I recently had one of the most cathartic conversations of my career. It was with a senior internal advisor who is now in audit but has held all kinds of roles in the organisation so he gets what support functions do, why they do it and, much to his chagrin, how they do it.
The organisation in question is doing something that many organisations do, changing from A to B after they changed from B to A say five years ago after changing five years before from A to B, you get the picture. In this case it is de-centralising support functions as opposed to the shared services approach. I know, I know, you are heading down the shared services route right? Yep, but in five years’ time you will most likely be turning it around again. However, that is not the purpose of this rant and will be saved for another day.
At any rate, the internal advisor was commenting on how the business was starting to realise that while their corporate overhead cost was coming down, someone still had to do the work. He said they were needing to face their own internal biases about support functions being time wasters and/or overly restrictive and really come to terms with their purpose. Then came the cathartic moment.
He said that he was talking to a division head who told him heads of risk were to be put in each division. He asked, “What for?” The answer was, “To provide information to the board on the risks in the business. Board reporting.”
OMG! There is no wonder that executives in the business don’t get it. They are being told it is all about someone else, the board in this case. No mention about helping them run a successful business, to help them manage the uncertainty we all face in this increasingly fast changing world.
The sooner all the heads of support functions understand that their objective should not be to implement their function and that it should be to support the business to be successful, the sooner everyone who works for them can stop being so frustrated, feeling unappreciated and downright avoided by the business. The sooner they can get on with providing advice that has real impact that helps achieve the success the business is seeking.