There is an exclusive club developing in the Western World… “onshore” people who have experienced working for an offshore-centric provider, where all roads lead to Mumbai, or Delhi, or Chennai, or Bangalore… These folks quickly realized that this execu-life is an acquired taste – and either adapted or quickly bailed… or got fired. I personally know a multitude of executives now on their second, third, or even fourth (yes, fourth) offshore-centric firm.
What’s abundantly clear is the need to hire and develop quality onshore account management and delivery personnel is becoming the crucial differentiator in today’s ever-tightening outsourcing marketplace. Those that can win this talent war will be the ones who can truly move beyond yesterday’s flagging outsourcing model.
So who better than Deborah Kops, the doyenne of disruptive dialog herself, to expand on this topic in a way that, quite frankly, noone has dared put into print before…
Why offshore providers come up short onshore
Over the last few weeks, I must have had at least 10 calls from outsourcing talent currently looking –or being recruited for new positions–many of them by offshore providers. And that’s not counting the calls from search consultants, desperate to locate that buried diamond of a sales-accounts-or-solutions guy who can be persuaded to jump ship.
Comparing their stories with my own recruitment experiences, it struck me that I’d been listening to a broken record. The tales were so very similar—even across a number of providers—that perhaps it’s time that someone called attention to the fact that in a war for onshore talent, offshore providers can unwittingly come up short. And that’s not good for the provider, for the talent, and certainly not for clients who increasingly demand that their providers become more globally and culturally adept.
Last week, yet another resume showed up in my email. Now, convinced that you can’t know too many smart people, I spent a few minutes with Mr. X, going over a very impressive list of qualifications: both buy-and-sell-side experience; a real track record in sales and operations; good communication skills and a great educational pedigree. When the conversation got to the stage where I was convinced that any number of providers would love to have him as part of the team, I started my usual ‘what about x? Or y?’ And then I got an emphatic “I won’t work for an offshore-legacy firm.” “Why,” I asked. “You’ve never worked for one. How do you know you can’t have a great career?” “Deborah,” he said, “Why would I work for a firm where the power structure is all overseas and doesn’t include me? And every time I’ve been recruited by an offshore firm, it’s been a waste of my time. They don’t seem to know how to run a good process. I am underwhelmed, and since recruitment is seduction, I’m not falling into bed with a firm that doesn’t know how to sell me on working with them.”
Offshore providers, please take note. With fewer and fewer good onshore sales/account management/solutions/operations guys and gals willing to switch horses, putting your best foot forward in the recruiting cycle is no different than courting a client. In fact, without the ability to attract the right onshore talent, it’s arguably impossible to grow and prosper.
What parts of the plot are offshore providers seemingly missing when they attempt to recruit onshore talent?
- Onshore outsourcing talent is not fungible. Unlike talent pools in offshore locations, there may not be more than one or two really good candidates onshore, especially if that talent has an enviable track record in sales or solutions. And, as the market contracts, good talent has become more concerned about the quality of the brands they represent, paying more attention to crafting a career progression that underwrites their market worth by working for what the market sees as the “right” organizations. After all, names like Accenture and IBM on a resume act as career validation. Ask the search consultants; few candidates are calling them hankering after an introduction to an offshore player.
- Onshore talent no longer sees the same risk/reward equation; the heady early days of get-in-on-the-ground-floor –and-make –a-few –million-bucks-at-IPO are over. With no new market entrants into entrenched process offerings such as finance and accounting, and more closely held offshore ownership in digital and analytics start-ups, the opportunity to make big bucks no longer justifies the perceived risk of working for an offshore provider that, quite simply, is less likely to trade career satisfaction for money. Talent now is more sensitive to finding—and staying with—the right employer, especially in light of economic uncertainty. Call it a flight to safety.
- Onshore talent does not have the same linkages or ties to their employers as offshore talent Offshore providers that are not culturally savvy often forget that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing global human resources. The employee/employer relationship that underpins offshore personnel relationships simply does not translate onshore. For example, onshore employees tend to manage their careers more independently, and do not have the same sense of family…or indebtedness…when it comes to staying with their employers. In other words, loyalty barely plays in career decisions.
- The press doesn’t help In a market where seven degrees of separation is quickly reduced to two, the tales of working in a legacy offshore firm quickly become part of urban legend. Stories (rightly or wrongly) abound about cultural insensitivity: staff retreats held in India close to Christmas or on Easter weekend; cheap travel policies including coach travel at all times and sharing rooms with colleagues; and being managed by buddies of the boss who have limited experience or skill. Potential candidates who are used to certain working conditions are scared off from seriously exploring a career with an offshore provider.
What can the offshore provider do to improve its talent value proposition?
It comes down to changing approaches to market and being realistic about what talent looks for when they consider new opportunities. It’s time to stop replicating very familiar offshore talent management constructs and approaches, and start to act like a local. Let’s dig a little deeper here:
- Bear in mind that the provider is the seller, and the recruit is the buyer In a market bereft of a real deep talent bench, good candidates are the sellers. Unfortunately offshore providers forget that fact, sometimes approaching the candidate with a “you’re so lucky to be talking to me” attitude. In fact, sometime this is taken to the extreme; a recent urban legend has a partner in a global firm being offered a trial 90 day position which would convert to full employment if a real deal is identified during that period. The candidate approached the meeting with a high degree of interest, but walked out with a high level of disgust when the terms shifted from employment to trial.
