Q&A: Vic Khan, AMS Shared Services
At the forthcoming 2nd Shared Services Exchange conference in The Hague (taking place 26-28 September), one of the highlights of the programme is set to be the second-day plenary debate on “Recruitment & Retention: Sustaining a global talent pool” where a number of senior figures from within and beyond shared services will be looking at how to optimise people development strategies and ways to ensure very different and disctinct workforces are motivated, trained and inspired.
Vic Khan, Director of Global Client Service Centres for Alexander Mann Solutions, heads up a shared services organisation with operations in Europe and Asia. We spoke with Vic in advance of the event to get his views on why AMS’ strategy is right for the organisation, and how the shared services model continues to hold up – and, indeed, to move up the value chain.
Outsource: Vic, welcome to Outsource. Let’s look at AMS Shared Services to begin with. You’ve got centres in the UK, Poland and the Philippines: what were the drivers behind this strategy and how is work distributed between each centre?
Vic Khan: Our vision was to take the best practice from the BPO space and implement it across a global network of Client Service Centres, providing operational and financial efficiencies, flexibility and skilled resources to our clients wherever they are in the world. The Centres bring together teams from across our business, blending skills, experience and development to support our clients and onsite teams quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
How the work is distributed between each centre depends upon the specific requirements of each client. The range of our locations and services means that we can usually cater for all skill, cost and language requirements as well as time zones and cultural considerations.
O: What were the major challenges you encountered during the establishment of this structure and how did you overcome them?
VK: One of the biggest challenges of setting up in a new region is understanding the labour laws and working culture of each country. This can be quite time consuming since employment law does vary quite considerably between regions. Navigating your way through the legislative framework of an unfamiliar country can be a significant barrier to a fast and efficient set-up process. And, the same is true of working cultures. It is important to understand that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to workplace culture. What might be common practice in the UK might seem very strange or even rude to employees in Asia or Eastern Europe. This may sound obvious but finding the right balance is an art.
The best way to get around these problems is to make sure that you have a wealth of local knowledge and experience within your senior team. Too many organisations, when moving into a new region, fill their management teams with ex-pats who have no experience of operating in that country. There really is no substitute for local knowledge and expertise and so we always aim to have the right blend of experiences and backgrounds in any leadership team.
O: How does AMS encourage the development of a coherent corporate culture throughout the SSO?
VK: Although we recognise that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ when it comes to corporate culture and that each region requires a different approach and working style, we do still place a very high value on having a single, distinctive Alexander Mann Solutions’ corporate culture.
We therefore work very hard to ensure that all AMS operations, wherever they are in the world, are consistent with our corporate goals and values. This is evident across everything we do, from the look and feel of our offices to the way we hire, develop and reward our staff. Everything has to be rooted in AMS’ core values to ensure that all of our employees across the world feel like they are a part of the same organisation.
O: Moving away from AMS to a broader look at the space: how do you see the evolution of the shared services model having impacted upon businesses’ ability to survive the financial crisis?
VK: There is no doubt that, during the past 18 months or so, the shared services model has been a major advantage for many businesses looking to weather the economic difficulties. In a recession, organisations will always look to drive cost-savings in a way that does not negatively impact on their customers or their best employees. Shared services providers that can quickly and efficiently implement a high-quality service at a fraction of the cost are a great way to do this and this has been a key part of why SSOs are now moving further up the value chain.
O: How do you see the emergence of sourcing capabilities in new locations (especially Africa) affecting the sourcing space over the next five or ten years?
VK: Recent years have seen a lot of talk about the BRIC economies, which have definitely emerged as a major focus for the sourcing industry and look set to continue to grow in influence. With those nations now well established, I think we will see Africa emerge as the next key location for shared service centres within the next decade. There are already plenty of African locations with excellent language capabilities, which is a huge advantage for many businesses. With growing economic and political stability in the region, I expect Africa to emerge as a major region for shared services alongside India, China and the Philippines.
O: Looking at the topic on which you’ll be speaking on a panel at the Shared Services Exchange: do you think SSOs are getting smarter at handling (and reducing) attrition, and how much more work do you think needs to be done?
VK: Attitudes towards staff attrition vary among SSOs, depending on where the SSO is based and what kind of service it is delivering. As SSOs move up the value chain and begin handling more complex processes and business functions – essentially becoming fully-fledged Knowledge Process Outsourcing – it becomes increasingly important to keep your best staff happy, motivated and engaged.
There is certainly still work to be done, particularly among those SSOs who are still handling the more basic processes. With these less challenging processes, there is still a view that attrition is not really a problem. However, as the industry matures I think this will change.
O: Is people development really that important for offshore SSOs, or is it merely something that sounds and looks good?
VK: If you talk to the managers of shared services centres, they will tell you that keeping hold of their best people is always one of their top challenges. This means that people development cannot just be something that looks good on a website or job advert, it is an absolute business imperative.
A centre which needs multilingual employees will only have a finite number of suitable candidates, which means that keeping hold of good people is essential for the business to succeed. Since well-qualified, intelligent employees will not want to stay in a job without any opportunities to progress, it is obvious that people development needs to be a priority for a business to succeed in the long-term.
O: How is the move up the value chain for SSOs impacting upon people development and retention strategies?
VK: I think it’s certainly the case that, as SSOs move up the value chain and are tasked with managing more high-profile, complex processes people development and retention strategies are moving up the agenda. The SSOs carrying out these more complex processes obviously require a higher calibre of employees. The only way to attract and retain these people is to take development and engagement seriously; giving employees the kind of training opportunities, benefits and incentives that will make them want to stay with the company and develop.
O: Finally, what do you see as being the biggest challenge for the sourcing space over the next few years?
VK: As if often the case in the business world, the biggest challenges for the sourcing industry are also the biggest opportunities. The whole sector is set to see a huge amount of change in the next few years, as technology continues to transform recruitment and the emerging markets of China, India, Russia and Brazil keep growing in size and influence. Both these trends represent fantastic opportunities for forward thinking businesses but they will also bring a number of complex and unique challenges. Companies who can best adapt to these changes will be well-placed to succeed both in the next few years and beyond.