Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Why Outsourcing fails 3. - Communication

"The Problem with Communication, is the illusion that it has been achieved" - George Bernard Shaw.

Make no mistake, there is no better way to communicate with someone than face to face. Nothing beats sitting next to someone pointing at a line on a computer screen and saying " There! That's the one, I want you to do it like that!"

Now ask youself when was the last time that you actually did that? We don't "work together" in the 21st century, we are all too busy and communication is reduced to whiteboard sessions, emails, snatched telephone conversations and meetings.

What about meetings? Agenda's, notes, minutes?
The reason that minutes are so useful is that they are an unequivocal representation of what has been agreed but so is an email isn't it? And when was the last time you actually referred to the minutes anyway?

The reality is that in our everyday working environment we are already distributed to the point at which communication is at breaking point. Working from home, with Contractors and third parties, client visits, business trips and busy schedules hAs already diminished our opportunities to communicate in detail and the fact is that, with a few extremely important exceptions, outsourcing is an extension of what we do anyway.

So if that is the case why is communication cited as the biggest issue relating to the failure of offshore outsourcing?

Let me try to facilitate an understanding by translating a simple piece of communication for you.

When someone says, "I don't think this will work in our organization because I feel communication could be/is an issue".

What they are actually saying is; "I am not confident that I can get my message across to people in a different timezone, that have an incomprehensible accent and a different way of speaking my language and whose cultural caharacteristics I don't understand. I struggle with my colleagues as it is, and this will make me feel as though I have no control".

Now that's all a perfectly valid objection but it rarely gets articulated because of a lack of confidence and the minefield of political correctness that causes us to skirt around issues of cultural incompatibility.

So as a decision maker what do you do when you're confronted with this as part of an outsourcing project? Does it mean your project cannot proceed? Would you allow communication to be a showstoppers in any other project? Of course not, you would take measures to put your best communicators in pivotal roles, perform training, address the issue with a Communications Strategy, beef up your travel budget and move ahead. It's all part of the cost of doing business abroad as I'm sure you will already know if you sell there.

So if there was one piece of advice that I could offer to assist ths process? It would be this one;
In your communications with offshore outsourcers, never, ever, ever ask an open question. Ever.

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