The position of a Global Process Owner is relatively new in many organizations. But with the growing complexity and global, distributed nature of businesses, organizations that are currently lacking a Global Process Ownership framework, are realizing the need for one. Given that this kind of complete control and ownership model is still evolving, it is important to evaluate the skills and traits required for individuals to succeed in such a role.
Susie West, Founder and CEO of sharedserviceslink, shared: “The GPO role is actually quite new, as far as mainstream adoption is concerned. We have written a comprehensive manual specifically for the GPO to develop their role, but prior to this publication, there was no commonly accepted description of what the role should look like. Various roles in process usually have very definitive job descriptions. The GPO role usually has its intention made clear, but the detail is often confusing, or not clearly communicated. The ‘cookie cutter’ approach that can be applied to say a head of Accounts Payable, Finance Director or Shared Services Director role is not so readily available here.”
Process and business knowledge
Though the actual work may differ, according to the business requirements and environment, there are certain skills and traits that are crucial to a GPO’s success. West separated them into learned skills, learned through experience on the job, and character skills that are mostly innate. “Learned skills include process knowledge and awareness; an understanding of how important processes are and how they affect outcome and an ability to process map. Subject matter understanding is vital to the GPO’s success, but this does not mean the GPO needs to be the subject matter expert. More importantly, the GPO needs to know who to go to for detailed subject matter expertise. A GPO needs to have enough subject matter expertise to be credible and a safe and trusted pair of hands,” she elaborated.
West continued, “Looking at character skills, it helps if the GPO is a natural communicator, and can sell a vision, is aware of the importance of building rapport, and having the natural confidence to stand toe-to-toe with the larger personalities in the organization, if needed.”
RichaDubey, Director, Human Resources at Praxair, agreed on the importance of business acumen. “GPOs need to have a good, working knowledge of the domain. Process and business knowledge, in my understanding, are the most crucial elements of this role. With a thorough understanding of how the process works, and the way each component impacts the business, an individual will be able to fulfil the role more effectively.”
Since shared service implementations are largely made possible by technology, apart from direct domain knowledge, the GPO also needs to have a certain level of technology awareness. West emphasized the need for IT awareness, an appreciation of what the technology in their particular process area can do, and what to look for when they are selecting particular solutions.
The Art of Influencing
According to this survey by Tungsten Network and sharedserviceslink, 46% of surveyed GPOs did not have the formal authority to enforce the process. This indicates that a significant number of GPOs have to fall back to their influencing skills in order to get the job done. Dubey shared, “In order to build a rapport with stakeholders, the GPOs need to be open to accepting others’ point of view, looking at it from their perspective and being culturally aware of the countries they are interacting with. They need to have efficient communication and coordination skills. Since she (or he) would be dealing with diverse cultures, different legal and statutory requirements combined with different business needs, they will need to bring in a certain amount of standardization, and at the same time, build in some flexibility to adapt effectively to situations.”
West added “Other character skills are appreciating the power that comes from asking the right questions, and having the confidence to ask them, prioritizing the voice of the internal customer, and listening to it and understanding the difference between the control a GPO can have, and how they can exercise influence.”
Along with these, there are certain formal training programs that can enhance a GPO’s people management skills. “For GPOs, formal training on people management is a must, even if they do not have a team reporting to them. Good people management prepares you for managing down, but perhaps more importantly for a GPO that often has no reports, managing peers, and managing up,” continues West. “Formal change management training, understanding psychology and what makes people change their behavior also helps GPOs drive change and transition better.”
While the GPO role states that the individual is responsible for the complete end to end process, often the formal authority is not assigned to the GPO. The GPO has to command authority. Being a GPO requires a very strong personality and character. West explained “A common mistake in many organizations is automatically thinking the accounts payable head will make an idea GPO, without reviewing the full character attributes that make a person fit for GPO purpose. Sometimes an accounts payable head might not have the authority or political awareness required for the GPO role. It is critical to get the right balance so you find a GPO that has process awareness and has the authority to understand people, psychology, influence, and politics,” West concluded.
Since the role of the GPO is not clearly defined and may vary across organizations, there is no clear career path leading up to it. Past experience in handling global situations, program management and people management is essential; success on these fronts does not guarantee success as a GPO. “Experience is sometimes like age i.e. it could be just a number. I believe having the right approach towards the work, system, process or job is more important than the last position you held,” stated Dubey.
On the whole, multiple factors come into play for a GPO to be successful. However the crux comes down to two significant contributors per this survey. Support from senior management is the most significant factor that enables GPO to enforce process (74%) and change management is the single most important skill for GPOs(71%). It may be worthwhile for aspiring, as well as current GPOs, to keep these in mind.