Some Assembly Required: Building an Outsourcing Relationship

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to work with an outsourcing partner to help you deliver some of your business activity.  You’re just a few easy steps away from great experiences, greater cost efficiencies, and the greatest business discussions of your career.  All you will need is an Allen key, these step-by-step instructions, a thermos of coffee, and some gaffer tape.

Hang on a sec… what are we building here?

While outsourcing is now commonplace for organisations of all shapes and sizes, there are still so many professionals who have never encountered an outsourcing relationship, and even more who haven’t been through the process of building one from scratch.  It sounds daunting enough to be trusting part of your business to another organisation, but being the one responsible for making sure it doesn’t all go pear-shaped? 

Yikes.

One thing most of us have experience with is building a piece of flat-pack furniture – I know the odds are high you have a dodgy home-made bookshelf in your spare room. So grab your instructions and your hard hat and come with me to learn how to build your outsourcing partnership.


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Step 1: Getting organised

First, check you’ve got the vitals: a fully-stocked toolkit and all the pieces that were included in the box.

Before you select your outsourcer, you need to know what you’re looking for, beyond the basics (can they do the work well, are they good value for money).  Are you looking for a set-and-forget transactional relationship, or do you want a partner you can invite in a little further to help with strategy around the activities they’re completing?  Do you want to have a fixed time-and-materials cost model, or are you looking to hook the price on the outcomes delivered?

The usual approaches to selecting an outsource partner are through a competitive tender or proposal process, sometimes facilitated by a third party.  If you’re really clear on relationship being the number one priority, you can save a lot of time and money by researching and meeting with a couple of potential partners directly.  Dig into their values and how they would propose structuring your ongoing meeting rhythms to get a sense for whether this is a fit for you.  You’ll hear a lot of, “we’ll adapt to whatever you need”; but play the outsourcing rookie card, and ask them outright for a recommendation.  

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Step 2: Assembly

Don’t worry; your outsourcer will have the instructions.

Your new besties will have their own proven transition processes – a certain project methodology, a structure of activities to be completed – and because you’ve chosen someone great, they’ll spend time making sure they adapt their processes to your organisation. 

Unlike your half-made chair; some parts of the process will need to be changed for your particular needs.  The key areas that need to be carefully adjusted are recruitment and training. The recruitment profile is key – they need to really hit on the right aspects of not just the work type, but your brand, to make sure they’re bringing in people that would fit as well into your business directly as they do into the outsourcer’s structure.  Training has to pick up a blend of their expertise and their business identity, and your products, processes and brand. 

This stuff takes real skill, and knowing that you’ve picked the right partner, you can be sure that they’ll do a little more than mashing it all together with gaffer tape and covering it with paint.

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Step 3: Avoiding buyer’s remorse

If you get to the end of the instructions and there are pieces left over…you probably missed a step.

You will get the best out of your outsourcing relationship when you give your outsourcer the space to deliver the outcomes you need.  Of course, you can only really do that when they’re performing well and there is a level of trust. 

The contract you put in place will clearly define the targets for anything important (well, anything that is measurable).  The relationship itself is a much less tangible beast, but setting up the right framework for communication will go a long way to taming it.

During the transition, you’ll have steering committee meetings to sign off that things are on track. These shouldn’t stop once you get up and running.  Meet often enough that you start to build a relationship and understanding of one another, and focus on the overall outcomes wherever you can. 

If you have to invest your time in micro-managing your partner… you have pieces left over.  Stand back from what you’ve built and figure out which step went off track; the contract, the measures, the governance structure, the outsource partner… or even your own approach. 

The most important tip here is to go back and fix whatever went awry; a patch job after the fact won’t ever be as strong as taking the time to make sure it has structural integrity.

Sure, the reality is a little more complex than building a piece of flat-pack furniture, but just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean that you can’t make a cracking success of it… no gaffer tape required.  


Image credits:

Silvia BrazzoduroHunter Haley | Mark West


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