Why transition activities from one department or location to another?
Leaders in every organisation have a duty to periodically review how work is conducted. Times change, technology changes, the market and consumers change. Salary arbitrage can be attractive. Covid-19 has changed how business operates for good. What used to be ‘business as usual’, undertaken by the same team that has always done this work is no longer the case.
You will have your own reasons to want to transition work to a new operating model, but here are some of the considerations for operational transition when success in a world where priorities are constantly changing and the need to deliver a high standard of service to the business remains:
- Disruption can force change – digital disruption has turned many traditional business models into legacy operations. Many companies need to pivot how they structure their workforce – from a hierarchical functional construct to a cross-functional capability – so that they can service the internal value chain that serves the customer.
- Long term strategy – visionary leaders will be constantly horizon-scanning to see potential new opportunities and challenges, and revising their strategy to make the most of supposed future trading conditions. This could, for example, see an initiative to co-locate similar work in one location.
- Continuous Improvement – cross-functional processes, those that deliver customer value, must be constantly evaluated and improved in the light of their efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility. This will introduce changes to how and where people work.
- Rationalisation – after a period of operation, it makes sense to re-look at the relevance of previous operational decisions and evaluate if efficiencies gained allow the process to be rationalised. In global organisations this is often the tension between central shared service activity vs in-country capability, and can result in jobs and/or activities being moved to different locations.
- Cost efficiency – in line with the cost challenges faced by most organisations, and as part of a wider efficiency drive, it can make sense to locate staff where the salaries are cheaper. Care is needed to balance lowering one cost, but having to spend on a separate quality-of-service layer.
The rest of this post sets out a narrative of the main activities required to transition roles from one operational situation to another. Don’t assume that the work is being outsourced: our experience has shown that it is often just as beneficial to make transitions of operational responsibility within a company. In fact, don't outsource what you could automate...
We will assume that the work to decide what to transition, and why, has already been completed, and that an approved business case exists to support the transition. We can help with those activities too.
The presumption is that we have a clear understanding of what activities the current teams perform, and we know which ones we intend to move to a new location. If the main transition driver is cost then typically only 75% of any activity set would move to a cheaper location, with activities relating to direction setting, client interaction and business partnering staying near the core. Any particularly complex or risky activities that need contextual oversight might also remain.
Our experience has shown that the approach set out in the graphic above works very effectively. It’s length may be tailored to suit the learning need. It’s one thing having one new starter join an established team – they have a period of intense learning on the job, with more experienced colleagues acting as a control – but recreating an entire department elsewhere, either in-house or outsourced, is a considerably larger undertaking, often with commercial and legal implications.
Prior to Knowledge Acquisition
Detailed activity list by staff, team and process
A Distinct List of Activities must be created which identifies every activity undertaken by people in the teams within the scope of the transition, and is used to identify complex or commercially risky activities that will stay with the business partnering community or move in-company.
This list is also the basis of the Knowledge Acquisition (KA) and Knowledge Transition (KT) plans, informing the amount of work that will need to be done in each transition phase.
Ready new premises
Identify and secure production floor and desk space in suitable premises in the new location. Order laptop PCs and desk phones as needed. Check that IT connectivity and bandwidth is sufficient for the new operational demand, and is a stabilised service. Check that all system and application access requirements are known, together with licensing and concurrent usage limits.
Perform speed tests on the main systems that will be used in the new location and prove access to shared network drives. This is particularly important if the new location is overseas and a remote desktop approach is chosen.
Identify the IT support process required to follow in case of any IT issue.
Recruit and build the team in the new location. Depending on where the new office is relative the current one, it may be that existing staff will map across or be willing to move. Set out the selection criteria for managers and staff and make sure that all stakeholders are comfortable with them. Ensure that compensation levels are sufficient to attract the right calibre of candidate.
Whilst respecting any staff consultation protocols in respect of any current staff who may be made redundant, you may be able to start a confidential search and begin to screen resumes.
At the appropriate time, share the resume of people who have been shortlisted for open positions. Interview candidates at a number of stages and make an employment offer to suitable staff. Aim to offer to 100% of staff needed at least a month ahead of your ‘go live’ date, and overhire to allow for non-starters.
