Essential Elements of Successful Outsourcing Partnerships

A look at some of the activities from simple@work, day 2.

By Gregory Pings

7:30 a.m.
The starting point of any successful outsourcing relationship is competence: Can the outsourcer do the job? The essential element is trust. Some correctly call it partnership.

Guiding Eyes ambassadors (L-R): Willa, Gemini, and McGee. Photo courtesy of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Guiding Eyes ambassadors (L-R): Willa, Gemini, and McGee. Photo courtesy of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Yesterday, I spoke with Linda Press, the director of Corporate and Foundations Relations for Guiding Eyes For The Blind. She, and three guide dogs (photo, right), were at simple@work. Here’s how they work:

People who are blind, or have very poor vision, receive the dogs at no charge. Also at no charge, 21 days of training with your new dog, and lifetime follow up support. Refresher courses or retraining for the dog and the owner may be required from time to time.

Linda pointed out that the dogs are more than a set of eyes. They are companions and friends. “The human-animal bond is special,” she said, “it’s not complex, but it is strong.”

They place 160 dogs every year, and they support 1,000 dogs and their partners throughout the year. No question, we’re talking about an outsourcing relationship – and it’s critical that both parties get it right.

10: 30 a.m. – Getting In and Out of the Silo
All the talk about getting out of silos notwithstanding, it’s also a good idea to get together with people who also work in your job. simple@work conferences were organized along functional and industry groups, because sometimes (for instance) an HR executive who is developing a new technology platform for the employees needs to find out how other HR executives accomplished similar feats. What worked? What didn’t work? Which departments were most helpful? Who should you have brought into the project earlier, or later, or — dare I ask? — not at all?

That’s one of the things people like about simple@work. The other thing they like: No one is trying to sell them anything. This is about conversations, sharing ideas, getting people to think differently about their pain points.

11:15 a.m. It Ain’t Easy Being Simple
My take-away from this morning’s keynote: Getting to simple is no easy task. In addition figuring out how a process should change, in addition to figuring out how technology can improve the process, and in addition to constructing the new process – how do you get people to use it?

This is about getting end users to try something new. When the U.S. Tennis Association rolled out its 10 and Under Tennis program, they needed an easy way for providers to promote the program in their local areas. USTA chief marketing officer Sue Hunt pointed out that the people who run the tennis clubs across the country are great coaches, but they need help running promotional campaigns. Turns out Xerox knows something about this, so I’ll segue to the video we saw this morning:

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The result: 75 percent of local clubs that used these materials saw an 75 percent increase in participation at their facilities. Moreover, two-thirds of the people who showed up had never been to their facilities at all.

The tennis clubs focused on teaching tennis to new customers, and developing a lifelong love of the sport. Xerox made it easy for the clubs to connect new constituents in their communities.

1 p.m. – How Does Innovation Work?
An outsourcing management session with Xerox chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group, Sophie Vandebroek and RG Conlee, chief innovation officer for Xerox Services turned to very practical matters. How, one attendee asked: How do our dreaming sessions work? So here’s the overview:

Listen to the customers’ challenges. What do they need now, and in the future?

Spend time with customers in their work environments. Observe and study the workflows and find needs that no one has been able to verbalize.

Create something, then continue to study how the innovation is used. Evolve the product or service as required.

“Sure,” the questioner added. “But if I show up, what will actually happen?”

12 weeks prior to the dreaming session, RG explained, we identify the team. We find out who the customer is sending, and we get an initial read on their needs. This allows us to identify the right people from the Xerox research centers who should also attend.

The sessions always end with actionable tasks that are assigned to owners. Eighty percent of these sessions result in something the clients can use for their customers.

“But what’s the business model?” he persisted.

“The dreaming sessions are not fee-based,” RG explained. However, the sessions are designed to result in a new product or service that will benefit the customer, or Xerox, or both. It doesn’t always end that way – but it mostly does. The distinction is this: Consulting sessions are fee-based. Dreaming sessions are not.

I spoke with Graham Dussell, another member of the audience, during a break. He had a light understanding of our dreaming sessions prior to this forum, but understands it better now.

Here’s the best way I can summarize our conversation: If the innovative thing that we need were already on the shelf, we’d use it. But since it’s not, then we have to find a partner who can help us invent it.

3:15 p.m. – Where Does Creativity Come From?

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All children are born with immense creativity. They live in a world of imagination. Creativity and imagination are fundamental to their lives. Yet, somehow, when you ask most adults, they will report that they are not very creative. What happens to our creative impulses as we grow older?

Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally acclaimed expert on creativity and innovation, believes that the very nature of our schools and work places — and numerous other organizations – stifle creativity and imagination. The irony is that you won’t find an single school or organization whose stated mission is to throw a blanket on creativity.

Which brings us to the above video about the Landfill Harmonic that Sir Ken shared this with us during his closing keynote speech. His take-aways from the video:

  • Talent is deep – you’ll find it everywhere.
  • Talent is inexhaustible.
  • Humans have a relationship with technology. A roomful of instruments is unimpressive when there is no one to play them.

Apply these lessons to your organization. How quickly can you deal with complexity? How soon can you understand how the world is changing? How should technology play in your organization?

Sir Ken pointed out that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph for the purpose of recording messages from the telephone. When someone suggested that it be used to record music, Edison dismissed the idea out of hand. He could not understand why someone would want to do that. While a creative genius like Edison missed an obvious solution, someone did make the recommendation. Which takes us to the first take-away: You’ll find talent (and creativity) everywhere.

The revolution that we currently live in is driven by our technology, and it has created results that we did not foresee. Without a trace of irony, Sir Ken believes it will take creativity to solve these problems.

So, what’s the next move for your organization?

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