I’ve been obsessed about what constitutes a good outsourcing relationship for some time. Whenever I have the ear of a player in our outsourcing community, I leap at the opportunity to pick up another brilliant observation about what works…and what doesn’t when two parties come together to provide business services. Yesterday morning I was speaking with a woman who is one of the more astute, and funny, people in the outsourcing industry. We were talking about her outsourcing relationship when she pulled a new one on me — “I don’t want a puppy.”
Most providers strive to be likeable. After all, being in a successful relationship over the course of several years takes more than consistently green dashboards; it means being perceived as a team of regular guys, easy to sit down with and have a beer. Outsourcing relationships are always most sustainable when the parties connect and maintain a relationship at a human level. But often providers confuse likeability with flexibility—bending over backward to do things the client’s way. Jumping up whenever the client throws a ball—now that’s a puppy dog approach to an outsourcing relationship.
Flexibility is good in yoga, rubber bands, and politician’s consciences. But when it comes to outsourcing delivery, is it a plus or a minus? Certainly flexibility is mandatory when it comes to customizing a delivery approach that meets specific client needs or industry requirements. Flexibility is critical when dealing with the ebb and flow of business volumes, interpreting the letter versus the intent of contracts, dealing with change requests and assigning resources to meet peak load requirements. But is a provider whose value proposition is mainly predicated upon the words “we’re flexible” a good choice? Where’s the value if the provider is in effect a staffing agency equipped with a bit of technology and a few basic processes, ready to bob and weave whenever the client blinks? Doesn’t the provider become a lap dog, hoping that friendly flexibility will please his client, and cover
for deficiencies in operations, or value-adds?
The vast majority of clients are looking to their providers for leadership—in the form of processes honed over years of operations, quality tools, and technologies. Taking away the intangible of likeability, good clients look for expertise, a strong point of view, delivery of results as promised in the solutioning, and operations that inspire confidence while reducing risk; they seek providers that are leaders, not followers that they can direct. If they could make the change themselves, believe me, they would.
Cuteness and openness, the wish to please and make everyone happy are engaging traits in a puppy dog. But from a provider?