Think Cutting G&A Costs in the Next Recession Will Be Easy? Think Again

应对下一次经济衰退:削减管理费用

2019/06/13 10:52
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贝恩咨询公司(Bain & Company)的一项最新调查显示,在负责总务及管理(G&A)职能的高管中,超过一半的人预计今年或明年会出现低迷。

A low-grade fever simmers in the hallways of many companies: More than half of executives who lead general and administrative (G&A) functions expect a downturn this year or next, a new Bain & Company survey shows. The good news is that most believe the next downturn will be shallower and shorter than the last one, and will require a lower level of savings from them—about half the level of 2008. The bad news is that two-thirds said it will be as hard or harder to find these more modest savings than the last time around (see Figure 1).

贝恩咨询公司(Bain & Company)的一项最新调查显示,超过半数负责总务及管理(G&A)职能的高管预计,今年或明年将出现低迷。好消息是,大多数人相信下一次经济衰退将比上一次更浅、更短,并且需要削减更低的开支水平——大约是2008年水平的一半。坏消息是,三分之二的人表示,与上次相比,要完成更适度的开支削减将会更加困难(见图1)。


What explains this contradiction? To better understand the challenge, Bain conducted research on how US companies’ G&A spending has changed over the past economic cycle, and what concerns support-function leaders. We surveyed 650 executives and professionals across human resources (HR), information technology (IT), finance, legal, and real estate and facilities management departments about their recession experience, challenges faced today and expectations for the future. And we analyzed the G&A spending patterns of over 450 US-based companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue from 2003 to 2017.

如何解释这种矛盾呢?为了更好地理解这一挑战,贝恩研究了美国公司的G&A支出在过去的经济周期中发生了怎样的变化,以及支持职能的领导者们担心什么。受访者为来自人力资源(HR)、信息技术(IT)、金融、法律、房地产和设施管理部门的650名高管和专业人士,贝恩调查了他们的经济衰退经历、今天面临的挑战以及对未来的期望。此外,还分析了450多家年营收超过1亿美元的美国公司2003年至2017年的G&A支出模式。

In past recessions, many companies turned to G&A for fast, easy cuts, because they viewed support functions as less critical than customer-facing or operational activities. However, our analysis found that the track record of most companies in managing G&A spending over the entire economic cycle has been mediocre at best. While half of companies in a given year improved their G&A efficiency (G&A as a percentage of revenue) from the prior year, the gains were transitory: Only 6% of companies achieved efficiency gains for four straight years during the period (see Figure 2).

在过去的经济衰退中,许多公司的G&A转向寻求快速、简便的裁员,因为他们认为支持功能不如面向客户或运营活动那么重要。然而,我们的分析发现,大多数公司在管理整个经济周期的G&A支出方面的记录充其量只能算平庸。虽然某一年有一半的公司比前一年提高了他们的G&A效率(G&A支出占收入的百分比),但这种增长是短暂的:只有6%的公司在此期间连续四年实现了效率提高(见图2)。


Despite large investments in technology, on average, G&A efficiency has actually deteriorated by 20 basis points, from 6.9% in 2003 to 7.1% in 2017 (see Figure 3). Beneath the average, of course, there are winners spending far less and losers that have increased G&A spending relative to revenue.

尽管在技术上有大量的投资,平均而言,G&A效率实际上已经下降了20个基点,从2003年的6.9%下降到2017年的7.1%(见图3)。


Stalled efficiency raises concerns. Support-function leaders relied on labor cuts, without changing the underlying work, to find 50% of the savings made in 2008 and 2009. They learned the hard way that overly deep cuts take years to recover from, because of reduced service levels and lost institutional knowledge. Asking staff to do more with less cannot be sustained for long, as people will have no leeway to innovate or execute new initiatives.

效率停滞令人担忧。支持职能部门的领导人依靠裁员,在不改变基本工作的情况下,在2008年和2009年节省了50%。他们认识到,由于服务水平下降和机构知识的丧失,过度大幅削减需要数年时间才能恢复。要求员工少花钱多办事的做法不会持续太久,因为员工将没有创新或执行新举措的余地。


Hiring freezes aren’t the answer

冻结招聘并不是解决之道

For these reasons, support-function leaders expect expedient labor-based strategies such as hiring freezes and across-the-board cuts to account for only one-quarter of savings needed for the next recession. Instead, they’ll have to rely on a mix of changes to technology investment, process redesign and eliminating low-value work.

