Corporate services branches, particularly in small organizations, often have difficulty balancing scarce resources, skills and effort to satisfy competing expectations and meet new demands. The effort required for major transformations can be beyond their capacity. This article proposes an approach that may help these organizations meet client expectations, remain flexible to new demands, and improve performance.
The corporate services branch has three core areas of responsibility in supporting the administration of organizations: (1) it delivers services, (2) provides strategic planning and advice, and (3) plays a stewardship role for internal clients, external clients such as central agencies, and senior management.
Corporate services branches in small organizations typically face three challenges in carrying out these duties. The first is that their different clients often have different or competing priorities. Departmental clients, for example, might want better service and less oversight; central agencies more effective stewardship; and senior management improved strategic planning.
The second challenge is unbalanced capacity. If the branch has emphasized capacity to satisfy internal clients, it may not have the resources and skills to adequately fulfill its stewardship and strategic planning roles, which, incidentally, are becoming urgently important to governments.
Third, resources in small agencies are typically scarce. This limits the flexibility of the corporate services branch to reallocate existing resources and effort to shore up capacity in areas of need. And additional resources are rarely an option.
The rebalancing approach
Experience suggests that a strong management team can work together to rebalance capacity by implementing an approach based on respect, results and regular reporting. The rebalancing technique is useful for small organizations because it is less intensive than total reengineering and sets the stage for continuous improvement and ongoing change as circumstances warrant.
This is not easy to accomplish. Typically the management team in a corporate services branch includes subject matter specialists with their own understanding of government-wide and organizational service challenges and priorities. Inevitably, it is difficult for the branch to effectively rebalance scarce resources if each division operates independently. To break down the silos, the team needs an agreed-upon vision for the branch that staff and clients can support. A typical vision could speak to the principles of high performance, valued employees, client service and efficiency. The management team should also agree on the objective of the rebalancing exercise itself.
Experience suggests that respect for people is a core value that drives a successful rebalancing exercise. The management team needs to have a shared understanding about what “respect” means and how it will be applied. Agreements regarding management issues such as the frequency of divisional meetings and resources allocated to training and development can be negotiated to everyone’s mutual benefit and convenience.
Management must walk the talk. Action is needed to indicate which desired behaviours will be rewarded and that unacceptable behaviours will not be tolerated. Recognition programs can be implemented across the branch to exemplify and reward good behaviours such as cooperation, courtesy and client service. At the same time, unacceptable behaviour such as bullying, whether by clients, managers or staff, requires immediate intervention: tolerance implies acceptance. Without agreement on what actions are required to ensure mutual respect at both the interpersonal and inter-organizational levels, it is unrealistic to expect the branch to meet its rebalanced outcomes.
The corporate services branch must have the capacity to deliver on its areas of responsibility in a balanced, efficient and effective way. Assessing the business processes of the branch is a major project that determines how the rebalancing will occur and builds a foundation for ongoing adjustment.
This has three objectives. First, it assesses and validates organizational outcomes against client expectations to ensure they are appropriate and that existing resources, processes and systems are in place to achieve them. Second, it provides managers with information regarding the capacity of their divisions to meet demand. Third, it lets the branch have an evidence-based discussion regarding the rebalancing of resources, skills and effort among the three core areas of responsibility.
The initial step of documenting the operational processes of the branch:
§ confirms client needs for each of area of responsibility
§ confirms the organizational outcomes
§ identifies the risks related to achieving those outcomes, ranks them, and builds a plan to manage them
§ assesses whether the competencies of the branch match requirements. (For example, if the finance division needs to do strategic planning, and it is staffed mainly with accountants, there may be a skills gap).
With high-level, activity-based costing – sometimes called activity-based management – opportunities for improved resource planning and effort may be found as activities and processes leading toward the desired outcomes are analyzed. The goal is to determine what organizational changes need to be made to achieve the appropriate balance of client service, strategic planning and stewardship.
This technique has a number of beneficial side effects. Since employees participate in the analysis, they validate what they are doing and often suggest improvements and increased productivity. At a minimum, participation builds support fo