Last week we at the CEB Communications Leadership Council hosted the first of a series of virtual networking discussions among communicators in global companies. Topic: how to evaluate and potentially adopt a shared service model in the Comms function. We facilitated a rich conversation among 12 communicators from 8 global companies (based in Europe, South Africa and the US), all dealing with the challenge of how to best structure the global function to improve collaboration, strategic value of Comms, and achieve economies of scale. I will share some takeaways from the discussion in a future post later this month, but one of the models we discussed as a group was Cisco’s shared services model in internal and executive communications.
In its journey to shared services migration, Cisco tried to answer 3 key questions about the Comms function’s structure:
1. To centralize or decentralize?
There is really no right or wrong answer to this question, as it depends what you are solving for. Using insights from CEB Communications’ Resource Allocation Benchmark, Cisco found it was overspending in key areas of Comms. Its existing decentralized structure meant that there was duplication of work and inconsistent messaging across the global organization. Thus, to achieve scale and improve quality of the communication services, Cisco centralized its internal communications organization, creating a shared services model for key communications activities.
Not quite ready to change your entire Comms structure yet, but still needing to achieve alignment and clarity around ownership of activities? Check out this global process governance framework to better partner between the center and regions.
2. How do you identify which activities to move to a centralized shared service model?
When companies consider a shared service model, it is easy to go too far in the centralization and paint the cost-cutting brush too wide. Cisco’s aim is not just solving for cost and scale, but rather having the right resources doing the right type of activities. Cisco identifies activities that could be done the same way across geographies and functions, and also takes into consideration how diverse are the needs of business partners. This results in a tiered shared service structure, offering a different menu of options to executives across 3 tiers (dedicated, shared service, or self-serve resources).
CEB Communications members, read the full case to learn what the criteria for tiering looks like (and check out the appendix pages for examples).
3. How do you bring business partners on board?
Arguably the hardest part of such a structural change is re-educating business partners and changing their behaviors. So often we hear communicators lament that they are stuck in this order-taker role, where the business expects Comms to execute it all (write the press release, the townhall speech, create presentations..). And so, if business partners perceive that they are losing that customized support, it undermines Communications role as a value-added partner. To prevent that loss of trust and ease the pains of the transition to the shared service model (particular for executives moved into a self-service tier), Cisco creates a communications resource portal, rich in tools, just-add-water templates, talking points that executives can easily adapt and customize. To make the change easier, Comms offers free consultations and chat features where business partners can get quick help.
Check out how the Resource Center works, and also access other tips for facilitating global collaboration and best practice sharing.
Keep an eye on the CEB Communications blog for additional posts on making shared services models work (based on our recent virtual networking discussion) and other types of innovative org structures to enable communications excellence. How about you, readers, what experiences have you had with shared services? Lessons learned? Please share in the comments!