Once a position has been offered, share the names of individuals expected to join in the new location with those in the old location, so that they can initiate new starter procedures ahead of their travel to the current locationfor knowledge acquisition.
As new hires start in the new location, and are engaged on minor tasks whilst waiting to be trained, conduct basic training for those who will be travelling to the original place of work. Broadly this will cover the company induction and business overview, function / operational basics, and detailed training in any relevant tooling, local mandatory training in Health and Safety etc, plus Standard Operating Procedure writing skills.
For the new hires, who are about to travel to the original location for training in how to do the job, then you should provide an overview of business travel, accommodation expectations, the new office layout and team names, and any behavioural expectations. If necessary, acquire a UK Business Visa and book flights.
Explain KA Approach
Define the approach to knowledge acquisition, which adopts the ‘watch, document, do, do again’ paradigm, and includes SOP production co-ordination (including creation and multiple levels of sign-off), tests and accreditation, KA reporting, and the issues and escalation procedure.
Define the roles and responsibility matrix for every deliverable. Brief management in both locations and clarify any doubts. Define KA governance such as, daily calls, daily reports, daily SOP progress review etc.
Build KA Plan
Build, validate and signoff the KA plan for the activities which are being transitioned in each tranche of work, based on the creation of SOPs. Identify staff from both locations who will provide and receive activity training, along with any backup staff, with full reference to the Distinct List of Activities.
Segregate activity that will stay in the current location or move to a different team, and check that the amount of retained work is as expected. State roles and responsibility, and map resources from both sides for activities to be transitioned.
Plot the most suitable date(s) for activity observation and hands-on practice. Identify any planned absence and deputies who can provide backup. Identify and brief IT support and be clear on any process required to be followed in case of an IT issue.
Create the SOP Submission Plan
Create and agree a template for the format and content of every Standard Operating Procedure. Create and share the SOP submission and sign-off plan, together with a RACI on the review and sign-off responsibilities. SOP signoff should vary according to complexity and risk of the underlying activities, which will be informed by the output from the Solutioning Phase.
BAU Cover Plan
Overlay the KA Plan onto the existing Operational Plan, and identify any pressure points or shortfalls in resource for BAU. Identify key business dates and staff holiday. Recruit temporary backfill staff as necessary in advance of KA starting, and ensure that they are up to speed in good time. Authorise overtime and week-end working as appropriate. Gain agreement that there is sufficient time to complete BAU activity and reduce any backlog, as well as train the new staff.
Provision existing location
There will be a temporary influx of new people, and sitting them in a suitable position next to the person they will learn from requires some thinking through. Agree on the KA start date and duration. Document who sits where on the floorplan and find additional seating so that staff may more easily learn their role. Check any local Health & Safety regulations for desk space if doubling up when learners sit with trainers - you may find that people have little room for moving about.
Remind travelling staff to bring their new laptops to use. Identify all system requirements, including a production class parallel live environment, and provide necessary system access to new team members. Arrange a dedicated meeting room for the visitors from the new location, where they can hold their own meetings in private, as needed.
Stage Gate 1
Ensure that all check lists prior to onshore KA starting have been completed and agreed by senior representatives of both locations. Highlight any issues/challenges/risks. Obtain formal signoff to proceed with onshore KA.
Welcome Team to the new Location
Welcome the new location’s Transition Manager to the original office ahead of the main body of their colleagues. Ensure that the KA Plan is reviewed, and agree any amendments which are needed. The Transition Manager will also ensure that any accommodation is suitable and that the ‘home space’ in the original building meets their needs. The Transition Manager will host a video-conference between new location staff and their counterpart in the current location to introduce each other before travel.
On the day that KA starts, the department should stop work briefly to be introduced to all of the new arrivals, who will then take their seats next to those who have previously done the job and will become their trainers.
Follow KA Plan and report progress
The Transition Manager will ensure that staff adhere to the KA schedule and plan. The schedule will be front-loaded with complex and high-risk activities being learned first, and will be for a minimum period of time, sufficient to allow observation and drafting of SOPs during the first period, and then a second period of observed operation, consolidation of knowledge and SOP refinement.
