The Religion of Outsourcing

By February 28, 2013December 12th, 2023Archive


“Outsourcing is a religious decision. You either believe in it or you don’t.” So sayeth Alex Jablonowski, one of those client types who was an early adopter of outsourcing as chief executive of International Banking at Barclays. Alex has a point; some of us embrace the concept whole heartedly (often leaving in some room for healthy doubt), while others, for a range of reasons, just aren’t able to adopt the belief system. In other words, you get the concept of outsourcing, warts and all, or you don’t. And if you don’t, no amount of coercion from executive sponsors, business cases that promise the moon, or peer pressure will turn you into a true believer.

It’s not wrong to refuse to outsource; in fact, some of the people I most admire think entering into an outsourcing deal is tantamount with making a deal with the devil.  I don’t hold it against them; in fact, I generally see where they are coming from, and more often than understand their lack of faith in the model. But I subscribe to its fundamentals—consolidation yields unit cost savings, standardization delivers interchangeability, leave it to the professionals to take delivery to the next level– despite the fact that it’s an imperfect solution to a very complex problem.  I believe.

Lest you think I am going way beyond the pale of propriety, delving into the profane, let’s look at the definition of religion. In its broadest sense, religion (according to Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge) is an organized collection of belief systems, cultural systems and world views. Most have narratives, symbols, traditions and histories, organized behaviors, some definition of membership, rituals and even at times, mythologies. In short, religion is a faith or belief system; those of us that adopt outsourcing know that there are aspects that are known and unknown, rational and irrational, controlled and uncontrollable, foreseen and never imagined. But our belief that it’s often the right business model for our organizations overcomes our hesitancy and fear; it sustains our ability to muddle through the risks of scoping, provider selection, contracting, transition and stakeholder management.

Ultimately those of us that believe push the model because we have a reasonable level of faith that our organizations can make the right change.  But not everyone will believe. The challenge comes when belief systems clash; we forget those who are naysayers about outsourcing have their own organized behaviors, histories, and mythologies. We have to proselytize (aka “change management”) to convert the non-believers; sometimes we use the right methods, and at others, no numbers of pamphlets or doorbell ringing will reach them. Imposition by sponsors may get lip service but ultimately does not work; think about the fact that history is cluttered with religious wars, and punishments that served to drive the faithful underground, or to another continent to worship as one chooses.

The trick for true believers is to listen to those with little faith, and deal with their objections intelligently and respectfully. Even if or as we impose our outsourcing religion on non-believers, we must respect their points of view, giving them the time to observe and explore.