By Deborah Kops
Most of us have been down on our knees praying that the relationship does not blow up over an error. Perhaps the cutover was delayed because the provider did not conduct sufficient user acceptance tests, or an employee committed fraud within a client account because controls were inadequate, or the client did not provide the entire list of company codes, delaying payment which got the business lines up in arms. Then several courses of action kick in: a) sweep the incident under the rug; b) start pointing fingers; c) blame the root cause on a decision that was taken some months back; or perhaps even d) fess up like a man and say mea culpa.
Despite the fact that our mothers taught us to take responsibility for our actions, in the complicated relationship pas de deux that is outsourcing, we tend to feel that apologizing and making reparations is not the way to deal with the other party. Despite protestations of partnership between provider and client, our tendency is to frame outsourcing relationships as a constant you win, I lose. If we let the other party have the so-called upper hand in the relationship, we frankly think that we are abdicating terrain, to use a military term.
The prevailing governance structures superimposed on outsourcing relationships don’t foster an admission that sourcing will go wrong from time to time. Governance as we practice it today is predicated on the concept that perfection is a given, and any and all mistakes are a major screw up.. The health of the relationship is boiled down to a green-yellow-red scorecard. Obtain as many greens as possible permitting an occasional yellow to demonstrate a degree of humanity is the goal. It’s a game that leaves no room for, and ascribes no value to honestly admitting to a good, old-fashioned screw up.
But in any endeavor, driven by either humans or technology, there is no such thing as perfection. Taking responsibility for a snafu is painful, but it signals that you live your value statement to the injured party and your employees. But it is not enough to apologize when you think sufficient time has passed, waiting until the injured party has moved onto other concerns and has enough perspective to brush the infraction off. It is necessary to act immediately and with sincerity.
Without sincerity and, depending on the context, either a willingness to take on responsibility for the problem or meet the other party at least half way, there is no apology. Unfortunately the concept of amnesia does not exist in a sourcing relationship; the damage caused by empty gestures just festers over time.
A little bit of penance is always helpful. Remediation is good; a bit more “give” than absolutely necessary indicates that the severity and impact of the fault is understood, and that the transgressors take it as a first principle to act in good faith.
Saying we screwed up actually earns the erring party relationship credibility over the long haul. While the short term impact—additional cost or delay, a plethora of sharp emails and calls, perhaps a closer rein on decisions, and greater supervision—is painful, over time, a straightforward admission of responsibility pays off in a better working relationship, deeper trust, and an overarching belief that the parties will always strive to act in the best interest of the partnership. Admission of guilt also builds employees’ faith in the errant company and its leadership, and teaches lessons about customer service and value.
Next time you think that the course of true outsourcing relationship should always run smooth, think again. But saying you’re sorry can go a long way.