As organizations increase their global footprint, one of the greatest challenges they face is unifying geographically diverse units and delivering consistent value. Since oftentimes the buildouts involve uniting existing units with their own operational models, a global strategy is required.
This article provides a roadmap for accomplishing this and a case study that highlights how it worked for one organization.
TransUnion is a global information and insights company that makes trust possible in global commerce. In 2018 my group was given a difficult challenge to help demystify and unify a major part of our global operations.
Specifically, the company needed to pull together the consumer contact units (CCUs) from their major regional geographies into a single team to provide visibility to the business insight into service levels, regulatory compliance, and potential inefficiencies.
Prior to this assignment, we had four centers of over 100 resources, an additional three markets with up to 50 resources, and over an additional dozen geographies with small teams.
Prior efforts had been made to assemble and manage a variety of divisions. However, while those CCUs often had multi-office/country footprints, the unit always served a single market or internal customer.
The new challenge presented was that while the regional CCUs had common operational responsibilities to their local markets, they also each managed a variety of other operational non-contact-center-related services for their markets. Often these were support for lines of business unique to that market or country.
Moreover, prior to the CCU unification, each operational unit was completely self-contained and isolated within their regions.
As a result, regional service levels were declining, innovation was lacking, and costs were rising linearly with volumes (or worse).
All of these factors threatened experience, margins, agility, and ultimately the overall brand experience impacting customer loyalty and sales.
Urgency existed and the situation demanded organizational leverage for the enterprise to resolve. Maintaining a local mindset when designing globally was also key in building a winning strategy,
As pointed out in the Harvard Business Review “a common mistake is to think that you can design a product for your home market and introduce that same product to international markets.” We believe the same mistake can be made for customer contact services just like products.
Our Strategy and Approach
The strategy we used with our business used the following five steps:
- Understanding current conditions using due diligence, fact-finding, and listening.
- Building a globally consistent set of definitions, KPIs, and goals.
- Moving to high-performing multi-regional - globally integrated - teams.
- Demonstrating impact and value of scale to the business.
- Converting impact and reputation gained to influence.
Each of these steps is detailed in the following sections.
1. Understanding current conditions using due diligence, fact-finding, and listening
“Before creating global organizational cultures, corporate leaders need to know the current state of affairs in cultural development” (5 Ways to Foster a Global Mindset in Your Company, Nataly Kelly, Harvard Business Review).
With this focus, we started with a traditional approach with time-boxed fact-finding engagements with each of the major units over the first couple of quarters. Through this process, we quickly learned about the team designs, talent, processes, platforms, service levels, etc.
My professional background of combined technology and ops provided us with a lens that enabled us to be equally comfortable sitting with the local IT and development teams as well as the operational teams.
For our success, our approach required having representation for both groups in this phase. The dual understandings accelerated understanding and documenting the entire ecosystem and how it functioned.
As the reviews were completed though, the need for a unified cross-regional vision and globalized service strategy became apparent. We were going to need to leverage enterprise scale to be successful.
Even with directive and support from executive management and solid line responsibility over a local team, implementing change across wide geographies is not an easy endeavor.
Protective local adjacent management, conflicting regional agendas, cultural influences, and general corporate inertia can slowly suffocate even the best designed plans.
Adding to the challenges was a dynamic and ever more difficult regulatory landscape competing for the same resources. These barriers held true even if the outcome provided significant bottom line value to the local business, often ironically.
The requirement was then to quickly demonstrate value, influence, and drive the change with unwavering tenacity for all initiatives put forward.
2. Building a globally consistent set of definitions, KPIs, and goals
Building a common definitional language and a streamlined core set of metrics was a key starting point for setting up our future success.
We kept the approach simple with two core key performance indicators (KPIs), as any additional would have caused dilution of key stakeholder attention.
Our metrics focused initially on service level and on cost to serve. These two measures gave summary views of speed, quality, and cost to a variety of audiences both upward and downward in the organization.
The metrics then evolved as our maturity level increased. As an example, one of the core metrics moved to channel (shift to digital) from service level after our service level agreements (SLAs) improved, stabilized, and were maintained.