- Have an honest strategy to move to glocal management Onshore talent consistently complain about being managed offshore and through offshore practices, resulting in what they see as lack of empowerment, disenfranchisement, cultural insensitivity and lack of trust. While moving to a true global talent management model won’t happen overnight, offshore organizations that make good faith efforts to devolve leadership and in country operations to those in the know onshore will ultimately reap a number of rewards: reputation as a provider with deep local contextual knowledge; a strong reputation as a good place to build a career for onshore talent; and a brand as a truly global player.
- Adopt local HR practices What goes for best practices in India, or even the UK, does not fly in the US. HR practices must be contextual in order to be effective. An offshore company may be able to compel someone in their home company to sign away certain rights, or work under certain conditions, or sell shares on their timetable, but it won’t work in the US or other onshore locations.
- Be realistic about how the brand is viewed Despite the enormous success they’ve enjoyed in the outsourcing market, offshore players need to recognize that they’re starting with a of brand deficit when it comes to recruitment. When it comes to attracting a strong team, providers who think they are on a level playing field with the industry dominants onshore are kidding themselves. Offshore companies do not yet have the same local draw that the big globals—or even some smaller local players– have. When a company’s future success depends on globalization of talent, understanding the shortcomings of its brand, and then doing something to mitigate its implications in the minds of highly desirable talent, is critical.
- Acknowledge that the network influences talent attraction Whenever a recruiting process takes excessive time, or is a market outlier, or is downright disrespectful, trust me– everybody knows. In a market where one or two calls obtain the full skinny on any company, talent is already armed with strong opinions of what it’s like to be recruited by or work for any provider. Remember that any experience—good or bad—will quickly be reported on the tom toms, and act accordingly.
- Be realistic; don’t require talent to do the impossible Some of the job descriptions churned out by offshore providers are unrealistic; if a candidate has the ability to walk on water and rope in $10million ACV deals at the same time, it still would not be sufficient for many providers. People with deep relationships with multi-national CEOs, Master Black Belts, a degree from Harvard with an MBA from Insead, enviable thought leadership, and viewed as all around good guy and gal willing to travel 80 percent of the time do not exist. A full complement of skills is rarely contained in one individual; unfortunately offshore providers often become parsimonious and won’t make the level of investments in the right combination of positions. Stop trying to locate one onshore savior to change the fortunes of the business, and start thinking realistically about hiring a talent ecosystem.
- Run a respectful, timely, transparent process Onshore talent often complain about the lack of respect demonstrated in the hiring process. I’ve heard tales of processes that ended up taking a year because of constant cancellations, or at the last minute requiring everyone from the chairman of the board to the offshore delivery leader to weigh in on the candidate. Flying into a city to suddenly find that the first meeting is delegated to junior, non-decision making staff is offensive. Or asking senior candidates to players to spend one or two cycles interviewing with a low level person, either in HR, recruitment or sales, before the actual hiring manager is even introduced sends the wrong message. Tell the candidate what the process and timeline is, being fully mindful of the fact that, if s/he is any good, by the time the second interview is finally scheduled, he or she will have probably be off the market. Open ended processes without closure frustrate the candidate, and shut the door on future engagement..
- Pay market A guy making a base of $200,000 plus a good bonus is rarely seduced by an offer of $100k plus stock…”someday.” And if he is interested, it’s either because he thinks the upside is a pretty sure thing, or he’s about to be terminated by his current employer. Offshore providers that think that the opportunity to carry their card has a value beyond market compensation are sadly mistaken. Ensuring that compensation is competitive with the market is the first step in winning the talent game. And share the wealth. If Mr. X is so important to the growth of your business, make it worth his or her while with equity to make the switch.
- Stop playing the tease Many talented folk have had calls from providers who are constantly testing the talent waters. Stories abound of offshore C-suite leaders calling onshore guys quarterly, thinking they can catch them at a weak moment by flattery. And when the candidate bites, there was no real opportunity. If there’s a real job, send the candidate the job description; don’t play the flirt. There are better ways to keep good talent warm.
- Don’t make undue and unusual demands Recently I heard a story about a (reluctant) candidate being asked for his W-2s and references after an introductory recruitment meeting. And about another candidate who was asked for a copy of his rolodex during the first contact. Net outcome? They ran for the hills, badmouthing the provider at every opportunity. Onshore candidates share data when they see a viable opportunity, not before.
- Look at the CV first, and in context of the position How many times have candidates walked into an interview to find that neither HR nor the business unit leader ever bothered to look at their bios? Or had any idea of the scope of the job? (True confession: I was once recruited by a provider who had not seen my CV, and thought I was a Black Belt continuous improvement type). Spend the time to evaluate the candidate’s credentials in advance and in light of business needs, not because you’re on a reconnaissance mission.
Global fluency clients seek starts with hiring the right team locally. But when providers are unable to start by hiring the right onshore team, the dial does not move very far. To paraphrase a recent bestselling business book—“change the recruitment process, change the game.” Growth depends on it.
Thanks for all the tales of woe I’ve heard from candidates and search consultants alike. Hope springs eternal that change is inevitable.
Deborah Kops (pictured above) is Research Fellow and HfS Research (click here for bio)