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3 Keys to GPO Success

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There are 3 key characteristics that position Global Process Owners for success and maximize their impact on the business.

1. They are strategic rather than operational

The GPO role should be focused primarily on the global vision, strategy, design and optimization of an end-to-end business process, rather than managing its day-to-day operation.

At a GPO conference, Colin Glynn, Global Head of Business Services at Rolls-Royce, emphasized his belief that “you cannot optimize and run a process.” Before the GPO role was defined at Rolls-Royce, those GPOs working deeply in the operation of the process were unable to focus on making the process itself efficient, effective and optimized for the future, because they were constantly distracted by everyday issues.

“They weren’t standing back from the situation,” said Colin. “They were distracted by recruitment, PDRs, and operational issues. Now we’ve taken them out and we’ve made [the roles] separate… they can spend their hours per week just getting on with doing what we want them to do: thinking, developing, and looking to the future.”

The GPO is expected to be the single point of ownership and has a responsibility to monitor process performance. Once a month, Colin holds a “GPO forum” where GPOs across finance review processes to ensure they are all aligned, and to discuss progress and any changes they’d like to mandate. While these conversations are typically strategic, they do cover operational issues, too. And HR personnel are often present when payroll and expenses are affected by suggested changes.

Generally, we found that GPOs had few to no FTEs reporting into them, and for Colin, removing the management distraction increased the effectiveness of the role. His global management team consists of 5 GPOs. He described each as a “one-man band,” with no responsibility for staff – just complete owners of the process. This helps ensure each GPO is an unbiased “independent auditor of the process.”

Ensuring the GPO remains focused on the total process might require enforcing a culture change in the organization. In one perhaps unorthodox measure, Rolls-Royce removed GPO access rights to ERP systems when they found that GPOs “began interfering and checking how people were doing.”

Some organizations might hesitate to create such a distance between the GPO and the operational side. However, ensuring they aren’t biased by management issues can afford the GPO a complete view of the overall process and therefore enable them to distinguish operational problems from process inefficiencies.

2. Has the authority to drive change

When we say the GPO needs to have authority, we mean two things. Firstly, the GPO needs to have an authoritative personality, with knowledge and experience that commands respect and trust – someone who is able to push back when functions are unable to see the benefit of change to the overall process. But the GPO also needs the organization to invest them with authority and the power to drive change. During the conference, we noticed a clear interrelationship between these two crucial factors.

Natalie Childs, Global Process Owner of Record to Report & Capital at AstraZeneca, said that, before receiving clear sponsorship from her CFO, she found she was merely trying to “influence” her team. “Please do it this way,” or “I would recommend you do this.” However, after receiving sponsorship from senior figures, Natalie moved from a more collaborative role to a position of authority. “It really gets that shift in behavior,” she said. “It also gets people to listen to you because you’re seen as somebody who’s very important within the organization in driving change.”

Likewise, we found that proximity to the C-suite was a key influence on the GPO’s authority. In our pre-conference survey, 70% of respondent GPOs who felt that they had sufficient authority for the role were 1 or 2 steps removed from the C-suite. This close contact with key-decision makers means the GPO is mandating change to their peers, not to people more senior, giving the GPO a naturally commanding position in the company hierarchy.

Even without proximity to the C-suite, GPOs can be empowered by their responsibility for making key decisions. For example, Colin Glynn suggested that organizations could give the GPO authority by having them go to market to assess venders and solutions, to have an influence on investment funds, or by stipulating that no changes to process are implemented without their consent.

3. Able to deliver continuous improvement

A GPO that is a truly valuable partner to the organization will design and monitor a process to ensure it’s “future-proof,” so that it continues to deliver value despite inevitable changes in business’ needs. The GPO needs to be both strategically-minded and detail-orientated, to understand how strategic decisions will impact different functions within the overall process.

However, the ability to deliver continuous improvement depends not only on the GPO's own knowledge of process operations, but also on the organization’s ability to provide the knowledge they need and the ability to leverage the expertise of its staff.

Jennifer Johnson, Global Process Owner of P2P at Serco, discussed how the organization established a “cross-functional process board” to own process strategy. At the bottom tier of this board, below key-decision makers and a “global process improvement forum,” is a “divisional process forum,” consisting of people responsible for each function. This forum allows people with day-to-day, hands-on experience to be seen as process champions, providing feedback on its successes and problems, helping Serco “get to the ground and understand how our processes are operating” and where improvements need to be made.

Serco uses the knowledge gained from this board to contribute to a continual cycle of review which they call a “process excellence function” which offers a global, cross-functional view of the endeavours to drive improvement, optimize efficiency, and ensure that process strategies and vision are aligned with corporate strategy. The GPO promotes continuous improvement by establishing a culture where siloed functions are concerned about their operations' impact on other functions and, ultimately, the end-to-end process.

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