Sharing with Caring: Expanding HR Shared Service Centers Globally

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Murad Mirza

Its Sunday night in a dimly lit regional office. A major presentation is due Monday morning to senior management on the recent changes to corporate guidelines pertaining to HR policies. A 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, to offer clarification on the "carefully worded" text that was rushed to regional locations on Saturday evening. Hands trembling, eyes quivering, sweat beads rolling down a worried face, flushed with the prospect of forthcoming embarrassment, a conflicted HR professionals dried mouth curls into an incessant chant of "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou!" "dreaded" nightmare or "virtual" reality? Hold your thoughts for now!

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, in the enthusiasm of administering the panacea to ailing HR functions, care needs to be taken in terms of safeguarding against the gaping potholes that could derail the whole exercise and jeopardize secure careers. Lets take a walk through the perplexing maze dotted by the following key factors to formulate our own perspectives on the respective issue:

First, there needs to be a clearly defined distinction between what can be shared centrally and what needs to be localized. Multinational Corporations are routinely faced with the challenge of displaying the panache of reining international subsidiaries with a global tether that often manifests in the form of corporate policies and guidelines. However, local conditions demand certain areas to be adorned with local colors, e.g., intricacies of labor laws/legislation. 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.

Second, the personnel deployed at the front end need to be the stars and not the duds that are serving jail-time due to poor performances in their routine work. These gems must be at their premium call center behavior, especially, if the respective link is limited to real time chat and/or a voice interface. The demands of being a quality service professional will increase if the interaction is managed through video conferencing since that brings the optimum cabin crew behavior into play. Common hair pulling factors requiring extra care include, e.g., 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!

Third, the technology needs to be optimized according to the demands of the various regional locations. This can vary from the hi-speed to the snail-speed, depending upon credible connectivity solutions, e.g., Broadband, DSL, Dial-up, Telephone Hotlines, UANs, etc. Issues pertaining to service reliability and compatibility, knowledge preservation/updating and authenticated information accessibility to authorized regional stakeholders, requires the selection and application of the most suitable technology that is embellished with customizable features and is robust in terms of sustaining inevitable changes in application. Common heart-burners include, unexpected call drop, e.g., 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, downloading documents for eternity, especially, if they are in the wrong and/or the long format and lack of back-up resources in case the HR shared service center experiences a breakdown!

Fourth, intellectual property rights need to be safeguarded to avoid misuse of proprietary information, research, methodologies, presentations, videos, etc. Such measures are at the very heart of sustaining and communicating corporate integrity as a core value. Additionally, such a precautionary approach to knowledge management secures an organization from being blindsided by lawsuits brought forward by aggrieved parties. This requires information cleansing, authentication and authorization to be undertaken by subject-matter experts. Dissemination of strict procedural enforcement and appropriate disciplinary action(s) in case of transgression(s) also needs to be communicated across the organizations HR spectrum for spreading the message to the oblivious or overambitious souls craving professional glory.

Fifth, a viable system of timely review and improvement is required to protect against the derailment of the whole exercise. This should be a blissful marriage of top down and bottom up approaches that culminates into a synergy of 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/senior management who decide resource allocation and functional viability for the HR shared service center. Their unwavering graciousness and generosity, primarily based upon the higher principles of improved performance, rather than driven by deprecating office politics, should assure the functional head of the HR shared service center to continue on the path of success without being burdened with the excess baggage of tortuous apprehensions of being abandoned without a prayer.

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 is advised against excessive control since rebellious HR functions can mount passive resistance against the inability of the corporate gurus to appreciate 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 within a corporate knowledge bank that is accessible to all concerned. Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is now open to unleash your thoughts on the respective matter!