Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

The role of a global function…adding value or merely cost?

For many of us and indeed for many of my clients, the activities of global functional leadership can be a source of frustration and occasionally extreme irritation. That’s not to say that the individuals within those functions are not performing to the best of their ability and don’t have all the right intentions for the business. Indeed one might say that to have reached that position requires talent, a strong network and set of relationships (and by the way, that is not meant to be a critical ‘aside’, those who’ve read my blog in the past know the value that I place on the capability to build this and how fundamental it is to any business), and above all hard work at often anti-social hours with the subsequent impact on family life.

So what is it about these roles which causes the problem?

  1. Is it the rather poorly defined set of KPIs which by their nature overlap with regional / country / product or services based ones, causing the perennial debate around who was ultimately responsible for what?
  2. Is it the nature of local leadership which is constantly confronted with the reality of client relationships on the ground being diametrically opposed to the ‘policy’ edicts of the centre, creating a lack of trust and willingness to cooperate?
  3. Is the understandable frustration that individuals in those central roles feel where they ‘own’ all the responsibility but have none of the ‘authority’ or indeed resource to achieve their expectations?

There is no easy solution to this issue but perhaps a couple of examples from my past experience where these functions have added value (in this case, perception is absolutely reality by the way).

  1. The first was where the global lead saw his role purely as one of facilitation and knowledge sharing. He actively brought together regional functional leads where he felt that they had similar experiences or issues to deal with, or where one had done something that was extremely relevant to another region. The sessions were facilitated by him, mostly conducted in very small groups (2 or 3 at a maximum) and based on qualitative as well as quantitative information sharing. The former was understood as a key learning point. There was no pressure to accept the experience or guidance, purely an effort to share. This happened at a number of different levels within the organisation.
  2. The other example is more radical but equally interesting. In this case, the global lead collaborated with all the regional heads to such an extent that they effectively designed his role for him. Specifically, what they focused on was oversight and governance (in effect representation at the group level), knowledge sharing, shared KPIs and resourcing. He also spent a lot of time in the field with in each region, either visiting clients or helping with recruitment and performance discussions. He was evaluated in terms of his performance by the same group of regional heads.

In both of these cases, the individual concerned was an unusual person, not necessarily comfortable with the role and certainly not driven by the relative seniority but more interested in the nature of his existing and future relationship with the regional heads.

The nature of large organisations is to put in place these functions as the complexity and pace of their businesses grows. The challenge is for the individual to play an meaningful part in this growth, acting as a conduit and not a blockage for decision making.

I would welcome any experiences or thoughts you have on this subject…

Categories: Career development, Complex transformation, Functional Leadership, Intellectual property, Management Information, Organisational design

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