It may be the loneliest — and toughest — job on the planet. Abused by providers, repudiated by the business lines, asked by management to scale mountains in nanoseconds equipped with very few resources. Only the bravest and thickest-skinned need apply. How can these agents of change thrive, and survive, the almost impossible job of changing global services delivery?
As services globalization picks up more and more steam, new positions begin to appear in the organizational lexicon. Last year I wrote about the importance of anointing a global services leader to lead strategy and govern the full range of globalization activities at the top of the house. However, the ultimate success of any services globalization program rests almost exclusively on each initiative’s transformation leader — the individual who implements a new model in such a way that it is cost effective, palatable to his customer base and commercially viable, and truly represents a positive change in the way the organization works.
Given the complexity of services globalization, the transformation leader is not merely a re-treaded IT geek whose universe is restricted to his systems implementation consultant and his boss. Nor is he an organization “change” catalyst without portfolio, often housed in the strategy or HR departments, with deliverables that are vague and immeasurable. The services transformation leader has deliverables, measurements and deadlines, and must be a true organizational change agent, requiring extensive interpersonal and relationship-management abilities, a strong sense of the customer, an unprecedented commercial mindset, negotiation skills, some level of process mastery, program-management precision. In short, a corporate renaissance man with both right and left brain abilities.
At the moment, executives have no credentialing, test protocols, or standard job specification to follow when searching for the transformation leader who can succeed in changing the way the organization works. And, as yet, there is no bespoke association or roundtable supporting the needs of these latter day supermen.
Since the transformation leader role is not currently part of the job description lexicon of human resources consultants, there isn’t an institutional view of the conditions, characteristics and skill sets that support success in the role. But sufficient war stories abound, suggesting a list of the most critical success factors for any professional brave enough to serve as a transformation leader.
Take history lessons. Corporate reactions to change evolve very slowly. Every organization institutionalizes derailers of change initiatives. Prepare by devising a campaign based on learning from the past, tapping into corporate memory, and adapting response models that have a track record. This is a time to build on past experience, not to adopt a “not invented here” attitude. The best lessons come from failed initiatives.
Build the base! The success of complex organizational initiatives is based upon the development of and adherence to a good battle plan designed to marginalize complaining. This means aligning with supportive internal customers, isolating the so-called “loyal opposition,” and ring fencing the activities of those who are actively working against the transformation.
Cultivate respected champions. No transformation leader can have too many friends at executive and businessline management levels. Identify respected corporate opinion leaders cum fellow travelers — executives who take the long view, who are prepared to defend global delivery when the going gets rough.
Manage by fact. Corporate managers are a predominantly left-brained tribe, so start off by dimensioning the current and future states in concrete, measurable terms. Base all discussions and responses on as many descriptors as possible, such as minutes on hold, missed payments, days past due, dates of occurrence. Fighting with fact diminishes the impact of perception.
Staff the right team. This is no time to reward loyalty or park under-performers in yet another corporate program. Put biases and friendships aside, develop the right set of roles and responsibilities, and get the right mix of skills on board. Balancing team members with institutional knowledge and outsiders with a fresh approach is important. And don’t expect effective double duty from those in existing delivery roles. During a period of change, business as usual becomes more difficult for those in operating roles. Asking them to take on transformation or transition roles as well is a recipe for pain and suffering.
Start with a Program Management Office (PMO). Do not stint on investing in a PMO and supporting technology from the very outset of transformation. Implementing management tools from day one promotes transparency that will help manage a number of constituencies — business lines, program sponsorship and the provider. A well-equipped program office provides decision support, manages performance, is the nucleus for governance, and will support any dispute that might arise.
Be able to walk in others’ shoes. This old saying has never been more apt. The ability to walk around a problem, alternately taking the view of the provider or end user, may be one of the transformation leader’s most critical skills. Being able to provide a good answer to WIIFM, or what’s in it for me, is a key component of the leader’s success.
Only those with strength, conviction and a high tolerance for ambiguity need apply. The savvy transformation leader understands the facts of life — corporate events such as mergers will continually change the program, management may have little conception of the magnitude of change that global services represents, implementation is five times more difficult than expected, and that the life span of people in the role is typically two challenging years. To increase the odds for success, there are several imperatives that should be negotiated in advance of accepting the role.
Make sure immediate superiors are on the same wavelength. Listen to your gut. If your immediate management thinks that transformation of any kind of magnitude is just another corporate project, be wary. Business-process transformation through offshoring or outsourcing represents change of the first magnitude, and requires absolute alignment between corporate sponsor and transformation leader.
Demand resources. Common wisdom suggests that staff costs and out of pockets for implementation is not a rounding error for global initiatives. If the staff budget is set at the outset of implementation, and cannot scale to meet the challenges of the program as they appear, raise the issue immediately.
Test the deployment plan for reality. Some organizations have a clue as to the time it takes to implement a services strategy, especially if the thrust of the program is truly global, with change programmed simultaneously in multiple geographies. Make sure that any issues with the plan are voiced and documented in advance, and help management understand that the rollout strategy is an aspiration, not an absolute.
Understand that the role should not be a career position. Good transformation leaders are not necessarily good operators. The role of a transformation leader is rarely a career position in and of itself, but a project that provides a great opportunity to develop new capabilities, invent, or hone existing talents. Use the position to uncover other options within the organization post transformation or as a steppingstone to a new career.
Define success in your own terms. It is easy to become despondent and discouraged given the magnitude and complexity of the job. And only you will appreciate how complicated and difficult the role is.
Pace yourself. “Transformation” will continue way past the leader’s tenure if the program is designed to adapt to continuous business change. A good transformation leader gets the basic ingredients (core processes, technology, policies, ways of working) in place in such a way that those who are subsequently responsible for managing a contract or operating a shared services center have a good platform for continuous improvement.
Don’t take it personally. Easy to say, hard to do. Transformation leaders are what the English call “piggy in the middle.” Even in a so-called “partnering” arrangement, the parties are not fully aligned. Outsourcers want to make money; clients want to pay as little as possible. The leader role serves as a bit of a buffer between the parties, requiring the toughest of skins and the most advanced sense of humor possible.
Good transformation leaders are a very special breed. They have a broad range of capability, learn quickly, and should have the knack of easing rapidly into a variety of roles both within and without the corporation. Remembering the phrase “this too shall pass” is good advise when dealing with the minutia of change orders and the seeming irrationality of end-user recalcitrance. There is always another day…and another challenge.