Managing a team to work productively and achieve the results you want is hard enough when they are with you in the same office: Someone is breaking up with their boyfriend, someone has been called to school by their child’s teacher, and someone’s favourite hobby is spreading office rumours! What if the team is on another continent, in another time zone? To complicate the matter, often a single outsourcing service provider will not be able to provide every service required by your company, resulting in a number of different outsourcing partners, or so-called “multi-sourcing”.
Who manages the outsourced team?
While some companies have the luxury of having an outsourcing relationship manager dedicated to this task, typically with smaller and medium-sized businesses this is not the case, or the task may be assigned to a manager as one of a number of projects. However, the person chosen is key, because, as Tom Duening and Rick Click write in Essentials of Business Process Outsourcing, managing outsourcing requires a variety of skills, including negotiation, communication and business knowledge.
Building a relationship based on trust
You cannot assume that your company will spontaneously enter into a smooth working relationship with an outsourced team. The old “throw-it-over-the-fence” approach where tasks were simply assigned to an outsourced service provider has in recent years been replaced by greater emphasis on creating a true partnership between client and service provider.
The first thing you need to do if this is a new situation for you, is to be committed to outsourcing as a business strategy and to be comfortable with the processes involved. You may have to develop a project management plan, manage the project on an ongoing basis, monitor deliverables and be prepared to implement changes as required. You also need to believe in the gains of outsourcing beyond those articulated in the contract and service level agreement.
Communication is vital
Keeping lines of communication open with your outsourced team will be critical in making a success of outsourcing. Especially during the initial phase of your relationship, you should keep in constant contact and be clear about how you will manage outsourced activities on a day-to-day basis. The outsourcing contract may have been negotiated before the team members were appointed to the project, so when the team is assembled, it is important to be as transparent as possible about goals and objectives. Typically, companies underestimate the importance of providing outsourcing service providers with the whole picture and give them short-term objectives rather than strategic long-term perspectives. Share your vision and your expectations.
Work on the relationship with your outsourcing partner
Remember that you have to motivate your outsourced team just as you would an in-house team. Acknowledgement and recognition for work done well will go a long way towards encouraging your outsourced team. Having a Skype conversation will add a human touch to your interactions in this regard.
Keep track of the composition of the team. If there is staff turnover or new members join the team, ask to see their CVs and retain the right to reject them as team members if they do not meet with your requirements. Although uncommon, it is not unheard of for outsourcing service providers to attract clients with experienced workers only to replace them with inexperienced once soon after the commencement of the contract. It is your responsibility to make sure that the capabilities of the service provider’s team match your requirements.
As circumstances change, it may be necessary to renegotiate or recalibrate the service level agreement. Remember that the most important part of having a service level agreement with your outsourced service provider is the two-way discussion that takes place around its contents. Adjusting service levels from time to time will lead to increased mutual understanding and aligned goals, and ultimately contribute to a mature relationship.