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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Support Function or Business Partner-your choice

I'd blogged earlier(http://iimaexperiences.blogspot.in/2012/02/hr-law-and-operations-next-hot-things.html)  about how HR/IT/Operations-of which HR/IT are 'support functions' in the sense that they do not directly contribute towards the top-line-are gaining importance. And a major reason for that is they are becoming more relevant to business. Gone are the days of technical geekiness failing to make that business case for the $MM spend. With the entry of MBAs into those roles, they can more easily relate to the other side(Sales & Marketing/Finance) and make a business case by quantifying intangibles.

As the Indian economy undergoes a structural shift, the new-age sectors like e-commerce, retail, education, healthcare, media are gaining importance, and they have many interesting 'support roles' in operations/supply chain, HR, technology(not IT!) and even Corporate Finance. But the difference between working in 'sunset industries' and traditional industries in my view, is that the deference to hierarchy/SOPs/tightly carved out niches are yet to come in. Hence, even those not directly revenue producers, can prove their value more easily by contributing to the bottom line, and working in cross functional teams to come with innovative workable solutions. For example,
  1. Making sure store shelf inventory levels are optimal with desired fill rate/carrying costs
  2. Designing systems for faster rollout of new products in banks/other service organizations
  3. Designing appropriate incentive systems for salesforce, top management and bankers, to minimize perverse incentives to game the numbers. 
  4. Reducing your function spend as a % of sales, yet improving the turnaround time/throughput.
But what would it take for this to happen? In my view, that would entail
  1. Understanding the business-either prior experience/rotations across units or just being alert
  2. Prepared to educate others in jargon free plain English about your techniques
  3. Preferably coming out with a solution rather than just highlighting a problem
  4. Comfortable with cross functional teams and adapting to different sub-unit cultures
  5. Having the organizational goals in mind(not just your narrow goals of say slashing costs)
  6. Talking the jargon-building the business case(not a glossy business plan!) in the way it gets thru
  7. Be prepared to make yourself redundant-to take on progressively responsible roles. For example, shared services seem the way of the future especially for conglomerates or multinationals. Hence instead of resisting the trend, go with it.
 In brief, while non MBAs also enter those functions and do exceedingly well, the success mantra in my view, is to act more like a business partner than just a functional specialist.

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