We continued to track the legacy KPIs, but largely moved them into the background as the business had gained trust that we had service levels handled.
Ensuring all consumers and stakeholders of the KPIs understood the data and how it directly impacted the business was critically important. It was also an effort that required continual attention as the organization evolved.
Finally, it was critical to set targets related to those measures as they were put into place. In our organization, it was moving a difficult global consumer service process from the better part of a month to under a calendar week. At the same time, executing at a cost point that was 75% less than our starting point (cost to serve).
We found this last target became the rallying cry for what would motivate the teams going forward. The tangible goal, which was applicable to most of the teams which we were assembling, allowed each contributor to understand how they were helping the team reach. The goal was also scale independent, so small and large groups had a mechanism in which to help yet compete with each other.
Building a common definitional language and a streamlined core set of metrics was a key starting point...
Before the end of the first quarter of this project, we established a baseline on these key measures. We tolerated the inherent non-material inconsistencies that came with measuring across a dozen groups at different levels of maturities. Directional accuracy was good enough to publish, and if an error was discovered, we would explain in the notes.
It was not until a year or two later that we realized how important that first step was in our success, as those initial measurements allowed us to frame forward the discussion with business leaders on the evolution of our service offering.
Showing quarter-over-quarter positive progress solidified management confidence in our strategy. The business cases we put forward became easier to gain approval.
It did not take more than a couple quarters of reporting before the regional teams, understanding the new exposure, started delivering their own additional process improvements/cost savings helping to move the entire organization forward. The additional interim wins then bought time for the larger/longer running initiatives to take shape and succeed.
To illustrate the impact, the teams collectively found tactical ways to cut nearly 20%-30% of process costs without needing any significant investments by our third quarter of operating as a global team. The business was starting to pay attention.
COVID and Action
In the middle of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts were rapidly cascading across the world, we had challenges maintaining consumer services. Many of our contact center partners globally closed down, often with little notice.
One particularly challenging case was with one of our larger markets in the Western Hemisphere. We had already lost our India-based vendor centers due to COVID and were hence reliant on a single in-country vendor to maintain services for the country. A force majeure was then received from that vendor with one week’s notice to transfer services.
Because we had already aligned our global team structure with shared training and resource teams, we were able to quickly (temporarily) double-shift a European based contact team to take on basic consumer processes to continue service without major interruption. We then had a small internal team to continue to handle the smaller volumes of complex processes.
The time afforded with this move gave us the opportunity to staff and train additional resources to provide continuity of process for the region.
By managing a critical risk without impact to the business, we freed executive leadership focus to navigate the wider business during a very difficult time. The global team delivered for the business.
In the years to follow, we would demonstrate repeated ability to quickly move global capacity to service urgent regional needs while minimizing unexpected costs; each time increasing our team’s visibility and impact in the organization.
3. Moving to high-performing regional - globally integrated – teams.
When working globally, it was critical to become comfortable managing heterogeneously. As we built out the global team, due to the size and cultural dynamics of the different regions, we were going to need to create small numbers of high-performing teams.
These teams would be integrated globally. As the geographic leaders were aware of each other’s varying seniority; we did not attempt to immediately standardize titles and levels (that would come as we integrated functions across regions). The differences in regional seniority either due to size of market, demographics, or strategic importance of the region was unavoidable and required sensitivity in management.
To help solve the related communication challenge to enable integration we created two layers of management meeting structures.
- An inner group for leaders at a higher experience level (Executive Director/VP level).
- A wider engagement for all people managers, which included the inner leadership team.
It was not uncommon to have reports of reports with higher titles than other market leaders in the first couple of years.
The two-layer approach gave the proper respect to the senior team, while using the wider management meeting to build inclusivity and collaboration across the global management team. Early in this process, not all markets were represented in the inner management meeting, but as we globalized/standardized those gaps disappeared.
The engagement was in addition to standard quarterly reviews and one-on-ones with direct reports, which should always be happening on a regular cadence.
Handling Poor Performers
Removing underperforming talent quickly was also a key success criterion for us to move up our global team’s performance.