Status in performing the activities and writing the SOPs will be reported on a daily basis and any exceptions will be captured. The KA plan will track, for each activity, the original date learning is planned, that it is in progress (if more than 1 day), that it has been completed and tested, or deferred. If the latter, the new planned day should be shown. Hold daily KA calls with all relevant stakeholders, including management in the new location.
Track SOP Production
The SOPs will be built in real time as new staff watch and mimic those they are replacing undertake each activity. They will be given access to screen recording software to enable them to take screen-shots and record key strokes for capture in their SOPs.
The learner will create a raw SOP entry at the end of each activity learning session, or at the end of each day. This learning, and the documentation produced, will be presented back to their trainer colleague each morning to be verified as accurate and complete. If necessary, amendments will be made to reflect feedback given.
The new location should have an SOP Manager who should also travel to the old site, to track the creation of every SOP, facilitating sign-off (which may be multi-level), and tracking test results on behalf of the new location’s management.
As part of their SOP review, the managers at the new location will extract questions which will be used to test their team’s knowledge. They will send these questions to the Learning and Development (L&D) Manager so that a Question Bank is created. The sign-off of SOPs is a vital activity and one which can prove to be a bottleneck if not managed carefully, so special focus is needed here.
Accredit Individual Knowledge Gained
Every week, on a Monday morning, original staff will set a simple test which will cover the operational activities (Suppliers – inputs – steps – outputs – Customers) trained in the previous week. This allows the weekend for the knowledge to ‘drain down’, so will be a better test of retention. The trainer staff will decide if their shadow has passed their test, and will report this back to the L&D Manager.
The L&D Manager will track individual learning performance through test success and anecdotal evidence. Towards the end of the KA period, the L&D Manager will set a more formal examination based on the questions in the Question Bank, which covers the body of knowledge that has been acquired by each person, and which, when passed, will form Part 1 of their License to Operate (LTO).
Confirm current location team members who will provide new location KT support
As KA progresses we will identify original team members who, notwithstanding that they may not be part of the future operations, have the attitude, experience and desire to travel to the new location to provide offshore KT support. At least one person per team should travel. If the new location is offshore, then their invitation letter, business visa, flight, transfer and hotel arrangements will be made.
Stage Gate 2
Ensure that all activities necessary to complete KA and start of KT are achieved and agreed by senior representatives of both locations. Highlight any issues/challenges/risks. Obtain formal signoff to proceed with offshore KT.
Prior to Knowledge Transfer
Prepare for Knowledge Transfer
KT is the continuation of the process of learning started in KA, but the new team who came over to the original location now return to the new office location and take increasing responsibility for operational matters. In the period ahead of cutover to Live running, the new team take the lead, with onsite support from old location staff who have travelled, or via screen-viewing software.
Plans are drawn up to predict workload during the KT period and UK staff who have not travelled are primed on what BAU they will need to do if the new team are not efficient enough to complete the days’ work yet. Video conferencing and screen sharing tools make it easy to give advice from afar by watching a shared screen.
Confirm KT Plans and Governance
Create the offshore KT plan. Confirm that the floorspace in the new office is fully provisioned. Define KT governance and confirm what daily/weekly calls and daily reports are needed. Agree that the SOPs will be used - and updated as necessary.
Agree on how the new staff will be accredited for Part 2 of their License to Operate. Accreditation should be based on individual’s capability to a) use tools, b) follow the process, and c) think for themselves to resolve process issues. As such a multiple-choice examination will be set using questions from the Question Bank and this will be followed by a viva in which a panel ask questions on how the team member would cope with one challenge or another.
Check that the technology works
Check that IT connectivity is stabilised and that all new location users have system and application access as needed. This should just be a tick in the box if they have used their laptops when sat next to their trainer. Confirm and align the IT support and the process required to be followed in case of any IT issue in both locations.
Prepare for Go-Live
Determine what backlog of work exists, and propose a plan to reduce or eliminate it by the time of Go Live. Given that the new location staff will be working on operational activities, the staff who remain in the UK at the old location will have time to work on any backlog. The Cutover Plan (responsibility) and the Ramp-Up Plan (volume) will be created. Service Level Agreements will be defined and agreed.
