The last word: Why developing leaders is crucial for the business services sector

We should not only encourage future leaders to learn but also provide them with a platform to do so. 

I have not worked for, or even managed a business services centre but I have watched the evolution of the global business services (GBS) sector in the emerging Europe region very closely for almost a decade now. I have supported both businesses and governments in growing the sector.  

Global business services have grown from almost nothing 25 years ago to become an industry employing close to one million workers across Central and Eastern Europe. It has become an important growth engine for local economies. 

“Today though, organisations have begun to feel the painful effects of their successful growth,” Violetta Małek, whose paths have crossed with mine multiple times over the years, tells me. She is the managing partner at Gekko advisoryNOW and the content partner of the GBS Leadership Programme, set up by a leading daily in Poland.   

“They are more mature and more complex, but at the same time, they are in big need of the best leadership and management talent to effectively address challenges such as flat structure, very narrow and specialised roles, multi-cultural teams, high rotation, and a hybrid work model coupled with an ambition to introduce the latest intelligent solutions and achieve business results.” 

That organisational context is multiplied by constantly increasing uncertainty, external shocks, turbulence and unpredictability caused by rapid technology advancements, supply chain disruptions and global events such as the global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and, most recently, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Leadership development gap 

What C-level executives very often say during our research and consulting projects, panel discussions and private chats is that they haven’t seen anything like that before. There are those who remain cautious and those who are trying to be ahead of the pack.  

“In the current business environment, leadership is absolutely critical. As companies seek to navigate the choppy waters of inflation, tight labour markets and the consequences of Russia’s invasion, having a steady hand that can move an organisation supplying business processes or IT services strategically in the right direction, as opposed to reacting in the short-term will make all the difference,” says Peter Ryan, principal at Ryan Strategic Advisory and a globally recognised influential and trusted BPO and CX research analyst, strategic advisor and thought leader. 

“Leaders that have foresight and understand their outsourcing value are a rare commodity and are a clear competitive differentiator,” he adds. 

“The future GBS leaders of all organisation levels should be able to skilfully balance talent, process, technology and results management. This is especially important, as the sector is transforming its business model from transactional to more advanced and strategically critical,” Małek adds. 

Research by the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL) says that current leaders aren’t adequately prepared for the future. Aspects such as generational shifts in the workforce, changes in the nature of work itself, wars for talent, and poor governance and practices related to identifying, selecting, and developing talent contribute to the leadership gap. 

Employee-driven change 

According to Gartner, “social and political turbulence, work-life fusion, and flexible work arrangements are redefining the leader-employee dynamic, yet 24 per cent of human resources leaders say their leadership development approach does not prepare leaders for the future of work.”  

Today, employees want more options regarding where, why and how they work and how their current job helps them progress in their career. That means flexibility, openness, autonomy and appreciation from employers and a better facilitation of their professional development. 

According to Linkedin’s Workplace Learning Report 2022, 72 per cent of learning and developing leaders believe fostering a culture of continuous learning is critical to navigating the uncertainty of the new normal. At the same time, almost 80 per cent of respondents agreed that retraining current employees and devising strategies that enable growth within a company is cheaper than hiring new employees. 

Gallup’s report How Millennials Want to Work and Live, showed that 59 per cent of millennials, 44 per cent of Gen Xers and 41 per cent of baby boomers say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. At the same time, 87 per cent of millennials believe ‘professional or career growth and development opportunities’ are important to them in a job compared to 69 per cent of non-millennials. 

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The GBS sector’s future 

Globally, “HR leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to quickly find and develop talent with the most in-demand skills, yet 58 per cent of the workforce needs new skills to get their jobs done,” according to Gartner. 

When we, at Emerging Europe, speak with leadership teams at foreign companies looking to set up a delivery centre in the region, the question of talent is by far the most important. Investments in talent development and the creation of a new generation of global business services leaders are vital to the sector’s growth. 

In Poland, the region’s global business services powerhouse, employment in the sector is expected to grow by 7.9 per cent and amount to 432,000 in 2023, according to the Association of Business Service Leaders (ABSL).  

At the same time, in its Labour Market in 2022 report, Hays confirms that 82 per cent of companies faced challenges in acquiring new talent in the second half of 2022 and that 38 per cent of those who left their jobs pointed to the lack of development opportunities as the key reason. 

Improving the skillset of team leaders and managers is critical for the further development of the sector in Poland and the emerging Europe region, especially in terms of talent management — maintaining high talent retention, working with hybrid and multicultural teams, increasing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) deployment and process optimisation.  

As Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s former COO, said: “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” 

We should not only encourage future leaders to learn but also provide them with a platform to do so. 

Emerging Europe is a partner of Rzeczpospolita and Gekko advisoryNOW’s SSC/GBS Leadership Programme 2023. The 60-hour online programme which includes workshops and interactive sessions starts on March 30, 2023 and concludes on June 16, 2023. The programme’s brochure can be downloaded here (in Polish).  

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