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The heart in outsourcing : Consultants

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Big changes are underway in how both the private and public sectors will see outsourcing in future. And management consultancies are at the heart of these developments.

That was what I learned from a recent breakfast meeting organized by the MCA (Management Consultancies Association) held in association with our friends at Outsource magazine. The session looked at some of the current big issues in sourcing and outsourcing. Around our tables were many of the key firms in the consulting industry, both advisers and deliverers of services.

From the discussions, it became clear how management consultants see their roles and where they think they add most value.

One member talked about the crucial importance of creating the right relationships. This was, he said, about approaching providers in the right way, and changing the language of the relationship.

Too often the language of sourcing fails to treat people as partners, and this can easily lead to a souring of relationships and unproductive work. He even said that one of his jobs with clients who are looking to source services is to make sure that providers are incentivised to make money – many organisations will forget that they have a long-term interest in the success of their partners – and he spoke of “the spirit of an agreement” being just as important as the letter.

These might not be universally welcome ideas in a climate of austerity, where many see it as their job to “drive the last drop of blood out of a supplier”, as one speaker put it. But the message was welcomed and supported around the tables; in many ways it will mean more in difficult economic times since this is precisely when we need everyone to be working effectively together.

Another sphere where management consultancies are clearly making a difference is in governance.  By this, I guess, we mean the long-term health and accountability of the relationship while services are being provided.

Again, participants said that there are great dangers in pursuing an overly adversarial approach. Governance arrangements should certainly hold everyone to account, measure progress and face up to problems if and when they exist. Too many around our table had experience of meetings with no agendas or clear purpose, no record of agreed actions and little follow-up.

But, equally, governance should be seen and used as a way of bringing the partners together, solving problems jointly and, at every stage, looking for ways to raise aspirations for both sides. It is particularly important in any long-term relationship that each side can develop its thinking and approach and that they can learn by doing.  This is no soft option; in many ways it is more stretching and demanding than the alternative.

One consultant at the session talked about the importance of also looking out for the “known unknowns”.  There is clearly now a lot of accumulated experience of how to drive excellent performance and achieve value for money. It makes sense to draw on it when embarking on any new project.

 

Article published in : Outsource magazine

Written by  Alan Leaman

Source : www.outsourcemagazine.co.uk

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