All matters pertinent to the successful running of the operation in the new location will be entered into a Schedule of Services, that becomes the contractual basis for the offshore site to deliver to the rest of the business. This applies just as strongly to a captive operational centre as one owned by a third-party organisation.
Welcome the trainers to the new location
New location staff who have travelled to the old office are given a few days to readjust to their new office, and to put their learning into context. Some of the trainers from the old location travel to the new location, ready to start KT, and are seated near by the people they trained in the UK. Ideally, they do not sit next to their trainee, because we want them to start thinking for themselves.
Follow KT Plan and report progress
The KT plan repeats the work that has been trained. The Transition Manager will ensure that staff adhere to the KT schedule. The KT schedule, should track, for each activity, the original date that activity is planned to be undertaken, that it is in progress (if more than 1 day), that it has been completed and tested, or deferred. If the latter the new planned day should be shown.
Report status on a daily basis, including confirmation of the successful outcome of each activity, and capture any exceptions. Hold daily KT calls with all relevant stakeholders, including management in the original location – who still hold accountability.
Offshore KT Accreditation
Update the SOPs as required, based on experience following the KT Plan, and share any changes via the SOP Manager with original location management for review and signoff. Accredit new staff to recognise their achievement. When individuals are successful, award Part 2 of their License to Operate.
Initiate SLA discussion and capturing and reporting mechanism. Work on backlog, cutover and ramp up plan jointly towards closure.
Prior to Go Live
Confirm SLAs and finalise the backlog resolution procedure as necessary. Fine tune the Cutover Plan and Ramp Up Plan. Highlight any residual risks, issues or challenges. Ensure that new location BAU governance protocols are in place. Create an Operations and IT escalation matrix. Prime the BAU communication plan, including to the wider business and to commercial partners. Define the operational governance and the reporting mechanism and schedule.
Ensure that the new location team have complete system and application access, that printers are set up, phones are connected, telephone hunt groups work etc.
Any ‘time off in lieu’ or unused holiday must be taken before the proposed ‘go-live’ date. All transactional operational backlogs (eg outstanding payments, query resolutions, investigations, inconsistencies) must also be completed before the proposed ‘go-live’ date.
This is a good time to prepare a new ‘go to’ list for sharing with stakeholders of the work transitioned. It is also an opportunity to consolidate the new role holder's relationship with key stakeholders that need to be kept on side and reassured, keeping the end-to-end process strong.
Existing staff in the old location will know their exit date, and will be briefed to provide support as necessary. Contingency plans must be drawn up to deal with a roll-back of responsibility for each operational area. All new staff must be fully ‘licenced to operate’, and be ready to take on the new service.
Stage Gate 3
Ensure that all activities necessary to complete new location KT and for the new team to take on full operational responsibility are achieved and agreed by senior representatives of both locations. Highlight any issues/challenges/risks. Obtain formal signoff to transfer accountability to the new team.
Go Live & Stabilisation
Operational Go Live will be undertaken as per the Cutover Plan and the Ramp Up Plan. Some of the original team will be available for go-live support. Daily and Weekly reports with key highlights will inform stakeholders of how well the new organisation is performing.
The reality is that the team now ‘live’ has been doing the job in one form or another for some time, and they are perfectly competent. The only real change is that they – and their leaders – have become accountable as well as responsible.
There will be a daily consideration of the need to adjust any agreed onshore exit dates as a result of the offshore team’s temporary (in)ability to run the new service.
It’s important that the new team feel as though they have at least some support available from those who used to do the job. However thorough the training has been, it cannot cover every eventuality, and it may well be that some activities are only performed at certain times of the year, which fall outside their experience to date. It should remain a safety net though, not an easy excuse to ask for advice.
Staff Join New Teams
Many of those replaced by staff in the new location can be upset about handing their job over. If the new location is close by the original one, if may be that those same people can find a role in the new operation. Equally, many of the team will find a new position in a slightly different job, which can be fulfilling in terms of career progression.
There will always be a percentage of staff who resign when the initiative is announced, or stay to the end to pick up a redundancy package. They will be helped into the wider world by measures to help them find a new job, or to embrace the freedom to take a different path.
This article is a brief insight into what can be an emotional experience for many, from those affected to the Exec who need it to happen. Take care to be dispassionate in decision making, but compassionate in implementation.