出于这些原因,支持部门的领导人预计,以劳动力为基础的权宜之计(如冻结招聘和全面裁员)只占下一次经济衰退所需储蓄的四分之一。相反,他们将不得不依靠技术投资、流程重新设计和消除低价值工作的一系列变革。

That will be easier said than done. Almost two-thirds of companies surveyed have taken action in the past two years to reduce costs, with one-quarter making moves beyond the normal course of business. Yet the expectations of support functions have been steadily rising. For instance, they’re being asked to use new digital capabilities to speed decision making and improve business outcomes.

说起来容易做起来难。在接受调查的企业中,近三分之二的企业在过去两年采取了降低成本的行动,四分之一的企业采取了超出正常业务范围的行动。然而,对支持部门的期望一直在稳步上升。例如,他们被要求使用新的数字功能来加快决策和改善业务结果。

The stakes are high, as successful support functions help create a competitive advantage. For the average global 1000 company, we estimate that every 1% reduction in G&A spending translates to a 10% improvement in operating margin. The most efficient quartile of performers in our analysis increased EBIT 1.5 times more than bottom-quartile performers through the cycle (see Figure 4). The gap between the best and lowest performers ranges from 2.5 times to 4 times, depending on the support function, suggesting that the highest performers create significant value to reinvest in their businesses.

这么做风险很高,因为成功的支持部门有助于创造竞争优势。对于全球1000家平均水平的公司,我们估计,每减少1%的G&A支出,运营利润率就会提高10%。在我们的分析中,效率最高的四分之一表现者在整个周期中的EBIT比底部四分位数表现增加了1.5倍。(参见图4) 最佳和最差表现者之间的差距从2.5倍到4倍不等,具体取决于支持部门,这表明表现最好的人创造了重新投资其业务的重要价值。


To achieve greater efficiency, support-function leaders will need to step up their game on four fronts:

为了提高效率,支持部门的领导者需要在以下四个方面加大力度:

  • gaining a clear view of all their costs and what drives them;
  • 清楚地了解它们的所有成本及其驱动因素;
  • fundamentally changing how work is done;
  • 从根本上改变工作的方式;
  • reaping more value from digital investments already made; and
  • 从已经进行的数字投资中获得更多价值;和
  • creating a fail-safe plan for drastic cost reductions, agreed on by the senior team, should that become necessary.
  • 如果有必要的话,创建一个安全的计划来大幅削减成本,并得到高级团队的同意。

Let’s explore each of these.

让我们来探索每一个。

Understand your costs in detail, including their causes

详细了解你的成本,包括它们的原因

This imperative might sound obvious. However, many support functions don’t manage costs with the same rigor that sales, manufacturing and operations costs are managed. For example, only 54% of survey respondents track functional headcount in detail, and only 47% have management dashboards to measure and track efficiency and effectiveness. Worse, many companies don’t have a complete view of support-function costs. Only 18% of survey respondents said their companies track shadow costs, namely, people in distributed business units performing activities that duplicate those performed by the support functions (see Figure 5).

这可能看起来显而易见。然而,许多支持职能无法像管理销售、制造和运营成本那样严格地管理成本。例如,只有54%的受访者详细跟踪支持职能员工数量,只有47%有管理仪表板来衡量和跟踪效率和有效性。更糟的是,许多公司对支持职能成本没有一个完整的认识。只有18%的受访者表示,他们的公司跟踪影子成本,即分布式业务单元中的人员执行与支持功能执行的活动相同的活动(参见图5)。


Full visibility requires identifying costs at every level inside and outside corporate headquarters—whether the costs are attributed directly to functions or to shadow costs. When managers know and measure all the costs for each process, they can target cost reductions surgically rather than spread cuts evenly.

充分的可见性要求在公司总部内外的每一个层次上确定成本——无论这些成本是直接归因于职能还是影子成本。当管理者了解并衡量每个过程的所有成本时,他们可以通过手术来确定成本削减的目标,而不是平均地分摊成本。

A cloudy cost picture proved troublesome for an industrial company that had high G&A costs relative to competitors, driven by a large number of management layers and duplication across corporate headquarters, regions and local sites. Support functions didn’t measure or manage their costs holistically. For example, corporate HR was constantly pushing out new policies and processes for the regions and sites to follow, without realizing the cost implications to both the business and the HR departments in those places. More broadly, the multiple layers in headquarters and regional support offices led to slow, ineffective decision making. Once the company shifted to a decentralized operating model and started measuring all costs, it was able to adjust the size of each support function, reducing the corporate office by more than one-third and overall G&A costs by one-quarter.

