Rejuvenating our central support teams

We are letting our central support teams let us down. A decade or more of process re-engineering, six sigma, lean management, outsourcing and service level agreements has led our support functions to simply focus on procedure, minimise costs and perform requested tasks, when they should be proactive professionals and partners to the business who are driving their company’s success.

As I talk to my clients I am struck by their frustration with the level of support they receive from their central functions. Whether it is finance, information systems, purchasing, or HR, they complain about the availability, responsiveness and value they receive from these teams.

The situation is likely to get worse, not better. As the recession starts to hit company profits, businesses will seek to cut costs and central overheads are often the first to be targeted. For example, alongside some store closures, Starbucks recently announced that 1,000 non-store jobs would be cut as part of their efforts to return the company to profit.

Business leaders are correct, of course, to cut costs that do not add value. So if you lead a corporate support service team or function here are three critical areas where you need to start working:

  1. Focusing on value-added work. AWhat are the areas where you can create the greatest value for your business? Technology is already doing much of your drudge-work, and outsourcing to the emerging economies is taking care of the rest, so you have no option but to continuously raise the bar for your team and your company and focus your efforts, talent and resources on the few activities where you can make the biggest difference.
  2. Developing peer-level relationships with your clients. Your ability to get anything done in any organisation is directly proportional to the size and quality of your relationships with your colleagues, clients and stakeholders. Yet, in my experience, ‘internal’ departments are let down most by their inability to create effective, peer-level relationships with their clients. How much of your week is spent with your internal customers where you demonstrate- through your listening, communication and actions -that you are able to help them achieve their goals?
  3. Generating a great service mindset. Any service organisation must, at its heart, have a real desire to help others achieve their aims. Whether it is FedEx getting your mail to its destination overnight or a finance manager building a compelling business case for a new product idea, a great result starts with a desire to help and make a contribution. It is the foundation for establishing great client relationships and means you and your team taking time out to understand your client’s real needs, engaging in dialogue with your customers to identify issues and shape solutions, proactively offering ideas and being highly responsive when following-up on calls, commitments and promises.

The bottom line

It is time to rejuvenate our central support teams. Like all areas of the business support service functions must work efficiently. But that is simply not enough. If you lead a support service function you must also be effective, and that means having a real interest in helping your clients, building peer-level relationships with them and focusing your efforts on value-added work.


To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44-(0)1636-526111.