7 things to do today to improve your outsourcing relationship

How to do the difficult work of harnessing human nature for outsourcing success.

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In my last post, I reflected on the fact that an outsourcing relationship, at its core, is a human relationship. Remembering this is critical to success. But, in addition to being “nice,” there is a lot more companies must do to make the most of their service provider relationships. My contention is that enterprise buyers unlock the most value by understanding the complex human dynamics that happen when two organizations come together to improve service delivery.

Here are seven ideas to help get you started:

1. Pick the right people to manage the service provider relationship. Ask yourself if you would put them in charge of a customer relationship. No? Next!

2. Force yourself to provide positive feedback. The individuals assigned to your account are human, and they want to please you. Study after study shows that nothing works better than positive reinforcement. I know this runs counter to what we believe about hardcore business: why should I praise someone for doing what I am paying them to do anyway? Trust me. It works -- in part because service providers aren’t always sure they are doing it right. A little positive feedback not only can bolster the relationship, it can prevent unnecessary over-engineering when they “fix” something that wasn’t broken in the first place.

3. Change your mindset. You are not managing a provider. You are brokering demand and supply of a business service. This perspective will give you a more valuable role to play for your company and will make you happier at work. You are managing an outcome, yes, but you are also managing the bench for your future leadership. You don’t want to convince them they never want to work for you directly.

4. Adapt. Process discipline is healthy until it becomes dogmatic. Your service provider serves hundreds of other clients. Be open to their suggestions. Also be ready to propose improvements that fit your specific needs.

5. Be kind and well-mannered. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make.

6. Be tough. Being kind is not the same as being easy. You can and should be a demanding client -- not just because you are paying for a service, but because people on your outsourced team appreciate learning just as much as you do. Progress will come if you can be both demanding and kind. They are not mutually exclusive! Need inspiration? Think of a parent, boss, coach, sibling or teacher who pushed you to do your best.

7. Watch this video. It will take 10 minutes of your time, and it will change your managerial life. Clients and service providers alike have created such a rigid environment, we should not be surprised that career satisfaction is so low. Dan Pink explains clearly and humorously why everything we’ve been taught about managing teams of professionals is probably wrong, and how we can start motivating them to be great again.

Despite the fact these behaviors have nothing to do with technical or functional know-how, they can make or break an outsourcing relationship. It may be a counter-intuitive approach, but it is a human solution to a fundamentally human problem.

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