The New Rule of Outsourcing: Co-Learning on the Job


There was a time when “learning on the job” meant you were an apprentice or a “newbie,” someone with little practical experience. However, today, “learning on the job,” is a critical activity to do all the time, as digital technologies and business models change the way we work, not a little, but quite significantly and often at a breathtaking pace. There is no defined curriculum for the pace of change in today’s businesses—it’s a capability we must all be very adept at—dealing with a constant flow of new ideas, new technologies and ambiguity that takes us outside our comfort zones.

The expectation today to drive faster time to market with new ideas, faster response to queries, and faster results from the work we do is also impacting the services and outsourcing industry. This industry grew up based on a culture of “getting the job done faster, cheaper, more efficiently”… and as those expectations are met… it’s still true. And because many companies can meet the cost reduction baseline, differentiation now depends on quality, innovation, and not meeting but beating expectations. And that means constantly evolving.

Do you need to shake up your outsourcing engagement to redefine the value and create a new way of working together? A way to bring “both sides” back to the table? To build on a trusted relationship, one that is collaborative? Nothing creates a team like solving a problem together. There needs to be some degree of trust in place—either through experience or through reputation and recommendation. Design Thinking is also gaining interest and traction as a way to identify and solve a problem as a team in a services relationship. The bottom line is that the way forward for outsourcing—service buyers and service providers—is based on willingness to learn… experiment… and start over. 

On the Job: Learning by Doing is the way forward

To make it work, service providers—and many service buyers too—need to step out of the risk averse and “no fail” “yes” culture. By nature, Design Thinking requires more of a “learning by doing” approach. And it may take awhile to yield measurable results. In one example, a service provider launched a Design Thinking exercise to address a very general interest—to reduce the cost of their collections process. Reducing collections would help the client but also may hurt the service provider as that was their job. But this problem of the cost of collections is not unique to that one client or to one industry, so anything learned could likely be reused.

While the project was focused and undertaken with a specific client, the learnings, regardless of whether they led to more work for the client, would still increase the understanding of the service provider team of the consumers in that industry and the experience they were having at the time. In this way, it became a learning exercise as well. It also focused the service provider on the clients’ consumer base, increasing the understanding of the context of their work.

The interaction between the service provider and the service buyer’s customers brought to light some opportunities and challenges that would not have been noticed without a service provider employee “shadowing” someone living the process that had been in place for years. This effort was not about changing the process per se, but about changing the focal point from the process itself to “who” was in the process—to the experience and the desired outcome. That’s a pretty new way of working in the outsourcing industry.

From the observations and interviews, and studying data collected over time from its call center, the service provider came to the table with the client with an informed, but different, perspective, and with some ideas on what to do next. Some of these ideas were ones that interested the client and led to further plans and projects. Some were not, and others were simply put on hold. The point is, the service provider took the first step to say, let’s try this—with the client’s permission and participation—and invested in those first steps.

The Bottom-line: It’s about courage, budget and stories

This exercise tapped into the three partnership “Power Ups”—the courage of the service buyer to let the service provider get close enough to their customer base to interact with them personally; a budget for the shadowing and testing ideas; and stories—those of the consumers that drove the next steps toward change and business impact—and that of the project overall. Are you ready to tap into your inner “gamer,” and partner to Power Up to drive real, impactful innovation?

Posted in : Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Design Thinking, Digital Transformation


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