With service becoming more and more integral to business strategies across the globe the role of the service leader is equally becoming increasingly crucial within successful organisations. Nick Frank, Principal Consultant and Founder of Si2 Partners explores what makes a great Service Leader…
For Service leaders wanting to develop their talent, or companies wanting to recruit new talent, knowing the competencies required to achieve your business goals is vital.
To start, we need to define what a ‘Service Leader’ looks like, smells like and tastes like, similar to a fine cheese it is not one dimensional.
As with most things in life, what defines success is often contextual.
In defining service leadership, we have identified four relevant perspectives.
- Business Evolution;
- Service Evolution;
- Organizational Structure;
- People or the individual.
Businesses are constantly developing and pass through different stages such as start-up, maturity or transformation.
What we find is that many companies run into problems when their business context changes due to economic realities, and their leadership cannot adapt fast enough.
As a service leader you will consequently need to be clear on your current and future position aspiration.
For example, if you currently work for a start-up or a business at its early stages, it will be critical for your long-term career development that you acquire a higher level of business acumen. In a larger more mature business, leaders will develop change management capabilities which are essential for business transformation.
The overall business context of the company drives the service evolution, inevitably putting new demands on service leadership.
Breaking this down, we observed four generic service strategy steps, which describe the journey of companies when evolving from product focus to service orientation:
- Product life cycle; Ensure equipment availability
- Product performance; Optimize performance over the lifecycle
- Process support; to help the customer in improving their business processes
- Process Outsourcing; perform processes on behalf of customers
This evolution is influenced by the mix and maturity of customer profile(s) and will impact both the breadth and depth of competence requirements.
For example, looking at how leaders deal with segmentation, a company focusing on solving product issues will segment their business by-products and geographical markets, whereas companies focusing on business outcomes will segment in terms of customer value.
Understanding the service evolution context is probably the most important area to consider when hiring/developing future service leaders.
Increasingly, service organizations are being managed as a stand-alone business where companies see it as a strategic driver of growth with its own Profit & Loss responsibility. Led by a single Service leader with subordinate sub-function leaders, business acumen becomes more important than the technical knowledge of service.
The more traditional cost focused service organizations are often organized along functional lines with leaders for Field Service, Technical Support and other ‘technical’ teams.
Here technical expertise is more important.
The difference between the two business needs is profound. Having the wrong person in a leadership role can become a major barrier to growth. It is not that they are a poor performer, but that their skill sets and temperament have not developed to be effective to overcome a particular business challenge.
People or individual
As companies develop internal talent or search for new talent externally, Service Leaders may come from a non-technical function and/or background.
For example, Sales people are increasingly being asked to lead service organizations because of their commercial background. Alternatively, the current Service leader might only have worked within a specific organizational context such as Field Service or Digital Marketing.
The impact in both scenarios is that an individual is being moved or promoted into the position, shouldering new accountabilities with a different and/or limited traditional, service knowledge.
As service organizations become more sophisticated and require a leadership team with a diverse mix of competencies it becomes more important to be cognizant of the complementary expertise required as well as how it fits into company culture and people strategies, processes and aspirations.
Linking context to competency
Competencies are the parameters we use to describe the capabilities of people.
Within service, we have identified 30 of these competencies which can be grouped under leadership, management, personal attributes and technology (in the digital context). Successful service leadership comes from conscious adoption of these competencies to the business context and service maturity you operate in.
Coupled with a genuine understanding of your current/aspired structure, values and culture will enable leaders to create an organizational environment where people can succeed
One of the most powerful factors applied in the selection of competencies is undoubtedly the job/position requirements. To support this and to provide a summary overview, we found it was possible to distinguish four functional groups, Service Sales; Service Delivery; Service Excellence and Service Innovation.
Each of these groups include a complete set of relevant accountabilities.
For example, for Service Sales we include customer management, sales management, business development and product development. In total, one position should ideally include 5-8 clearly articulated and prioritized competencies.
The mix of these competencies will depend on the context we have discussed and in combination, will be used to develop job descriptions that more accurately reflect the needs of the business, rather than an intuitive perception of what the business leader thinks.
Great is defined by a number of contextual factors, therefore, the consideration of the competencies required and the weighting of each is going to be essential to be able to articulate the right job profile for a given context.
Whether you are developing the capabilities of an existing employee or hiring externally, our recommendation is to ‘go slow to go quick’, meaning take the extra time to consider your context at the outset of your search. Companies’ likelihood of finding and developing great service leaders in the B2B world will be greatly enhanced.
If you would like to know more about the competencies that define great Service leaders, than you can download our white paper by contacting the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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