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The well kept secrets to shared services success

ArticleAislinn Collins, Content and Community Executive31.07.2012 Comments (0)Bookmark

The obvious principles to success in shared services are well known. You know you need senior level buy-in. You know you need to build a strong business case. But what are the factors that are less known? The factors that are key to success yet are under the radar and learnt largely through hard experience? This article will share with you some of the best-kept secrets on how to be successful on your shared services journey. We've also created a handy reference guide which you can download here.  

Prepare to scale up

Shared service organisations’ (SSOs) customer bases are growing all the time and we are now beginning to realise that scalability is a key ingredient for making substantial and continued savings. However, this can put strain on the infrastructures already in place as current operating models are not always sophisticated enough.

In order to allow for scalability in your shared services organisation, ensure that you build aspects that can impact behaviour and performance, such as pricing, SLAs, customer satisfaction surveys and league tables into your SSO architecture early so you have the early advantage of a stable platform to grow from.


There are two key reasons that shared services measure. Firstly to improve. If you don’t measure, how do you know what to improve and if you are indeed improving? Secondly to prove to your clients you’re making great gains.

It is best practice to measure your chief metrics at the outset – i.e. before you have even started your shared services journey. This data serves as your baseline information. As you progress on your shared services journey, it is useful to refer back to this baseline data so you can chart your progress.

Often shared services can be the victim of ‘white noise’. This white noise can be damaging to the SSO and is often based on inaccuracies. If you have the hard data available to tell a story, this can dispel any damaging rumours quickly and in an unemotional and indisputable way.

Data matters because nine times out of ten, people will criticise their SSO with information based on rumour, not on fact.

Where does your reputation come from?

“The sound of silence is the sound of success.” Rather depressingly, this is a belief held by many SSO leaders. In their opinion, customers have a habit of only really noticing the SSO when something goes wrong.

But is the state of silence something to seek? SSOs are now looking to ‘delight’ their customers and the sound of delighting shouldn’t necessarily be silence.

You can either be loud and effective or silent and effective, the choice is yours. But if you chose to make some noise, then a plan is needed to support this. This communications plan may involve some PR and the conveyance of some clear messages that have a point.

Another thing to remember is that it is likely the SSO will trip up. This is hard enough by itself, but even harder for SSOs that are being scrutinised from day one.

So making some noise about moments of glory can help you soften the moments of embarrassment, and encourage your clients to be a bit more forgiving.

Needs vs. wants

What a customer wants and what a customer needs are often two very different things. They may say they want you to provide one hundred reports a year, but how many do they actually read? And how many do they actually need?

Make sure that you identify the ‘needs’ of your client and prioritise these above the ‘wants’. Focus your SLAs and customer satisfaction targets around these ‘needs’. On the premise that you fulfil all the needs of the customers, technically you should be delighting them. Separating the ‘needs’ from the ‘wants’ can significantly free up your resources. Your SSO will be less stretched and able to scale up more elegantly.

The role of a service level agreement

The best service level agreements (SLAs) are those written by the customer as they are best placed to understand their needs. If the SLA is written by the client and signed off by both of you, your organisations will be beautifully in step with each other.

If the customer tells you how they want to be serviced and you fulfil this, you have a much higher chance of being successful.

The most powerful SLAs are those that are enabling documents, rather than protecting documents only referred to when something goes wrong. As a tool, an SLA should be touched to help lock in an aligned direction rather than used as a tool of battle when something goes awry.

But remember – just because you are ticking all your SLA boxes, does not mean your service is first class. First class service is a culture that is hard to capture in an SLA. A smile and can-do attitude can mean more to a client than the number of rings occurring before their phone call is answered.

People matter

Securing buy-in is critical. It is often forgotten that when senior management engage in the shared services idea, they are engaged because of the person selling the vision. They often buy into this person.

If you remove this person from the project, you can weaken the support garnered. Therefore getting your leader on board early, who will sell themselves as part of the vision, is key.

Senior management buy into people, so make sure your SSO leader is the person that sells the idea from the start.

Leaders aren’t natural change managers

A big mistake we see occurring is that the shared services leader is also the head of change management. One reason why this should be considered an impossible blend is that they are two massive jobs requiring very different expertise and skill sets.

However, some common qualities when appointing both an SSO leader and your change management leader, are resilience, tenacity and excellent communication skills (which are borne from listening rather than telling).


Treating processes as an end-to-end solution can have a massive effect on your SSO’s performance. Linking functional aspects of your organisation, such as accounts payable and procurement result in savings that are unimaginable for functions operating as silos.

Most SSOs appreciate that collaboration is key. The issue they have is practically applying this alignment. Finance and procurement are not the most natural of bed fellows. So finding ways to marry these two functions is key. One way is to have senior procurement placed in accounts payable for six months, and have senior finance in procurement. This can be an enlightening exercise leading to a number of ‘Eureka! moments’

Download this handy guide on the 10 well kept secrets to shared services success and get the best out of your shared services organisation!

shared services, finance shared services, SSO, best practice, service level agreement, SLA

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