared service in which people are working hard, usually informally, to deliver a set of support services to multiple stakeholders. Problem solved tactically, but is this the optimal solution for the longer term?

Regardless of the services provided or the organizations in which they operate, the common thread among these organically grown service teams is that they frequently lack the more evolved processes and structures necessary to effectively meet customers’ evolving needs over time. If you have a mini-shared service, now may be the time to ask whether the current operation is the best, most sustainable way to deliver quality products and services that provide strategic value to the organization and your team’s customers.

The Challenges of Organically Grown Mini-Shared Services

These mini-shared service teams can be the best way to rapidly respond to needs and help the organization or business unit achieve its goals. They are hard-working, fast, responsive and adaptive — at the start. Some teams may continue to meet customer needs for an extended period — in some cases, for years.

However, over time, as demand grows, the service can rapidly become an expected shared service — despite the fact that the team lacks the resources necessary to perform that function effectively or efficiently. And that can lead to dissatisfied internal customers.

This is the moment when leaders need to take a step back to assess current and future service needs and how to meet them. If a more optimal structure and operation is deemed necessary, the next step is to figure out how to most efficiently and effectively deliver services. Aligning the team’s resources and service scope with emerging customer needs and corporate strategy ensures the new shared service team’s ability to continue delivering rapid, innovative solutions that consistently meet expectations.

Consequences of Waiting to Evolve Your Mini-Shared Service

Delays in transitioning to an optimized shared service can create major headaches — for the organization, your internal customers and your team. Here’s why and how:

  • “Stealth” services yield inconsistent value. Because not everyone knows the service is available, how it could benefit them or how to request support, the team cannot effectively scale and provide consistent value across the organization.

  • Lack of formal processes impedes effective workload management. Service requests come in all different forms — Post-its, IM, emails, etc. — and, if not captured in one place, become difficult to prioritize and effectively deliver.

  • Allocation of limited resources becomes contentious and inefficient. As demand grows, business units require that team members be dedicated to support their needs because they don’t trust the service’s ability to meet them otherwise. Chaos and dissatisfaction grow without a common understanding of priorities and how long it takes to get work done.

  • Customer expectations rise unrealistically. The original directive to “get this done as quickly as possible and at any cost” shifts to “get this done with the highest quality at the lowest cost.”

  • Customer satisfaction declines due to inconsistent service delivery and outcomes: Something shifts and the services being provided no longer meet customer needs. Without formal management processes, quality delivery and outcomes become unrepeatable, inefficient, and, at times, chaotic.

How to Transition to an Optimized Shared Services Model

When you’re ready to optimize the shared service, how do you do it without stifling your team’s ability to innovate or creating additional friction with customers? Start by talking with your internal customers to understand them, their needs and how they feel about the service they are getting. This will help set priorities and determine where and how to start evolving your mini-shared service. Be sure to engage your customers as you develop new ways of doing business, including end-to-end processes.

Next, talk with your current team members to get their input and recommendations as well as to capture and leverage their lessons learned while delivering services under the current approach. As you begin evolving the service, create a team that can effectively support the service. Empower your team to take ownership by involving them at every step and engaging them in creating approaches and solutions.  

Finally, begin developing your optimized service by integrating these key components:

  • Customer centricity. Firmly root the services provided in the strategic priorities of your internal customers. Build structures and processes for the shared service that will remain aligned with your customers’ needs as they evolve.

  • Product and service portfolio. Create a defined set of services to support customer needs, and establish an ongoing optimization process for these product and service offerings. Implement measures to maximize the team’s agility and ability to innovate. And, where possible, create self-service options.

  • Outcome-driven culture. In addition to a service-oriented mindset, create a culture that promotes a singular focus on results that are meaningful to the customer and business — and that improve the bottom line.

  • Talent management. To add the most value, ensure the team not only has a broad and deep understanding of the business they serve and resourcing that supports effective service delivery, but works in partnership with customers to manage expectations and drive outcomes. Develop a method of planning staffing based on the needs of the business.

  • Governance and leadership. To align work with corporate priorities, define clear accountabilities at every level of the organization that support stakeholder engagement, maintain relationships and socialize priorities across the organization.  

  • Processes. Develop clear, streamlined intake processes as well as a prioritization approach that takes into account strategic priorities and provides full visibility into request prioritization and status. Put solid key performance indicators and service level agreements in place to drive a common understanding of the team’s performance.

  • Technology. Use technology to automate and improve delivery and keep your customers informed, involved and satisfied.

If your organization has a mini-shared service, take this opportunity to proactively assess whether it’s time to evolve your service model. By taking action before something that works fairly well becomes a pain point, you can successfully position your service team to keep pace with customer needs — both today and into the future.

Kirsten Kuhlmann CEO & President