Common shared services hurdle: Fear of the unknown
Administrative staff who remain in units and those who transition to the shared services center may feel equally anxious about stepping into the unknown. Uncertainty about changing roles and responsibilities can minimize buy-in and spark damaging rumors about what is waiting at the other side of implementation.
Solution: Proactive transition support
Clearly communicating transition pathways and offering support for staff and unit leaders assures stakeholders that decisions will not be made without their involvement.
Smoothing the transition
One of the most important elements of shared services implementations is ensuring that affected stakeholders clearly understand the fate of their jobs across the transition. Staff may fear their positions will be eliminated, even after providing decades of service to the institution. Some campuses falter by stating that position reductions are a primary goal of shared services, when any reductions will actually come from departures and retirements. Other institutions falsely promise no jobs will be eliminated or affected, perhaps overcompensating for concerns about staff and faculty resistance.
Staff that have secured a place in the new shared services organization have concerns, too. They are frequently overlooked in change management plans, even though shared services may present as much uncertainty for them as it does for unit-based employees.
For both constituencies, providing clear transition pathways, support, and training helps to maximize engagement across the implementation process.
Constituency #1: Unit-based staff
The most difficult staff transitions to manage are among unit-based administrative generalists who perform duties across human resources, payroll, finance, and other areas. During the transition to shared services, some unit-based staff will likely have part of their duties moved to the consolidated unit, leaving them with a gap in their workload. Without careful planning around staff transitions, units may be left with staff compensated at a full salary without commensurate duties. This scenario, if left unaddressed, undercuts the efficiency and savings opportunities introduced by shared services.
Consequently, during the transition to shared services, unit and department leaders should analyze current workloads and capabilities. To manage the excess capacity of unit-based staff, unit leaders can work with HR partners to restructure positions and potentially entire departments. Ideally, redesigning roles and duties should take place before the shared services transition to provide staff with maximum clarity about their future roles. Completing a workforce survey as part of the shared services design phase can help facilitate planning conversations.
Campuses that do intend to reduce positions have a number of tools at their disposal. Some create incentives for employees to exit the organization, opening opportunities to realize savings via attrition more quickly. For institutions that intend to keep all staff, leaders should clearly explain how individual staff may be redeployed or retrained, if necessary, so that uncertainty about their future will not lead to resistance. While time consuming to create, individual transition plans that explain how the campus will support the staff member, whether through retraining, redeployment, early retirement, or a buy-out, offer maximum support across implementation.
Constituency #2: Shared services staff
Staff moving from units to a consolidated service center may also question what awaits them in new world of shared services. Experienced campuses attest that perks, small and large, can smooth the transition and make staff feel more comfortable in their new roles. The University of Kansas, for example, allowed shared services staff to keep their chair (if wanted!) and phone number from their previous office. Shared services leaders hosted a welcome breakfast on the first day and designed a renovated workspace for staff to enjoy. More substantially, the university adjusted compensation so everyone in the center started at least at the same pay level in exchange for doing the same work.
In addition to these perks, shared services leaders should invest time and resources to foster a common skillset among staff. This “basic training” focuses on developing skills that staff may not have learned in their previous units, like process improvement and a customer service mentality. The below share more details about these programs at the University of Kansas, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.
Basic Training for Shared Services Staff