How Support Teams Safeguard Their Jobs

Starbucks recently announced that 1,000 non-store jobs would be cut as part of its efforts to return the company to profit. It's unlikely to be the last business to cut costs in central overheads as the credit crisis affects company profits.

We are allowing our central support teams to let us down. A decade or more of process re-engineering, Six Sigma, lean management, outsourcing and service-level agreements has led our support functions to focus on procedure, minimise costs and perform requested tasks, when they should be active in driving the company's success.

Business leaders are correct to cut costs that do not add value. So if you lead a support service team or function here are three critical areas where you need to start working:

  • Focus on value-added work. What are the areas where you can create the greatest value for your business? Technology is already doing much of your drudge-work, and outsourcing to the emerging economies is taking care of the rest, so you have no option but to continuously raise the bar. Focus your efforts, talent and resources on the few activities where you can make the biggest difference.
  • Develop peer-level relationships with your clients. Your ability to get anything done in any business is directly proportional to the size and quality of your relationships. Yet, in my experience, 'internal' departments are let down most by their inability to create effective, peer-level relationships with their clients.
  • Generating a great service mindset. Any service organisation must have a real desire to help others achieve their aims. This means taking the time out to understand your clients' real needs, actively putting forward ideas and being highly responsive when following-up on calls, commitments and promises.
The bottom line It is time to rejuvenate our central support teams. Working efficiently is no longer enough -- if you lead a support service function you must also be effective, and that means having a real interest in helping your clients, building peer-level relationships with them and focusing your efforts on value-added work.

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