We set aggressive, yet achievable change goals which required both change and effective management through influence.
The balance was critical, as the Harvard Business Review pointed out “...performance targets that are too aggressive can mean that even the best efforts go unrewarded, leaving people demoralized.”
Individuals who could not deliver on the rate of change needed were encouraged to find other opportunities. With proper coaching those identified usually left without needing additional action within a quarter.
4. Demonstrating impact and value of scale to the business.
Organizing for scale anywhere/everywhere, and doing it quickly was imperative in the value proposition of a global organization.
Scale was both relevant in the macro- and the individual talent level. We were able to both improve consistency, flexibility, and fiscal measures in parallel.
On an individual expertise basis, we used top program managers from one geography to lead an implementation in other region(s) to maximize the speed of our program success.
The speed achieved by using the same management for very similar projects across different parts of the world was invaluable.
We set aggressive, yet achievable change goals which required both change and effective management through influence.
The traditional method of building program teams by region would have cost us significant calendar and additional investment, which would have risked the business case.
We stretched talent from one market to manage resources from others to both improve and unify processes. The approach required significant stakeholder management (regional leadership in particular) to assure them that their market needs were being serviced and improved.
A common phrase I would use in these engagements was (and still is) “My job is to convince you that you are my top priority at all times. You and all of your peers (leaders of other markets) must believe this at the same time for me to be successful.”
Key Benefit: Unlocking Talent Globally
The results of faster, better execution benefited the professionals and the wider organization. A few of those same individuals later shared that they had chosen to continue their careers with us because they saw the career potential that previously didn’t exist due to the siloed structure. Even small movements towards talent sharing can have large impacts for both professionals and the company as a whole.
In the macro-scale arena, we managed talent pools for our processes from a global perspective. Markets varied in size based on a number of business and economic dynamics ranging from dozens to a few hundred resources.
Historically, our regional teams would manage through independent in-house teams and local vendor relationships to solve business needs. By viewing the challenge from an enterprise perspective instead of locally we had improved abilities to solve.
Teams cross-trained across regional lines both improved associates’ learning paths/experiences and increased service levels through applying capacity to need, while reducing team size in parallel.
Finally, the alignment of processes, reduction of variability, and improved employee engagement helped us to reduce risk to the business everywhere we conducted business.
Value creation through global alignment was the strategy. While measurement provided context and background for framing and evaluating success, the creation of value for the business was the impact which drove our success, reinforcing the cycle to win repeatedly. The true dividend gained was expanded influence, which accelerated our ability to influence future investment prioritization and business direction.
Transforming and converging the regional teams into an enterprise function allowed us to achieve aligned processes, KPIs, and engaged pooled talent regardless of where those team members physically sat in the world.
Nearly every market which participated was able to reduce headcount by ~20% while improving service level in parallel. Lowered process costs (one of our core KPIs) and streamlined organization accelerated our ability to manage change in regulation and business demand globally with less distraction to the business.
5. Converting impact and reputation gained to influence.
Overall, in two years, we were able to build a global team that functioned in unison. We improved the level of service to our markets, reduced operational costs by three quarters on our most expensive process. We also removed the distraction of operational management from sales who could then focus on growing the business.
At the same time, we provided greater consistency both within country and across countries increasing brand value and reducing regulatory challenges. The 75% reduction in transactional costs funded investment to further the objectives of the company.
Finally, and potentially most importantly, we created opportunities via the influence gained for our key talent to take on new responsibilities. Thereby unlocking additional growth (for both individual and enterprise) not previously possible in our old organizational model.
...in two years, we were able to build a global team that functioned in unison.
Between 2018 and 2020 our group was able to shift from 50% non-compliance to service level to over 90%. Our largest most expensive process unit cost dropped from ~$10 to $2.60 (and further reduced in 2021 and 2022) realized through labor savings, postage reductions, and cost avoidance in regions where volumes increased.
To recap our steps to success:
- Understand your markets and local dynamics.
- Establish key KPIs which will illustrate improvement and success.
- Integrate like functions horizontally into high performing global teams.
- Unlock and elevate key talent.
- Convert success into influence to expand impact to the business.