A few years ago our firm landed squarely in the midst of a very messy outsourcing project that ultimately experienced a tremendous turnaround. Given that most of our prior work had been on projects that ranged from large-scale technology mergers to strategy alignment, this outsourcing assignment gave us a new perspective. With this outsourcing education, we paid close attention to solving the initial issue, which, at its core, was about good people losing sight of the big picture of their purpose and the impact their work had on other good people.
Once we started making headway with this project, we began asking advisory firms, buyers, and providers whether they had a name for what we were doing. The result: No one in the industry had a name for the kind of work we did, yet all said, “yes, that ’it’ is missing!” So this article is about re-conceiving the change management industry, to bring it to a higher level of maturity that will help make large, complex deals work in a fundamentally better way.
At times the best way to figure out what something is may be to figure out what it’s not. The term “change management” misses an integral and much-needed strategic component: that line of sight at all times to the most critical work and those most impacted by the work. Who keeps score on the satellite level so that all stakeholders understand where we are in the bigger picture?
The outsourcing industry is in desperate need of mavericks to pave the way. We need a provider and a client to take a leadership position and declare, “We must do whatever it takes to make this engagement work from a holistic level, beyond the service level agreements (SLAs), beyond the project plans, at a level that can be measured by a new dimension.” We need to move from a primarily transaction-based process (necessary to execute the plethora of details) to one that is more integrated, holistically and strategically focused on linking particular tasks to the larger corporate strategy. This big-picture understanding seems to get lost fairly quickly, especially as you go down in the organization, causing pain and misspent time (see: staffers obsessing about which color background to use for the communication packet).
These mavericks will need to start with a new way of contracting an engagement, centered on two major foci: 1) the outcome of the work itself in strategic context, and 2) understanding how all the people involved experience the changes at issue.
The first challenge is always keeping sight of the bigger picture’s impact on others. Mary Sue Rogers, general manager of global HR and learning for IBM’s managed business process services, states it quite directly: “Outsourcing is no longer about the technology, it’s about the relationships.” These mavericks will have to engage in the relationships in a new way.
The industry is content-mature, but it has the emotional maturity of a 9-year-old boy. The majority of those doing the work focus myopically on data exchange and delivery timelines. My 9-year-old son understands when people’s feelings are hurt and what makes people feel good. But he doesn’t think beyond his own world because he doesn’t need to. Like him, most of us concentrate on our own spheres of life—and herein lies the problem.
The second aspect the mavericks must integrate is the role of “stakeholder needs-keeper.” Consider the primary motives of each individual from the very start. In the typical and best-case scenarios, the senior VP of HR is most concerned about solving a strategic issue that impacts the entire company. The salesperson is most focused on quickly cutting the best deal possible for her company so she can get to the next deal and earn her commission that much faster. Legal wants to ensure risk is mitigated, and so on. So the mavericks must squarely address who manages all these relationships and needs.
A third aspect the mavericks must address is the service level agreements (SLAs), both during the contracting phase and later revisiting to ensure that optimal behavior is being incented. Even when the SLAs are green (meeting goals), people feel red, meaning performance objectives and expectation are not being met. Someone must be responsible for quantifying the missing “red” factor so that the service provider gets “it” on all levels, from the executives to the delivery call center reps. The mavericks who can label the “beyond the typical SLA-so everyone-feels-green” will help pave a new path for the rest of us.
Taken together, these three aspects add up to a role that resembles a client account executive, although it’s not clear that it’s possible for such an account exec to do all of the above. These aspects also form a project management office-ish role, but that term doesn’t quite get at all the complexities, either.
AstraZeneca is just starting out on a big $160M adventure with the newly formed Northgate Arinso/Convergys team to provide global HR services from payroll and core data through technology enablement of HR processes. After speaking with Penny Stoker, VP of Global HR Services, I realized that her company might be the closest yet to having this new role covered. She and her team seem to have a solid foundation for this unnamed role. They did a masterful job with stakeholder involvement, ranging from including the heads of HR and line managers from key countries in the vendor selection process to creating self-service utilization competition between countries to boost adoption rates from 30 percent to 70 percent. Penny agreed that there is no name yet for these key relationship and engagement streams of work, but we both continue to noodle on it, as are a number of other people with whom I have been commiserating about this topic.
The new role for the outsourcing mavericks can be summed up this way: “always-keeping sight of the bigger picture’s impact on others, stakeholder-needs-keeper, identify-the-missing-SLA-so everyone-is-happy.” That doesn’t exactly have a catchy ring to it, does it? So we all are still in search of a good new name for a role so central to ensuring that outsourcing projects succeed. What’s your idea for a new name?