More than two millennia ago, a small kingdom on the banks of the Tiber was about to carve itself a permanent place in history. Its name? Rome. How did a minor city from the Italian peninsula manage to become Europe’s greatest republic – and ultimately, the world’s most famous empire?
Back in 509 B.C., the kingdom of Rome overthrew its old, monarchical management and became a republic. This change meant not only that decisions were now made by a collective of well-prepared leaders, but also that access to the decision-making process was no longer a privilege reserved for a precious few. That in turn led to the development of a culture in which local stability and global expansion were permanent objectives.
Over the following centuries, the Roman Republic flourished through a combination of tactical prowess and strategic alliances. The city “went global” – although the world as the ancient Romans knew it was considerably smaller – and became a model of management, civic culture, and administrative expertise. In short, before growing into Europe’s greatest empire, Rome became its first Center of Excellence.
Today, whether we’re talking about sturdy management or bold expansion, Rome is among the first examples that come to mind. Although its empire is now history, it still has lessons to offer to the modern business world about the best ways of conquering your market, customer after customer.
When in Rome, do as the experts do
Often referred to as a competency or capability center, a Center of Excellence (CoE) consists of a corporate team whose primary function is to improve the company’s expertise and properly channel its resources in pursuit of attaining organizational goals. It’s a company’s leading authority on the chosen business area, its “state capital” when it comes to both internal consolidation and external expansion.
Due to the rise of decentralized operations, it’s become common for different business units of the same company to address the same challenges in completely different ways. This is especially true when a business grows and is exposed to an international audience.
Not only does variation in leadership styles and practices result in redundancy and increased costs, it also makes risk management difficult. Particularly in Sales Operations, a dearth of centralization can lead to a lack of efficiency and perspective because managers are unable to access analytics, insights, and reporting on sales performance across the entire organization.
A Center of Excellence can provide support and guidance to each business unit, but it can also help with research, compliance, training, and employee evaluation. It’s also a great way to exchange and disseminate valuable insights and best practices at an organizational level.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your CoE won’t be either
Your Center of Excellence should combine internal resources with external solutions. It may be ongoing or temporary, and its members can be partially involved or fully committed. Regardless, before setting up your CoE for sales operations or any other business area, make sure you’ve laid the groundwork.
Start out by establishing a clear goal. For example, if you plan on expanding your sales operations expertise, your goal could be to get a better view of the entire market or simply to improve your business intelligence data for the long term. Even if expansion isn’t on your mind, you might want to track your priorities and align them to the market’s needs – or simply establish a constant support network for all your business units and their sales reps.
Identifying and clearly stating your CoE’s level of involvement is a crucial early step. Is it going to be operational – that is, actively involved in managing the business – or purely consultative? Is it going to be a best-practices model or a “capital” – i.e., a center of coordination?
For example, your Sales Operations CoE may provide planning, consulting, operational support, and guidance – but it may also dispense advice regarding core capabilities and functions of your current solutions (ranging from quota management to compensation design and administration). However, if nobody recognizes its authority on the subject matter, your CoE’s efforts will be in vain.
Assemble your legions with care
Creating the perfect team is, naturally, one of the most important parts of the process. Just as Rome diversified its governance, you shouldn’t limit your selection pool to a single department. Furthermore, if an external partner is present (as may be the case with sales operations), be sure to invite its representatives to the table. This will allow your staff to focus on their own work, especially if they’re not full-time members of your CoE.
Choosing the right technology to support your Center of Excellence is vital; your Sales Operations team needs to be empowered by a capable SPM solution (with a team to match) that serves as the central hub from which changes are rolled out across the company. For instance, a CoE focused on fast-tracking market expansion should be powered by a scalable, adaptable solution with multi-platform access and the ability to manage large volumes of data. Those capabilities will accelerate deployment, training and onboarding, all the while helping to maintain strategic alignment between each business unit and the company’s objectives.
Finally, establish a framework of operation that clearly delegates responsibility within the CoE. This step is closely connected to the establishment of a review and testing process as well as the allocation of a proper budget. While a properly implemented Center of Excellence can and will reduce operational costs, it also incurs costs in the form of both human capital and actual capital. Thus, the budget of a CoE should be tightly connected to its purpose as well as its measurable results.
Listen to the vox populi
As good as your goals might sound on paper and as skilled as your team might be at accomplishing them, your Center of Excellence will still have to face some major hurdles before it takes its place as the expertise “capital” of your company.
One such hurdle is the company culture, or as the Romans might say, the vox populi (“voice of the people”). For your CoE to successfully align with your employees’ current work conduit and expectations, they need to understand your vision. In other words, before putting your plans into action, communicate them clearly and get your people on board.
It’s easy to be intimidated by all the thought and planning that goes into creating a Center of Excellence, but don’t lose sight of the benefits you’ll realize once it’s in place. Whether you’re striving for internal alignment or aiming to conquer the global market, make a CoE the launching point for your new initiatives. It’s a sustainable model that can help turn a leading business into a legendary empire.
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