Not too long ago I met an Irishman named Coleman O’Flynn at an outsourcing transformation conference. And as he was charming the dickens out me with his soft brogue, it hit me like a ton of bricks—look around at some of the leading business services transformation initiatives, and you’ll find more than your fair share of Irish leaders. Is this a coincidence, or more than just a fluke?
A year ago I came close to being politically incorrect when I baldly stated that the globalization of work would not have happened at scale and velocity without the efforts of Indian services professionals, aka “The New Phoenicians” (www.horsesforsources.com/newphoenicians_020712). Now I’m not trying to stereotype or pigeonhole every nationality involved in our industry, but looking around, there are several discernible trends when it comes to our sourcing cast of characters. And it hit me that an island of just over six million is spawning more than its fair share of smart cookies when it comes to global transformation gigs.
Why do the likes of Philip Whelan of BP, Colm Darcy of Hertz, Alan Byrne of Microsoft, Leo Curran of EXL, Justin Mullen of MS Solutions and the aforementioned Mr O’Flynn of EMC stand out when it comes to transformation prowess? Is there an Irish global services gene that those of us not lucky enough to be born in the land of Danny Boy are missing?
With apologies in advance to some of the nicest and smartest guys I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, I started to link the traits of these savvy transformers and the stereotypical characteristics of those with a tendency to have an O as the first letter of their surnames. And what did I come up with? (Forgive me if I generalize a bit.)
Neutrality In the main, the Irish are pretty good at being neutral. They stay out of wars. And their passports get through any immigration officer (after all, why do most Americans of any degree of Irish descent chase an Irish passport?)
Neutrality stands global transformers in good stead. Without strong cultural biases (there was the little matter of the English…), they are the ideal ambassadors for change—with little baggage. And that takes us to…
Likeability The Irish set up pubs in the far corners of the earth, showing hospitality to one and all—sort of a civilian equivalent of a DMZ where the affability of the hosts ensures that, at least in a few square meters, everyone gets along. After all, the world seems to speak (and drink Guinness), whether you’re an American, an Indian, a Qatari, a Chinese, a Brit, a Costa Rican or a Pole.
While transforming any business process is hard, it’s a lot harder for stakeholders to resist if the agent of change is personable and does not bear a grudge. Hence the blessing of their legendary charm, which is also why the Irish are…
Good company If you have to spend months of hard graft in transition, you’re awfully lucky to have to spend it with an Irishman. After a long day of workflow documentation, project planning, and fighting over change orders, good company is a treasure beyond emeralds.
Nothing’s harder than being several times zones away from home, getting back to a hotel room, and sitting in front of the TV with a miserable room service dinner or a granola bar. Sourcing transformation asks a lot of our global services leaders, so a bit of good company, ready to tell a story, or drink a pint or two (or three or more) helps to ease the pains of the day, especially when said Irishman has a
Sense of humor You can say that sourcing services globally is akin to the theatre of the absurd; ask anyone to tell you a story about outsourcing or shared services that is beyond belief, and the proverbial tall tail will be dull in comparison. The Irish have a unique ability to see the humor in many situations, a valuable trait when you are dealing with the change which results from sourcing.
I hesitate to say that many in our community take themselves, and outsourcing, far too seriously for their own good. Outsourcing is merely a business technique, not the be-all-and-end –all, that some of colleagues with humor deficits think it is. After all, given famines, partition and other historical misfortunes, it’s always helpful to be
Philosophical about life Google Irish philosophy and you’ll come up with a variant of “in life, there are only two things to worry about, either you are well, or you are sick.”
When your transformation leader takes the long view about daily sourcing setbacks and doesn’t get fussed about the little things, it helps the team to keep their eyes on the prize—fundamental business change. Solving a problem is as easy as downing a pint of Guinness when the leader has
Great charm The Irish naturally have charm attacks down to a science. Who can resist the arguments of a sourcing leader with an inquisitive attitude, a twinkly eye, a pleasant smile, and an excess of chivalry? After all, any nationality that has the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to making the trip has a lot going for it.
Charm in sourcing is grossly underrated. If your provider, advisor or client has a bit of charm, he or she can make the inevitable disagreement disappear like a puff of smoke.
Let’s raise a pint to our Irish colleagues who have the power to make outsourcing transformation happen. Happy St Patrick’s Day!