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Why Staff Must Get Better at Problem Solving

Employees with good problem-solving skills are most likely to improve the function's performance. Many already have them but don't see the need to use them

New Thinking RequiredThe benefits of corporate shared services – the pooling of all employees that deal with a company’s transactional processes, anything from accounts payable to a colleague’s visa application, into a single function – are now widely accepted.

They are an efficient way to provide a lot of the support necessary for a company to go about its daily business.

And the case for shared services teams doing more than just what they’re asked to as quickly and cheaply as possible is also well established (even if “integrated business services” may be a step too far for some).

Most shared services teams are now expected to do more (or “add business value” in the jargon) by identifying opportunities for further automation, taking on more activities that require them to use their own judgment or initiative, and doing their own analysis to make recommendations to their internal customers.

It’s the Talent, Stupid

To paraphrase James Carville, this requirement for shared services staff to be more valuable to their customers means that the success of any shared services organization depends more strongly than ever on its talent management.  Of the staff competencies that improve shared services performance, problem solving has the greatest impact (see chart 1).

Maximum impact of shared services staff competencies on functional performance

Chart 1: Maximum impact of shared services staff competencies on functional performance  n=1,131 shared services employees  Source: CEB Shared Services Talent Test

The Make-Up of a Good Problem Solver

If problem solving is the most important competency, it naturally leads shared services managers to ask what they should look for.

Problem solvers accurately identify the core issue of why a goal is not met, analyze potential causes, evaluate all possible options, and select the most effective solution (see chart 2).

Characteristics of a problem solver

Chart 2: Characteristics of a problem solver  Source: CEB analysis

Why Shared Services Needs a Problem-Solving Culture

What’s interesting about this focus on problem solving is not that shared services staff are bad at it (61% of the shared services workforce excels at or is good at problem solving) but that they’re not willing to do it. CEB data show that fewer than half of shared services employees don’t see the need to work on their own initiative in a way that would really benefit their company

Shared services managers, therefore, need to find ways to instil a problem-solving culture. While this may sound like a woolly aim, there are concrete steps they can take to help their teams realize – and prioritize – the benefits of being more independent, using their judgment more often, and solving problems.

These include:

  1. Translate the vision into behaviors: Explain the corporate vision of the shared services organization by breaking it down into specific examples of things employees have done to identify and/or to solve problems. Showing them practical examples will help them develop a problem-solving approach to their work.

  2. Teach problem solving as a process: Create a framework for problem solving and use specific examples to teach staff how problem solving is valuable to their internal customers and to the business as a whole.

  3. Apply consistent manager support: To cultivate a problem solving mind-set, leaders should use every opportunity to communicate and coach problem solving, in both formal and informal interactions.


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