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Leadership and Management Roles

24 Comments · Business outsourcing

Standard definitions of leadership distinguish it from management by associating the former with something like vision and the latter with something like operations.

This crude distinction does not always hold, of course, because managers are often cabled on to articulate a vision and leaders must occasionally roll up their sleeves and take action.

Still, if we regard the distinction as one of degree rather than absolute, it is true enough. Leaders generally spend more time crafting and articulating vision than operating, and managers usually spend more time operating than crafting a vision.

With that said, it is possible to provide some useful recommendations into how leaders and managers differ in their respective roles during the transition and operating phases of a business process outsourcing (BPO) project.

The transition phase of the BPO Life Cycle is a true turning point in the BPO project-the organization is now implementing changes that heretofore had only been talked about.

The rumors and fears that are often associated with the preoperational BPO phases have now given way to real changes in organizational workflow, personnel, policies, and procedures.

Managers are needed to help guide these new ways of doing things into the organization’s overall workflow.

Leaders are needed to hold the organization together with steadfast vision and courage. Let us look at each role in a little more detail beginning with management.

It may help to envision the role of the manager during the transition phases of the BPO Life Cycle if we develop a scenario that reflects what might be occurring in the typical workplace.

That people resist change is one of the few things that can be counted on in the unpredictable world of business.

Managers are faced with operational challenges, deadlines, and goals-yet they must motivate others in order to reach those goals.

In BPO, it is occasionally necessary to motivate others to perform when their jobs are being eliminated and/or the threat of job elimination looms. Other impediments to a BPO implementation that have to be managed include the following:

? Effects on personnel not displaced by the BPO project, but who may fear being next in line
? Attitudes of personnel regarding the presence of outsiders in the organization
? Attempts by some to impede progress or a lack of willing participation in the changeover
? Fear of failure under the new workflow model

Individuals within the organization not displaced by the BPO project may harbor beliefs that it is only a matter of time before their jobs are outsourced.

Many are aware of the outsourcing trend that has been in the news, and they may have witnessed the anguished faces of individuals within the organization whose jobs are being outsourced or eliminated.

There is no managerial bromide that can be applied to eliminate the sense of loss people will feel if friends are displaced, nor any simple technique for motivating people to perform at high levels when they have been reminded so bluntly that the organization’s social contract with workers is primarily based on economics.

Managers must deal with the changes introduced into the organization by the BPO project with realism and determination.

Sugarcoating an obvious organizational shift toward headcount reduction and cost containment through BPO will only add to the rumors and anxiety.

During times of transformational organizational change, many managers mistakenly attempt to paint a nosy picture despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They do this out of a natural human aversion to being the bearer of bad news.

They also do this on occasion based on denial; they do not want to believe that outsourcing might target their own jobs in the future.

Honest communication with everyone about the goals of the company, the likely outcomes of a BPO implementation, and the steps the organization, is taking to help workers deal with the change is the best-practice technique for managers to follow.

Yet, it is very difficult for many managers to practice this approach. Sometimes, they cannot be honest with employees because they simply do not know what is going to happen.

That is a leadership issue which we discuss in a moment. Even if the manager does not know the full implications of a BPO transition, it is better to communicate that-admitting to personal ignorance-than trying to provide false assurances.

Motivational experts can now agree that, when it comes to managing people at work, honesty really is (usually) the best policy. On issues regarding workplace changes, policies, and future expectations, there is simply substitute for honesty.

The next most important tactic for managing BPO-induced change is communication. A manager could practice honesty but at the same time be excessively Spartan in his or her communication patterns.

In the throes of dramatic organizational change, people need to talk to another. They need to talk because they need to understand. An individual manager may not be a great communicator, but great communication is not required.

What is required is communication quantity leavened by honesty. Managers who have a tendency toward introversion are not excluded.

If they are uncomfortable with speeches or group meetings, there are other communication channels at their disposal, including e-mails, memoranda, company newsletters, and employee portals.

Managers should leverage multiple channels in communicating with employees about the changes they will be facing, the steps the organization is taking to help them during the change, and, most important, the rationale for the change.

As the BPO transition unfolds, managers will encounter some individuals who will attempt to obstruct the BPO project.

Obstruction can occur in two ways: overt and covert. Overt obstruction is fairly easy to deal with Overt obstructionists are vocal, identifying themselves as being opposed to the BPO project.

They can be dealt with directly using common disciplinary and motivational tactics. It is the covert obstructionists who are the most insidious. They oppose change but work quietly in their obstructionist efforts.

This can include direct sabotage, but covert obstructionists are usually more cunning. They impede progress on a change effort by omission, rather than commission.

They withhold key information or data that they know would aid the transition process. They do not offer helpful information unless directly asked.

They appear to be contributing and happy when they are in fact happy only in their subversion.

Managers can deal with covert obstructionists, but only after they have rooted them out. They are unlikely to identify themselves, masking their inner desire to undermine the BPO project-and maybe the manager.

They can be uncovered, but only with help from those who are working on the BPO transition phase.

Managers must actively query others to determine if there has been any unnecessary foot-dragging or apparent back of motivation to assist in the BPO transition.

This type of querying should be handled in a matter-of-fact rather than an accusatory manner. It is important in the effort to expose covert obstructionists that managers do not impugn those who are, in fact, working diligently to help the process along.

Covert obstructionists are identified through behavior patterns rather than direct acts on verbalizations.

As the manager queries various individuals involved in the BPO transition about how easily they are finding it to get the information they need and where the bottlenecks seem to be, covert obstruction will reveal itself.

It will be revealed in a recurrent pattern of tardiness or sloppiness in deliverables. Covert obstructionists will deliver what they are asked, but it will usually be less than professional grade and often delayed.

Covert obstructionists must be confronted to be controlled. Of count, they will usually deny their obstructionism, claming that they have delivered all they have been asked or that they are working on delivering all they have been asked.

In the worst cases, the covert obstructionists may actually believe their own story. Covert obstructionists must be managed directly.

The manager must be involved with detailing the expected deliverables and time frame, which must then also be linked to the covert obstructionist’s regular performance review process.

The best way to deal with covert obstructionists is to out them and then provide them with clear and unambiguous expectations of future performance.

Of course, the manager must follow up on these expectations, including the use of disciplinary tactics if objectives are not being met.

Leadership throughout the BPO transition must be visible and accessible. BPO transition leaders (as opposed to managers) are expected to have a firm grasp of the BPO business case and an ability to articulate it as needed.

Besides, BPO leaders should have a granular grasp of the BPO business case, which we define as an ability to link it to organizational units and the individuals who work in those units.

Above all, leaders must be able to provide people with answers to the inevitable question “what’s in it for me?”

Companies that undertake BPO projects are most often those that already have experience with transformational change.

In that regard, many within these organizations have personal experience with restructuring initiatives and may have developed some level of maturity, if not outright boredom, with managing change of that magnitude.

In organizations like this, leaders are called on to inject new enthusiasm into the organizational zeitgeist.

Expressions of better possible futures for the company and its employees are the preferred strategy.

Occasionally, leaders are prone to shield themselves from negative reactions by asserting that the decision to use a BPO approach is a matter of organizational survival in a highly competitive economy-the decision was beyond anyone’s control.

Although that may be true, it has the ring of cowardice about it. Far better for the leader to proclaim the BPO strategy as a carefully laid plan that stands to generate compelling advantages for the organization and its employees.

Leaders simply cannot shrink from the need to articulate a vision during times of transformational change. Change is difficult and often requires that people tolerate pain in the short term.

This is made easier by leaders who are able to help people paint a mental picture of a future that will be better and more satisfying than the present.
 

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