事实证明,相对于竞争对手而言,模糊的成本状况令一家工业企业感到棘手。与竞争对手相比,该公司的G&A费用较高,这主要是由大量的管理层以及跨公司总部、地区和当地的重复操作造成的。支持职能没有全面地衡量或管理其成本。例如,公司的人力资源部门一直在各个地区和场所推行新的政策和流程,却没有意识到这些地方的业务部门和人力资源部门都受到了成本的影响。更广泛地说,总部和区域支助办事处的多层结构导致决策缓慢、无效。一旦公司转向分散式运营模式,并开始衡量所有成本,它就能够调整每个支持职能的规模,将公司办公室减少逾三分之一,G&A 成本减少四分之一。

Look for alternative ways of working

寻找其他工作方式

To move beyond incremental improvements, companies benefit from taking a clean-sheet approach to redesigning how work gets done. This method sets aggressive cost targets, defines what the future should look like and then works backward on how to achieve it, reinventing from the ground up rather than optimizing current ways of working. Taking a blank-sheet approach to simplify the organization and streamline work processes can unlock massive value in both efficiency and effectiveness. Defining the future state involves four dimensions:

为了超越渐进式的改进,企业可以从全新设计法重新设计如何完成工作中获益。这种方法设定激进的成本目标,定义未来应该是什么样子,然后向后研究如何实现它,从头开始重新发明,而不是优化当前的工作方式。采用全新设计法来简化组织和简化工作流程可以在效率和有效性方面释放出巨大的价值。定义未来状态涉及四个方面:

  • clear roles aligned with customers’ priorities;
  • 明确符合客户优先级的角色;
  • a service portfolio and service levels that make the appropriate trade-offs between which activities should be best-in-class and which should be best-in-cost;
  • 服务组合和服务级别,在哪些活动应该是最好的和哪些活动应该是最好的成本之间做出适当的权衡;
  • a service-delivery model that balances efficiency with value added to the business; and
  • 服务提供模式,以平衡效率与业务增值;和
  • the right talent, processes and systems.
  • 正确的人才、流程和系统。

A clean-sheet approach proved transformative for a manufacturing company building a factory in Europe. Success hinged on redesigning how support functions carried out their work, not just on how production processes were managed. In HR, for example, the company set targets for digitalizing over 100 activities, and rebuilt them from the ground up in conjunction with the other plant processes, to ensure that support functions helped enable the broader business. The result: HR costs reduced by 10% to 30%, depending on the HR process, as well as a radically better employee experience through standardized, simplified and more digital interactions.

事实证明,对于一家在欧洲建厂的制造企业来说,全新设计法是革命性的。成功取决于重新设计支持职能如何执行其工作,而不仅仅是如何管理生产过程。例如,在人力资源方面,公司设定了超过100项活动的数字化目标,并与其他工厂流程一起从头开始重建,以确保支持功能有助于更广泛的业务。其结果是:人力资源成本降低了10%到30%,这取决于人力资源流程,以及通过标准化、简化和更多的数字化交互,从根本上改善了员工体验。

Get full value from existing digital technologies

充分利用现有的数字技术

Reinventing how work is done inevitably requires smart investments in digital technologies. Digital yields benefits beyond cost savings, including faster decision making and improved service, business insights and financial controls. But while almost 90% of survey respondents are investing in digital today, more than half said they aren’t getting the benefits they’d expected (see Figure 6).

重塑工作方式不可避免地需要对数字技术进行明智的投资。数字化带来的好处不仅限于节省成本,还包括更快的决策和更好的服务、业务洞察和财务控制。但是,尽管近90%的受访者目前都在投资于数字领域,但超过一半的受访者表示,他们并没有获得预期的好处(见图6)。


An earlier Bain survey of HR executives found several issues cause the most aggravation: too many digital tools, especially unintegrated tools; interfaces that users find difficult to understand; and tools that are missing critical functionality. And in finance departments, even while many companies rush into new technologies such as robotic process automation, they aren’t wringing full potential value from current technologies. In accounts payable, for instance, 55% of finance groups Bain surveyed don’t use basic technologies such as online invoice approvals. Absent proper integration, companies that adopt more tools risk adding further complexity and unwittingly creating a new set of problems.

