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How to Do Shared Services the Right Way

University of Denver (DU)’s HR and Financial Services recently moved to a shared services model. At this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo, in their session “Shared Services Approach and Lessons Learned,” DU’s vice chancellor for HR Amy King and Scott Nastaja from Sibson Consulting share how they did it.

Why Shared Services?
HR and Financial Services at DU began thinking about shared services as a way to improve the quality of services it offered to faculty and staff. In its traditional, highly distributed service delivery model, services were delivered at the department or unit level with varying levels of quality. Policies and processes were inconsistent and central HR was missing opportunities to provide higher value services because it was mired in inefficient processes.

The goals of the shared services model were to reduce administrative burdens to faculty and academic units, reduce timelines to recruit, improve transactional competencies and skills, reduce errors, improve consistency and equity in policies and practices, and build new strategic HR services and functions.

The Path to Shared Services
DU developed an approach to shared services with five distinct phases:

1) Establish institutional context and gain senior-level support. Key activities included seeking input from institutional leaders via one-on-one meetings, developing a project plan to set expectations on timelines and activities, identifying potential forms of resistance, testing communication and initiative marketing messages and identifying leaders of the initiative.

2) Empower a cross-functional committee of faculty and staff to assess the current environment (through SWOT analysis, stakeholder interviews and information gathering), explore alternative approaches (by reviewing external best practices, talking with stakeholders and brainstorming new models) and design a new model (this included creating a roll-out strategy and detailed process design and formulating a technology integration plan, a people plan and a facilities plan).

3) Broadly seek input into the process and the emerging model (by understanding the needs, demands and concerns of unit leaders and other stakeholders).

4) Develop a detailed implementation plan with heavy emphasis on communication. The implementation plan consisted of:
a) sharing – broad-based sharing of shared services goals, models and plan through individual meetings with deans, VPs and other leaders; meetings with faculty and staff leadership; school- and department-based meetings; and town hall open forums.
b) modifying – soliciting operational and cultural concerns and modifying the model and roll-out strategy accordingly and then sharing the revised plan with the campus community.
c) preparing – organizing infrastructure elements necessary for implementing the shared services model; aligning technology to the new process; and acquiring/developing/preparing new facilities.
d) migrating – “flipping the switch;” monitoring and evaluating successes and challenges; and communicating and sharing lessons learned.

5) Implementation. The DU HR and Financial Services Center launched in June 2015.

Challenges and Lessons Learned
As with any change initiative, HR and Financial Services encountered plenty of challenges and learned many lessons.

Challenges – space (co-locating people into a common space was critical to success but posed logistical and space challenges); keeping up with the constant demand for more information during the implementation process when it just wasn’t available; overcoming cynics that thought the initiative would fail; staying committed to the change management process at times when senior leaders wanted to accelerate the initiative.

Lessons Learned – don’t underestimate the importance and value of having faculty members involved in the process; don’t underestimate the importance of selecting the right people with the right behaviors for key positions within the shared services organization; just when you think you’ve communicated enough, you’ve only communicated about half of what is necessary; don’t underestimate the importance of space and location to the project’s success.

Benefits and Risks
Could a shared services model be right for your organization? Consider these benefits and risks:

Benefits – consistent application and delivery of services; faster turnaround times; increased accuracy of information; reduced compliance and security risks; new value added service offerings; deeper skills and expertise; increased capacity within academic and administrative units; opportunity to leverage technology; improved metrics to drive continuous improvement; cost savings.

Risks – disagreement on the objectives behind the move to shared services (competing interests and motivations); unfulfilled promises and expectations (inability to achieve desired results); increased costs; impact on culture; disruption to essential business services; increased tensions with faculty and staff; increased attention and scrutiny from local/national media; uncontrolled and inaccurate rumors and myths.

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