A new columnist seeks a new vocabulary for transcending transaction.
By Laura Stone
A few years ago our firm landed squarely in the midst of a messy outsourcing project that ultimately experienced tremendous turnaround. Given that most of our prior work had been on projects that ranged from large-scale mergers to strategy alignment, this assignment gave us a new perspective. With this education, we paid close attention to solving the initial issue, which, at its core, was about good people losing sight of the big picture of their purpose and the impact their work had on other good people.
Once we started making headway, we began asking advisory firms, buyers, and providers whether they had a name for what we were doing. The result: No one in the industry had a name for the work we did, yet all said, “yes, that ‘it’ is missing!” So this inaugural column is about reconceiving the change management industry, to help bring it to a higher level of maturity that will help make large, complex deals work in a fundamentally better way.
Often, the best way to see what something is, is to see what it’s not. The term “change management” misses an integral and much-needed strategic component: that line of sight to the most critical work and those most impacted by it. Who keeps score on the satellite level so all stakeholders see where we are in the bigger picture?
The outsourcing industry desperately needs mavericks to pave the way. We need a provider and a client to declare, “We must do whatever it takes to make this engagement work from a holistic level, beyond the service level agreements (SLAs), beyond the project plans, at a level that can be measured by a new dimension.” We need to move from a transaction-based process (necessary to execute the plethora of details) to one that is more integrated, holistically and strategically focused on linking tasks to the larger corporate strategy. This big-picture understanding seems to get lost fairly quickly, especially as you go down in the organization, causing pain and misspent time (see: staffers obsessing about which color background to use for the communication packet).
Mavericks will need a new way of contracting engagements, centered on two major foci:
1) the outcome of the work itself in strategic context, and
2) understanding how all the people involved experience the changes at issue.
The first challenge is always keeping sight of the big picture’s impact on others. Mary Sue Rogers, general manager of global HR and learning for IBM’s managed business process services, states it quite directly: “Outsourcing is no longer about the technology, it’s about the relationships.” These mavericks will have to engage in the relationships in a new way.
The industry is content-mature, but it has the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old boy. The majority of those doing the work focus myopically on data exchange and delivery timelines. My nine-year-old son understands when people’s feelings are hurt, but he doesn’t think beyond his own world because he doesn’t need to. Like him, most of us concentrate on our own spheres of life—and herein lies the problem.
The second challenge is integrating the role of “stakeholder needs-keeper.” Consider the primary motives of each individual from the start. In the typical scenario, the SVP of HR is most concerned about solving a strategic issue impacting the entire company. The salesperson is most focused on cutting the best deal so she can get to the next deal and earn her commission. Legal wants to mitigate risk, and so on. So the mavericks must squarely address who manages all these relationships and needs.
Third, mavericks must address service level agreements (SLAs), both during contracting and later, revisiting to ensure incenting of optimal behavior. Even when the SLAs are green (meeting goals), people feel red, meaning objectives and expectations are not met. Someone must be responsible for quantifying the missing “red” factor so that the provider gets “it” on all levels, from the executives to the delivery call center reps. The mavericks who can label the “beyond-the-typical-SLA-so everyone-feels-green” will help pave a new path for the rest of us.
The three aspects compose a role resembling a client account executive, but it’s not clear such an account exec could do it all. A project management office-ish role is needed, but that doesn’t get at all the complexity, either.
AstraZeneca is undertaking a $160-million adventure with the newly merged Northgate Arinso/Convergys to provide global HR services from payroll through technology enablement. Penny Stoker, VP of Global HR Services, explained that her company might be the closest to mastering this new role. They did a masterful job involving stakeholders, including heads of HR and line managers in vendor selection and creating self-service utilization competition between countries to boost adoption rates from 30 percent to 70 percent. Stoker agreed no name describes the key relationship and engagement streams, but we’re noodling on it, as are other people with whom I have been commiserating about this.
In sum, the new mavericks’ role is this: “big picture impact-assessor, stakeholder-needs-keeper, missing-SLA-identifier who keeps everyone happy.” That doesn’t have a very nice ring, does it? So help us out. What’s your best idea for a new name?