The outsourcing myth

Outsourcing has hung around our profession for a while. And it is easy to see why it’s an attractive proposition for a number of reasons:

  • For the CFO it removes headcount and overhead
  • For the HRD it allows the focus to shift to strategy
  • For the CEO it provides consistent service and support

Which in many senses is an organisational wet dream.

And whilst many organisations have moved away from the third-party outsource, they are, instead, setting up internal service models to provide HR services back in to the main organization. The insourced, outsource, if you’d like.

I’ve never quite been able to get my head around this. The arguments are simple and yet at the same time completely contradictory to the demands that I hear from line managers, employees and CEOs whenever I talk to them.

  • We want someone there to support us, someone who understands our business
  • We want to be treated like human beings, not part of a process
  • We want HR to be closer to the business

The simple process of moving HR services in to a separate organization, in to a separate location and away from the rest of the organization is directly in conflict with every single opinion trend that there is. Yet still we persist.

For most employees, the only contact they have with HR is on a transactional basis. The way in which we are perceived is based on this and the data that we need to understand our organization comes through these interactions. It just makes no sense whatsoever.

Rather than pushing away the bits of HR that seem like an inconvenience, we should be looking to drive service excellence. Rather than pushing it out in to some shed in the middle of a godforsaken town with “low labour costs” (for this read high unemployment), we should be pulling this in to our core.

Outsourcing has a beautifully convenient appeal. But as a wise person said, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”.

Stand and deliver

We all have a friend, or someone we know who is a little bit flaky. They say they’re going to meet you for lunch and then send a text at the last-minute. You invite them for dinner and they arrive 45 minutes late. You need their help and they’re far too busy, despite the fact that you spent the whole of the previous weekend doing something for them.

And we know how much it sucks.

One thing I’ve noticed about HR teams over the years is that they can be the organisational equivalent of that flaky friend. On one hand demanding that the rest of the organisation complies with their timelines and timescales (performance review cycle, anyone?) and at the same time committing and not delivering and being sloppy with turnaround times. It’s a hypocrisy that isn’t lost on other parts of the business.

I don’t think there is one reason why this happens, I think there are multiple causes. HR tends to be the recipient of lots of bitty work. For the employee or manager that “bit” is important, but for the department, adrift in a sea of “bits” it can often get overlooked. Also, HR tends to lack completer-finishers, the people who will go that extra mile to make sure that things are delivered to perfection. And finally, we just tend to do too much “stuff”, mostly unimportant, fabricated, self-serving stuff too.

HR teams that are valued, that add value and are well-respected, analyse, identify, commit and deliver. On the big and the small. They can deliver the really big important initiatives on time and to spec, but they can also handle the million small things that make a difference to the individual employees within the organisation. And they can do it day in and day out.

But most importantly of all, the team needs to value delivery and take pride in making things happen. Too often failure to deliver is blamed on external factors, stakeholder reaction, lack of resource or “too much on”. When the real cause is a lack of focus, attention to detail and pure passion to deliver excellence. It doesn’t always go right and sometimes we need to hold our hands up and accept that, (as one of my team recently said, “we didn’t cover ourselves in glory there”) but realising when things go wrong, means you know what “right” looks like.

Professionalising the HR function and focus on service delivery doesn’t require it to be outsourced to “experts” who will work to a process manual but really don’t give a damn about your organisation or your people, it requires us as professionals to instil the right mindset.

We tolerate the flaky friend because we like them, we might even need them, but we LOVE the friend that is always there when they said and exceeds our expectations. And if HR wants to be taken seriously, it needs to be THAT friend.