It’s Sunday night in a dimly lit regional office. Major presentation is due Monday morning to senior management on the recent changes to corporate HR policies. The majority of the new initiatives are bound to create ripples among the local workforce, especially, in terms of shrinking career advancement opportunities on foreign postings and cutbacks in benefits relating to long term employment. To make matters worse, the HR shared service center is closed on Sundays, so it can’t offer clarification on the carefully worded text that was rushed to regional locations Saturday evening.
Hands trembling, eyes quivering, sweat beads rolling down a worried face flushed with the prospect of potential embarrassment, a conflicted HR professional’s dry mouth curls into an incessant chant of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou! Dreaded nightmare or virtual reality? Hold your thoughts for now.
Shared service centers as a convenience
HR shared service centers have been generally seen as a convenience not only in terms of being a one-stop shop for all HR matters and a quicker path to learning and development, but also, as a cost saving initiative. However, care needs to be taken safeguard against the potholes that could derail the whole exercise and jeopardize secure careers. Let’s take a walk through the following issues that a service center presents.
Local vs. global
First, there needs to be a clearly defined distinction between what can be shared centrally and what needs to be localized. Multi-national corporations are routinely faced with the challenge of reining international subsidiaries with a global tether that often takes the form of corporate policies and guidelines. However, local conditions demand certain areas — intricacies of labor laws and legislation for example — to be adorned with local colors. Certain cultural attributes also infringe upon the implementation of a uniform corporate dictate, e.g., lack of willing and qualified local females who can be inducted into the workforce to meet the gender quota for complementing the socially responsible image of the organization.
Staffing the center
Second, the personnel deployed at the front-end need to be the stars and not the duds. These gems must be at the top of their game, especially if the contacts are limited to real time chat or a voice interface. The demands of being a quality service professional will increase if the interaction is managed through video conferencing since that requires an even greater level of skill and communications. Common hair pulling factors requiring extra care include language barriers or poor accent handling, cultural insensitivity, monotones laced with acidic apathy, conversation mismanagement by jumping between sympathy and empathy, glaring ignorance on the subject matter ,and giving the runaround without clear answers from those who know or those who should know or those who should know better!
Technology issues will vary widely
Third, the technology needs to be optimized according to the demands of the various regional locations. This can vary from the high speed to the snail speed, depending upon local connectivity. Issues pertaining to service reliability and compatibility, knowledge preservation and currency, and information accessibility to authorized regional stakeholders require the selection and application of suitable technology with customizable features and with the flexibility of sustaining the inevitable changes in application. Common heart-burners include, unexpected call drop due to load shedding in countries afflicted with power management issues, call waiting set to unending elevator music, getting lost in automated options, flashy websites, long downloading times for documents, especially if they are in the wrong or the long format, and lack of back-up resources in case the HR shared service center experiences a breakdown.
Protecting the information
Fourth, intellectual property rights need to be safeguarded to avoid misuse of proprietary information. Such measures are at the very heart of sustaining and communicating corporate integrity as a core value. Additionally, a cautionary approach to knowledge management helps to keep an organization from being blindsided. This requires information cleansing, authentication, and authorization handled only by appropriate experts. Dissemination of strict procedural enforcement and appropriate disciplinary action in case of transgressions also needs to be communicated across the organization.
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Constant improvement and review
Fifth, a viable system of timely review and improvement is required to protect against the derailment of the whole exercise. This should be a marriage of top down and bottom up approaches that culminates in effective and efficient practices reinforced through the necessary corrective/preventive actions taken under the banner of continuous improvement. The respective initiative is very much dependent upon strong support of the top management who decide resource allocation and functional viability for the HR shared service center.
Summing up, HR shared service centers have an infectious appeal for channeling the right information at the right time to the right person at the right cost. However, caution against excessive control is required to avoid resistance by local HR units, when the mandates don’t consider the delicacies of the local working environment.
The prudent approach is to encase such an initiative within the framework of a change management project and enshrine the lessons learned in a corporate knowledge bank accessible to all concerned.
Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is now open to unleash your thoughts on the matter.