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Leaving talent on the table: global operations leaders (Part II)

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Gianni Giacomelli

Global Business Leader Digital Solutions

October 3, 2013 - Meet Frank (fictitious name, but real person), who, over a career spanning more than twenty years, evolved from a management consultant to a senior manager in an e-commerce company. He then moved on to a regional CIO role for a financial service major headquartered in Germany, where he was also responsible for all near shore shared services. Was he crazy to get himself into that? Well, he then became the CEO of a division of the same company. So possibly not fully insane. 

Next, meet John (again, not his real name), who started his career more than twenty years ago in marketing analytics for a CPG company, then moved to management consulting, did a stint in a dot-com, and shifted to strategy focused on shared services and outsourcing for a global software heavyweight. He then took over the leadership of innovation, followed by marketing, with a leading professional services and outsourcing provider, reporting to the CEO; from there, and routinely interacted with operations leaders around the world. 

You can bet they both saw every step of their career as synergistic with the next. Operations was part of a compound of skills that reinforced themselves. According to both Frank and John, they succeeded precisely because they followed a non-standard path—spending a significant amount of time understanding how operations work.

Where can you really use GBS, outsourcing, shared services, or even process transformation people? What skills do they build that are useful elsewhere as they progress? And what skills do they really benefit from; in other words, from where can you source effective ones—operations, IT, sales, analytics?

More than ever before, organizations need strong leaders to make their enterprises more competitive through better, less expensive, and more agile processes and operations. Their experience with global teams is clearly useful for increasingly global companies. But is operations expertise all that matters for operations leaders or, as is increasingly the case for CIOs, can a great operations leader benefit from the strategy capability and broad business perspective accumulated elsewhere? And additionally, is a deep understanding of operations not useful for other leading management roles, where execution at scale is essential, but the volatility of market conditions necessitates the ability to "pivot"?

What does HR say about this? Chances are, if you ask HR leaders in client organizations, you will often find less firm opinions compared to, say, the career evolution of someone in M&A, sales, or marketing. Lacking well-understood career paths, there is some evidence—which we will explore more quantitatively later—of pervasive inbreeding: people looping in and out of the same roles, others being given the leadership of shared services or GBS due to long tenure in the company, as well as limited exchange between adjacent functions and seniority levels. In other words, shared services, GBS, and outsourcing professionals may end up being pigeon-holed in their narrow field, and it is unclear how they can move in, out, or up. In addition, it is not clear where the best ones would come from. 

The hard questions are simple: Can a head of shared services or GBS make a great CFO or COO, or even CEO, just like a great comptroller or Anti-Money-Laundering leader could in some cases? Can analytics superstars get into building analytics centers of excellence to scale up the analytical maturity of their company and then continue a stellar ascent? Can post-merger integration experts successfully get into transforming global business services? Can sales and marketing skills help heads of GBS penetrate their organizations, and can GBS experience be useful for a professional sales organization? And, perish the thought; are operations leaders actually capable of fostering innovation?

How do we find the answers? In the next few weeks and months, we will get more data and dig deeper, starting with – right here - a first shot across the bow in the form of the following simplified analytical exercise: a word cloud that statistically computes the occurrences of specific words in the job titles of leaders of such operations. One is the set of leaders whose teams work with Genpact as an extended enterprise or in transforming their own processes and operations. The other one is a set of the titles of people involved in one of the largest shared services, sourcing, and outsourcing communities out there.

The fact that they are virtually undistinguishable from each other validates them—and begs the question: are they really very different from any other group of functional leaders out there?

In the next post, we will look at some empirical evidence from surveys of global operations leaders, and people who have responsibility over them. Some interesting findings await us, especially with regard to their trajectories and tenure in their companies.