Outsourcing: How to have your cake and eat it

At a time when different parts of a business's operations may be outsourced to any continent, how do companies ensure that employees continue to identify with their employer and maintain the business brand?

by Sunday Times
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The job of maintaining loyalty among staff is in doubt when HR itself is being contracted out to far away suppliers, who are supposed to still act in line with the values of the organisation. The danger is that line managers may want to have their cake and eat it too: seeking low-cost back office support combined with employees who understand the company and maintain the brand's standards and identity.

According to Mark Withers, director of Mightywaters Consulting, it is not impossible for outsourcers to understand clients and build strong relationships with them, but it depends on building strong personal relationships between supplier and client manager. "Organisations need to work hard to make sure that people to whom they have outsourced act in line with the values and ethos of the organisation," says Withers.

One way to do this is to maintain the brand consistently in dealing with employees as well as with customers. "When the values and goals of the organisation are clearly set up from the beginning, everybody buys into them and there is consistency," says Chris Miller, managing director of Vivid Communications, which worked with Swedish fashion giant H&M on internal branding.

This is easier said than done, and the record of brand understanding among recruitment outsourcing agencies is very mixed indeed, says Martin Cerullo, director of resourcing communications for recruitment process consultancy Alexander Mann Solutions. He says relationships with suppliers can be distant and they may fail to understand what the employer's recruitment needs are. They may also simply not have the kind of potential employees that suit the outsourcing company's requirements.

Cerullo says: "We are conscious of the need to brief preferred suppliers about the brand, and we make sure all the candidates we put forward reinforce the brand message." This may involve bringing issues such as sickness, grievance and disciplinary cases back in-house by allocating human resources managers to deal with outsourced business units.

This shift toward taking back some control of outsourced human resources comes after line managers have begun to realise that suppliers are often not capable of taking on management responsibilities, says Withers. "Either they do it badly or not at all." This new appreciation may lead to a more healthy scepticism toward the cost to brand loyalty among employees of outsourcing.

Source: Show the world a happy face
Wendy Sloane
Sunday Times 29 April

Review by Joe Gill

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