Top 10 Actions for Turbulent Times

It is certainly a challenging time for business with the turmoil in the financial and credit markets, the difficult world economy, and certain sectors of the economy in dire straits.  The implications for staff functions and shared services suggest they need to be even more aggressive in anticipating change, performing at high levels, communicating and collaborating with their “customers”, and managing their own costs.  This periodic newsletter from Experient Consulting points out actions our clients have taken with our help to meet their objectives in these challenging times.  Here is our “Top Ten”:

  1. Decide where you are going and let everyone know. Oftentimes people are “too busy” solving problems to understand them or their full context.  Goals may be general or unclear; or they may be the same as last year and the year before.  We all know that when the goals are clear and accountability is clear, performance is better.  Be sure to spend enough time understanding the problems and opportunities so goals and strategies can be well focused and well crafted.  And don’t keep the goals and plans a secret.  Let everyone know, internally and externally.  Internally, everyone should be able to articulate the goals and the implications through the department and whole organization.  And if goals need to change mid-year because of a change in direction or circumstance, change them and communicate the change.

  2. Talk with your customers. Really, it’s more about “listening” than talking.  Talk about their issues.  Talk about your service quality.  Talk about your goals and plans.  Make sure the goals and plans resonate with the customers.  “LISTEN”.  And probe.  And listen some more.  Keep the dialogue going because if change is in the offing, you will need their input and they will need your help.

  3. Tell your story with data. As Joe Friday said, “Just the facts ma’am”.  Data is such an important component in communications, whether you are communicating with your boss, your staff, or your customers.  Data clarifies the situation.  It keeps us and our customers from relying on anecdotes.  It puts opportunities and problems in perspective.  Oh, did I mention that the data needs to be “relevant data”?

  4. Manage your performance. Measuring and reporting on performance against goals also tends to improve performance.  It also helps to tie in other performance-enhancing levers like compensation, balancing performance to multiple goals, and assuring that the goals cascade through the organization.  Scorecards have been helpful for achieving performance and communicating it, but they work much better when the scorecard metrics reflect performance to goals.  And, of course, this gives you the vehicle to tell your story with data.

  5. Align your skills with the needs of the business. We call them “competencies” now.  There are ranges of competencies that people need to be successful in their jobs and achieving their goals and objectives.  Consultants (including Experient) have lists and definitions of competencies that may apply to your organization.  These are helpful to identify and focus on in professional development and generally ensure the staff is qualified and capable.  But as changes happen fast, we have found that a slightly different approach that is more efficient in aligning skills to the needs of the business.  We identify the initiatives and goals at multiple organization levels ask, “What competencies are needed to complete each initiative or achieve each goal”.  We then take stock of what we have and where the gaps are, and build plans to bridge the gaps.

  6. Leverage your information. We have been hearing and experiencing for years that the staff spends far more time developing data and information than interpreting what it means.  Staff functions and shared services have large repositories of information.  “Data mining” has been valuable in such areas as strategic sourcing and travel management.  The challenges of what to “mine” for appear to be greater than how to gather and interpret information.  Talking with your (internal and external) customers helps you identify what to “mine” for.

  7. Help the company tighten its belt. Shared services and other staff functions are part of the solution.  Difficult times present an opportunity for companies to re-think service delivery models to take full advantage of scale economies, concentration of expertise, and streamlining policies and processes.  Not to mention elimination of “shadow” organizations operating redundantly with shared services or other staff functions.  Additionally shared services and staff functions can leverage their expertise in organization and process engineering, analysis, and project management to assist business units in identifying belt-tightening opportunities and getting quick results.

  8. Tighten your own belt. Many shared services and staff functions already operate in a lean mode.  But belt-tightening is almost always possible within the current service offerings.  Eliminate roadblocks – those policies that keep you from optimizing processes.  Use the burning platform to further streamline processes by knocking over some sacred cows.  Examine your spans of control.  They may have narrowed as you have gained efficiencies.  Renegotiate some of those consulting projects and/or release those consultants who do not bring value to the project every day.  An effective way to address some of these issues is with an “early wins” initiative – where 25 to 40 percent productivity improvements have been achieved quickly.  One thing not to do – don’t reduce your customer relationship management efforts!

  9. Decompose those long-term projects. Long-term projects promise long-term results.  Several leading companies are reportedly putting long-term projects on hold.  There is a less draconian and more effective way.  Focus on specific deliverables and prioritize them according to the returns and payback.  Focus on customers or businesses where the solutions would be implemented, and prioritize them.  Look for process-based rather than technology-based solutions that cost little.  In the end, manage a series of short-term projects rather than large, monolithic long-term ones.

  10. Let the “locals” tell you where the good fishing is. It continues to amaze me how much savings opportunity exists when counterproductive policies and bottlenecked processes are remedied.  You usually do not know which policies they are or where the bottlenecks are.  But your people and customers know!  They know what slows service, slows answers, reduces quality, and usually have ideas on how to fix things.  Mechanisms like the  “early wins” approach empower people and provide them with the tools to develop these early wins on an ongoing basis.