Collaboration is the key

American businessman and entrepreneur JC Penney once famously opined that “every business is built on friendship”. You might think that a close, long-standing friendship with your service providers seems like a little too much to ask...

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American businessman and entrepreneur JC Penney once famously opined that “every business is built on friendship”.

You might think that a close, long-standing friendship with your service providers seems like a little too much to ask for - if so, then at the very least, it’s perhaps worth looking into how you can strengthen your relations for the better, in order to achieve success?

The onset of globalisation means that there can often be a disconnect between suppliers, clients, and even support services, who can sit miles apart, secure in their belief that the service they provide is effective, but with very little knowledge of what their partner stands for. 

A key philosophy for any successful outsourcing service should be that developing a long-term, healthy relationship is absolutely fundamental.  

The NOA has recently undertaken research, in conjunction with Kingston Business School, in which suppliers and clients were asked to rate how successful their own performance has been against that of their outsourcing partners.  All participants to the study were also asked to evaluate how strong their relationship was with their partner.   

Interestingly, the research found that those who viewed their relationships with partners as successful were far more likely to experience successful outsourcing. Conversely, it also found that those who rated their own outsourcing as less successful were also significantly lower in their rating of their relationship.  

So what makes for a strong, effective collaborative relationship? From the outset, it’s crucial that both partners identify one another for the right reasons. It’s not enough to find a solution that merely offers, let’s say, a skills fit at the right cost.

Organisations should aim to go the extra mile to understand as much of their outsourcing partner’s cultural values as possible before they make a decision. An outsourcer should aim to get under the skin of their partner and really understand the key areas in which they can best deliver value before agreeing to any undertaking if they are to avoid problems in the long run.  

However, the process of collaboration does not stop once a compatible partner has been identified.  Indeed, it should be of paramount importance that the relationship is managed on a continuous basis to ensure that the outsource operation functions to the best of its ability.   

A good ongoing relationship can help to resolve problems that may crop up, while regular communication can ensure robust, effective management of processes, as well as facilitate discussion on how to implement innovative changes to existing systems.

Some of the best collaborative relationships I’ve seen have resulted in suppliers joining their clients for strategy days, working alongside them to create innovative new ideas, a benefit shared by both when a milestone is reached. One of the keys of collaborative working is that existing supplier/client silos must be broken down to foster effective working relationships and that some of the SLAs can only be achieved by both sides collaborating.  

It may be overstating the case to say that business is built on friendship, but if the relationship is strong enough, with both sides willing to collaborate and understand the values of the other in the spirit of mutual benefit, then there’s no reason why the partnership cannot be successful and productive.