Archive for category Outsourcing
The image of stilettos often conjures up the image of a femme fatale – a woman whose charms can ensnare others. I was not that woman. I ensnared no one. I was more like Gracie Hart, tough FBI agent, walking cooly down the street – only to trip over her own heels. Repeatedly.
To say I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change that left me managing everything almost overnight would be an understatement. Before we started our application maintenance program (aka “outsourcing”) I was a supervisor of nine system architects – mostly focused on our solutions in the Americas – and managing a team that all sat in the same country, the same time zone, the same office building and floor where I sat. Progress on issues or new solutions seemed – well – seamless. We could yell over our cubicle walls to each other for a quick answer or walk down the hall a bit for a more in-depth technical answer from the guys who managed our middleware. We learned constantly from each other. And we had reached a level of technical and functional comptence that allowed us to execute flawlessly and fairly quickly without the burden of layers of procesess and handoffs.
Post outsourcing, I was the manager of the global team – the one in charge of 27 countries, three remaining in-house team members and twelve outsourced staff members. Post outsourcing, we all had to move from being collaborative learners to effective teachers. Post outsourcing, we had to tune our ears to different accents, work to understand a different culture, and – with sensitivity and grace – make a team of outsourced workers feel at home with us — whether they would be working onshore in our U.S. offices or offshore in India.
Nothing could have prepared me for this adventure. Most days were fraught with fear of the unknown. We feared losing our own jobs next. We were uncertain how to execute without the individuals that we knew would know what to do. We were tired from stress and working longer hours to cover Europe and Asia.
In time, each of us – the four who remained — would all rise to the call of leadership. I know I “played by ear” many days – unsure what to do or how to handle things. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. At the end of the workday, I’d abandon my stilettos for bedroom slippers and pajamas – and continue working at home. If I just worked a little harder, a little longer, things would get better. And in many ways they did. It took a village. . . and the courage to be knocked off my stilettos more than once.
First you cry. Well, I did. I cried because we had a phenomenal team and the move to outsource our team’s work meant that what we had built together would be torn apart. I cried because colleagues who solved the worst of technical challenges with me, who worked day and night and weekends with me, who always had a laugh to share – even in the middle of the night when we were dead tired – who taught me everything they knew, who celebrated Christmases and weddings and births with me would be gone.
I cried for all the right reasons. . . and some lesser reasons.
I cried because the familiar comfort of a job I knew well was suddenly gone. And that made me realize. This wasn’t personal. This was business.
In 2005, Thomas Friedman had explained that the world was, indeed flat. The walls had come down and the economy would be different. We would work differently. I remember reading his book – with a gulp of incredulous fear – and then stuffing it away on my bookshelf as if, safely ensconced there, it couldn’t be true. And here it was looking me smack in the face. I had lived in a fabricated reality in which the type of work I did would never be outsourced – let alone to another country. I had ignored the truths that Thomas Friedman spoke.
I had to move forward.
What we needed most of all was someone to talk about how to move forward. I had no ready answers. But I had the will to listen, to hear what others were saying — whether it was about the “new normal” or the old ways or how impossible it was going to be to transfer everything everyone knew in just five short months. We could have all fallen apart at that point – divided by anxiety, jealousy, fear. But for the most part, the team remained intact, committed to delivering the same high quality results on this “project” as they had for every other genuine project. With compassion and understanding, I listened. I learned. I tried to get answers for the team. I improvised when I had no answers and we needed answers. And I honestly said “I don’t know” when I had no answers. But I committed to get answers. What I tried not to do was to let any one person stand alone, be scared or feel hopeless.
Over the course of the next five months, I would host three retirement and five farewell luncheons, but not before the collective team left their legacy of knowledge in hundreds of hours worth of recorded training sessions. I was as proud of us as we dismantled as I had been in the early days when we first formed our team. No – that’s not true. I was more proud.
I was lucky to have worked with such talented, skilled people – people who managed this most difficult challenge of their careers with integrity, discipline and self-esteem. They left in their wake an awakened leadership.
The United States is now well into the midst of a labor renaissance. The industrial revolution, the technological revolution – these are gone. Textbook management styles that serve hierarchical organizations and mass production will not serve us well in the near or long term.
What I learned as I climbed the outsourcing hill was that there was more than one way to scale the mountain. What I learned was that being right-brained was not a technical handicap. You see, creativity has its roots in diversity…diversity of thought and culture and people. And diversity is showing us the way.
Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Fear. Anger. These are some of the words I would use to describe emotions as it became clear that a large number of our positions would change or disappear. Our financial livelihoods were at stake. But, more, there was something profoundly personal in the emotions we confronted when a move to right-source our work turned to the word “outsource”. The word “outsource” carried with it a stigma that the day-to-day activities with which we all identified ourselves are no longer valued.
The truth was that our knowledge was so valued that we created vast quantities of documentation for our the team at the outsourcing firm. The truth was that the change to an outsourced application maintenance program was difficult for everyone involved – including the new IT staff (from the outsourcing firm) that would take over of our work. The truth was outsourcing was a competitive business decision.
Here’s what I learned when I opened my eyes to the change that was coming. I needed to bump up my own knowledge. I needed to understand the economics of change. I needed to draw upon leadership skills that I did not to date have to summon — both to cull skills from the team that remained as well as to develop skills in a new resource pool that was thousands of miles away. And throughout it all, we could not lose productivity.
I like to think of the stages of change as an upward arrow – not an endless cycle.
To say that outsourcing was not an upward climb would be a lie. But to say that there were no benefits to outsourcing, to say that the personal and professional challenges did not make me grow, would be totally inaccurate.
Many of my colleagues across the U.S. in a variety of corporations have lost their jobs when their employer “outsourced” or “right-sourced” Information Technology jobs. It is difficult to lose a job to which you have had connections, some sense of ownership, and – moreover – a steady paycheck. It is also difficult to be the employee left behind who keeps your job, but has lost colleagues and is suddenly confronted with a new way to get the work done. Bitternes can be rampant. Morale takes a nosedive. It is possibly the single greatest career challenge. For me, it has also been the greatest learning opportunity.
Outsourcing services challenged me personally and professionally. There were keen benefits to the corporation to outsource our work. There were extreme losses in knowledge and skill. But the drastic loss, forced me and my colleagues who remained in the organization to step up as leaders. An oft quoted axiom is “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Outsourcing forced change. It’s not always good to force change. Over the next few weeks, I will share my experiences with this type of change. I welcome your feedback. I welcome your expeirences. In the meantime – Happy Friday!