Tim Norton spent 36 years at General Electric, directing the company’s global delivery program, and its 22,000 people, during his final two decades there. He has since moved over to UPS, and one thing switching companies has taught him is which outsourcing practices are universal and which may only thrive in certain corporate cultures.
Such knowledge is vital when creating and managing an internal team to work with your providers abroad. DJ Edgerton knows all the potential pitfalls of putting together a team, too. As CEO and founder of Zemoga, he has spent more than a decade working in partnership with companies like Pfizer, Viacom, PayPal, and Toyota.
Each recently shared their insights on how to craft a superstar internal team and ensure it will always get the most out of any vendor relationship.
Empowerment and Trust
Buy in from the top is critical. If the CIO doesn’t stand behind an outsourcing director, their credibility can be shot. But it goes beyond tacit approval and signing off when asked. “They need to be empowered,” said Norton. More than anything, this is about granting the team the freedom to get creative about how services are delivered and the authority to make decisions.
Along with empowerment, there must be trust. That applies both internally and externally. To foster both sides of the coin, Norton started doing something he calls “dating sessions,” where he brings in a new vendor and sits them in front of the internal groups. He says these sessions have made a huge difference in the attitudes of the internal workers. Providers weren’t forced down their throat, and Norton would offer up multiple options and let his team know that they could pick whoever they like. As his superiors had done for him, he empowered his staff to make decisions, and this developed trust.
It also helped the team get to know their vendors. So building internal trust established external trust as well, something of utmost importance to DJ Edgerton. It all starts with a simple assumption: With an internal employee, by default, the assumption is that they are going to do what’s best for the company, but this simply can’t be the case with an outsourced worker.
“There’s a chasm between what’s good for the company they’re hired for and what’s good for the company that is the client,” said Edgerton. “Getting to the point where the trust is as if they work for you is critical.”
Access and Point of Contact
Most companies want a single point of contact at their vendor. As the saying goes, when something goes wrong, you only want one throat to choke. But this goes in the other direction, too. Give the provider one person to talk to and correspondence will stay on message while instructions remain organized.
“When there are a lot of cooks giving you different directions, there is a lot of inefficiency and a lot of room for error,” said Edgerton. “So we do it both ways. We have a single point of contact for the customer and the customer has a single point of contact within our team. Decisions are made and then they permeate out.”
Another benefit is that having a single point of contact allows internal team members to easy escalate issues. Employees are more inclined to voice concerns if they know they will be heard by a single manager with the authority to address any problem. It will foster an open, honest dialogue that workers rarely have when talking to someone on the provider side.
Accessibility is also paramount. Because nothing makes people more worried about a project’s progress — and, thus, lose trust — than being unable to reach someone with answers. “Once the distance between the customer in the United States and the foreign provider becomes a painful experience through lack of access,” said Edgerton, “you’re already fighting a Sisyphus battle — you’re uphill the whole way.”
Unfortunately, one barrier that can’t be overcome entirely are timezones. Availability and access will always be a challenge when dealing with vendors in Eastern Europe or India, but working in Latin America is one way “to solve that problem without having to lift up a continent and move it somewhere else,” said Edgerton.
Another difference between providers in different regions is culture. There can be different ways of communicating, different views about what a deadline means, and different levels of loyalty to an employer. Edgerton notes that the average tenure of a Colombian Zemoga worker is five years, for example. “Culturally, people from Latin America tend to be more rigid in their approach to work,” he said, “meaning there is a loyalty that they have for the business they work for.”
While trying to find regions or specific vendors whose culture parallels yours can be helpful, the actual differences themselves aren’t what ultimately matter. The takeaway element is knowing that these cultural differences exist. No client will want to tailor expectations and methodologies entirely to how their provider operates, but having an understanding of what makes your partner tick will help everything run more smoothly.
But while many companies have a good handle on who they are dealing with externally, too many fail to look in the mirror. Everybody wants to blame the provider for problems while overlooking internal cultural issues that might hold you back.
Many big companies in the United States, for example, maintain an “it wasn’t invented here” mentality. It is hard for them to believe that you could hire someone from the outside to do something better than it is already done within the company. This is somewhat paradoxical to the whole purpose of outsourcing, but just because the higher-ups have approved a program doesn’t mean “it wasn’t invented here” will disappear.
The internal team has to know this. They must recognize that they are operating within that environment and deliver results regardless without ruffling feathers. Other companies have other idiosyncrasies that may make them squeamish about giving vendors too much responsibility or leave them preferring to do everything in house except for the projects for which they lack resources.
No matter the cultural quirks, awareness is half the battle. And the team must remember that, just like the external provider is offering services to them, they are ultimately serving the wider company. So the internal team should always strive to deliver results that coincide with the overall culture of the firm and expectations of senior executives. “You need to understand what the priority is,” said Norton. “What is the objective? Why are you even thinking of going outside the company?”