贝恩早些时候对人力资源高管进行的一项调查发现,几个问题导致了最严重的情况:太多的数字工具,尤其是不整合的工具;用户觉得难以理解的界面;以及缺少关键功能的工具。在金融部门,尽管许多公司都在争先恐后地开发机器人流程自动化等新技术,但它们并没有充分利用现有技术的潜在价值。以应付账款为例,贝恩调查的金融集团中有55%不使用在线发票审批等基本技术。如果缺乏适当的集成,采用更多工具的公司可能会进一步增加复杂性,并在不知不觉中产生一组新的问题。

Top-performing support functions, by contrast, have learned how to get tangible business benefits from their digital investments. A good example is Microsoft’s finance function. In the early 2000s, Microsoft faced a proliferation of internal data, inflexible technology systems with static reporting, overly manual processes and increased regulations. Through a decade-long effort, Microsoft’s finance group patiently invested in a digital transformation through the recession and a change in corporate leadership. Digital enhanced virtually every corner of finance, from global business reviews on a KPI data lake to machine learning in accounts receivables, allowing finance professionals to spend more time on higher-value activities. In parallel, relative costs fell: From 2009 to 2018, finance headcount grew by 14% while revenue grew by 89%.

相比之下,性能最好的支持职能已经学会了如何从数字投资中获得切实的业务利益。微软的财务功能就是一个很好的例子。21世纪初,微软面临着内部数据激增、静态报告技术系统僵化、流程过于手工、监管力度加大等问题。经过10年的努力,微软的金融集团耐心地投资于经济衰退期间的数字化转型和企业领导层的转变。从KPI数据湖的全球业务审查到应收账款的机器学习,数字化几乎增强了金融的每一个角落,使金融专业人士能够将更多时间花在更有价值的活动上。与此同时,相对成本也在下降:从2009年到2018年,金融业员工数量增长了14%,而收入增长了89%。

Expect the best, plan for the worst

做最好的打算,做最坏的打算

Reducing costs by 5% to 10% might be challenging, but what if the situation calls for 30% or more in savings? Even if the next recession turns out to be mild, what happens when an entire industry faces disruption? Rather than wait and possibly get backed into a corner during crisis or disruption, it pays to plan early for restructuring functions to take out massive costs, whether through eliminated work, redesigned processes, shared services or digital tools.

降低5%到10%的成本可能很有挑战性,但如果情况需要节省30%或更多呢?即使下一次经济衰退是温和的,当整个行业面临崩溃时会发生什么?与其在危机或中断期间等待、甚至可能陷入困境,不如及早计划重组职能,以削减巨额成本,无论是通过淘汰工作、重新设计流程、共享服务还是数字工具。

Reaction time is critical during a crisis, so securing the entire senior leadership team’s buy-in beforehand allows a company to act quickly. Rather than relying on across-the-board cuts, which inevitably remove muscle from the organization, it helps to define and align on a contingency plan in advance.

在危机期间,反应时间是至关重要的,因此确保整个高层领导团队事先参与进来,可以让公司迅速采取行动。与其依赖于全面的削减,这不可避免地会削弱组织的力量,还不如帮助提前定义和调整应急计划。

Caterpillar, which provides heavy equipment and related services, put contingency planning to good use. As part of its 2005 strategic plan, the company started an initiative called trough planning. Every business unit developed a detailed plan that could be initiated quickly during an economic downturn. Once the recession started, prior planning allowed the company to take rapid, bold steps to immediately align the G&A structure with lower volumes and revenue. When revenue declined by 37% in 2009, Caterpillar had already started to execute contingency plans the year earlier, reducing selling, general and administrative costs by 17%.

提供重型设备和相关服务的卡特彼勒充分利用了应急计划。作为2005年战略计划的一部分,该公司启动了一项名为“低谷规划”的计划。每个业务部门都制定了详细的计划,可以在经济低迷时期迅速启动。一旦经济衰退开始,事先的计划允许公司采取快速、大胆的步骤,立即将G&A结构与较低的业务量和收入结合起来。2009年营收下降37%时,卡特彼勒已经在一年前开始执行应急计划,将销售、一般和管理成本降低了17%。

While the next economic downturn might not hold the unpleasant surprises of the last ones, its scale and duration remain uncertain. Many support-function leaders will likely find the traditional approaches to managing costs through the cycle less fruitful this time around. Those leaders that make the hard investments early—eliminating low-value work, reinventing processes and making the most of digital technology—are likely to navigate the next downturn better than others. They’ll provide fuel for reinvestment to go on offense and emerge from the recession in a winning position.

虽然下一次经济衰退可能不会像上次那样令人不快,但其规模和持续时间仍不确定。许多支持部门的领导者可能会发现,通过这个周期来管理成本的传统方法这一次的效果会更差。那些在早期进行艰难投资的领导者——淘汰低价值的工作,重新发明流程,充分利用数字技术——很可能比其他公司更好地度过下一个低迷期。它们将为再投资提供动力,使其继续进攻,并在走出衰退时处于有利地位。

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