Make sure you know where you are in an HRO provider’s pipline.
On a recent weekend, I chugged 12 miles east of my West Orange, NJ, home through the Lincoln Tunnel to see The Gates, the artist Christos 2-week installation of 7,300 saffron-colored flags lining 23 miles of
Christos job is just like mine. Hes either selling (it took him 26 years to get The Gates financed and approved), creating (proceeds from his sketches funded the $21 million project), or fending off critics (MSNBCs Keith Olbermann wrote of The Gates They look like crap on his Bloggermann Web site). As it turns out, I enjoy watching other people sell, create, and fend off critics so much that I even do it on weekends.
As I ran through The Gates with my kids, I happened upon Christo and his orange-haired wife Jeanne- Claude, holding court with a couple dozen fans and critics. As I came upon the group, I overheard Jeanne- Claude say, The Gates are all about points of view. Are you inside The Gates? Or are you outside The Gates pretending they are not there?
The same question holds for HRO. Whether you are a prospect, customer, provider, or consultant, this is the reality: Are you in somebodys pipeline (thats sales jargon for being on a prospect list), or are you pretending not to be?
I got an e-mail from a reader last month that illustrates the point. This HR director at a multinational firm (Ill save her the pain of mentioning her name) emailed, Months ago, I had no idea why I was getting your magazine. Then when I read it, I understood why. The HRO trend had taken over my profession, and I had not even realized it.
She was in somebodys pipeline and pretending not to be.
On Valentines Day, I received a press release from Hewitt announcing its contract with 133,000- employee Marriott International. It reminded me of a conversation I had two years ago with a Marriott HR executive who refused to attend our 2003 HRO World Conference because he believed it was irrelevant to his career as an HR professional at Marriott.
Knock, knock. Whos there? Yesterdays Queen of Denial becomes todays enthusiastic convert.
Another group of companies that have been in HR denial for a long while is the airlines. Back in the go-go 1970s and 1980s, virtually all airline HR heads struck deals with unions that gave the HR people momentary peace, but guaranteed the companies financial doom in the era of deregulation. The airlines did not know it, but they got sucked into the unions pipelines. When the union sales executives closed their deals with the airline HR departments, they locked the airlines in perpetually- growing fixed-cost labor contracts. As a result, today most of the major carriers are in bankruptcy, with ATA having recently been liquidated and US Air about ready to find the same fate.
For a while now, HRO providers have had the airlines in their pipelines. And recently, several airlines have stopped pretending not to know. The airlines now understand that HRO can turn fixed costs into variable costs. And as a result, we have recently seen a spate of HRO deals in airlines, namely ACSs deal with Delta, ARINSOs deal with Finnair, and Hewitts deal with Air
The airline lessons are clear. When you are in the pipeline of someone promising to turn your fixed expenses into variable, pay attention. When you are in the pipeline of someone trying to do the opposite, run and hide.
The Gates exhibition will probably be gone by the time you read this column, since its life expectancy was only two weeks. For those two weeks, some New Yorkers pretended to ignore The Gates. I thought differently. I knew I was in Christos pipeline. I loved seeing what took him so long to sell, what he worked so hard to create, and how he fended off his critics. I will carry his lessons with me to work on Monday, when I go back to work on my pipeline.