Building partnerships: the key to effective outsourcing

The decision of whether or not to outsource has been debated in boardrooms for decades. The current ongoing labour shortages and volatile economic conditions means that many businesses are now revisiting it as a possible solution to deliver services like IT and marketing, hoping to tackle increasing workloads without the risks of taking on full time staff.

While this approach may be one way to help businesses avoid redundancies and keep things running smoothly during times of uncertainty, successful outsourcing still requires investing time and resource, whatever the economic climate. Whether you are motivated to outsource to become more agile, to supplement your workforce or to save money, you need to invest in it to achieve success. Approaching it as a simple way to clear responsibilities from your desk is a recipe for failure and may end up costing your business more than just money.

Like any successful relationship, outsourcing is a two way street and for it to work, both parties need to understand what success looks like, define a clear path outlining what they are working toward and keep open lines of communication. In short, you need to build trust. Having worked on both the supplier and client sides of the outsourcing coin, I wanted to share some tips and best practices for making it work that I’ve picked up along the way:

Know what to outsource

Truth be told, most business functions can be outsourced – from IT and accountancy to marketing campaign delivery and customer experience – as long as you find the right experts to partner with and manage the relationships effectively. What should never be outsourced is your core competency: the basis, purpose and raison d’être of your business.

Whether you are a software developer or a shoe designer, focus on what you’re good at and where you add the most value. From there you can decide where you need to supplement the talent and expertise of your in-house team. For example, you may want to invest in outside expertise to help market and show your wares at a big event or trade show, attract new investment or take on added support to help your finance team when it comes time to file your year-end accounts.

Identify the skills you need

Once you’ve decided which functions you’d like to outsource, it’s important to understand what skills you already have in your internal team and identify the gaps you need to fill. From there you can look for suppliers that have expertise in these areas.

Treat outsourcing just as you would finding a new hire. Do your due diligence. Speak to firms’ current and past clients as well as the members of their team you’ll be working with – and ensure they meet the members of your team they’ll be working with as well. Be sure to leave space on both sides for questions to be answered and new ideas to be considered. The best outsourcing relationships are those where both sides trust each other, work as a team and add value to the business. Investing the time in finding the right supplier can help you be more agile as a business for years to come.

Quality onboarding

Be sure to set your outsourcing partners up for success. To deliver the best service, they need to understand how your business works so they can dovetail their quality assurance, best practices and business processes into yours.

To avoid confusion and disappointment, ensure all team members receive the training they need, and if their responsibilities mean they need to drive, make sure you have keys to the car ready for them. Providing outsource partners with all the tools, access and information you would to a new hire will help ensure success.

It is also essential for outsourced partners to manage expectations with clients from the start.  Agreeing a schedule of onboarding activities and communicating what you need from the client helps to ensure a mutual understanding of everyone’s role and avoid issues down the line. All too often I’ve witnessed the short and long term implications of a rocky start on the quality of a relationship.

Set clear objectives

To ensure you are working toward the same goals, both internal and outsourced teams need to establish what good practice looks like together. Sit down from the start and outline clear objectives, deliverables and benchmarks to measure them against – and ensure these are clearly stated in any service level agreement.

Understand the benefit of upfront planning, but be sure to build flexibility into projects and deadlines so the team can remain agile and address any unexpected changes or issues that may come up without derailing the whole project.

When outsourced teams consistently deliver good quality work, it can be tempting for the in-house team to ask them to do additional jobs without allocating any further time – or budget. Too many of these ‘can you just’ requests can lead to missed deadlines and over-worked suppliers. All team members need to respect each other’s time and have processes in place for adding new projects to the list of objectives – no matter how small. 

Build in health checks

Monitoring and evaluation are key to ensure projects – and morale – stay on track. We find that building in weekly and monthly touchpoints are helpful to keep communication open and ensure any issues can be addressed before they become too problematic. Creating an honest dialogue means that you can have frank and constructive conversations about what’s working and what needs improving.

In addition to these regular communications, building in more formal health checks each quarter or at six month intervals can help. These provide the team the opportunity to re-establish what good looks like – to look back at what’s working and what’s not and address it. Using a marketing campaign delivery project as an example, ask: are the campaigns error-free, up to scratch and delivered on time? If not, why not? Are the timings unrealistic? Is the team being drawn into too many additional projects and therefore not able to meet their deadlines? Are business processes or working practices misaligned?  These check-ins help to identify these issues and provide a forum for the team to reflect on what happened and put actionable objectives to correct them going forward.

Mutual respect

Successful outsourcing is not rocket science. Whatever your motivation for engaging outside experts to help, the key is to remember the experience and value each member of the in-house and outsourced team is bringing to your business. Building trust, establishing good working practices and keeping communication open and honest are essential to making an outsourcing partnership flourish.

They may not be on your payroll, but your outsourced service providers are most definitely part of your team.

If you would like to discuss building a partnership with Purple Square, contact us.

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