There is much talk these days about innovation in outsourcing. Clients expect it but don’t value it enough to want to pay for it. Providers say they have it, but too often the client ends up dissatisfied.
Outsourcing providers claim that they can bring a fresh perspective to problems that may have plagued executives for months or even years. Often, the so called "new" thinking is comprised of solutions recycled from other engagements and repackaged as "best practices." While there’s nothing wrong with replicating a proven success model, at least to drive cost savings and efficiencies early on in an engagement, inevitably stagnation will occur. It’s no coincidence that outsourcing contracts typically run three years. This is the point at which the client may "go shopping" for innovation and the RFP process begins.
What can an outsourcing provider do to save clients from experiencing the 3-year itch?
||Innovation: Revolutionizing Outsourcing
CREATE THE CONDITIONS FOR INNOVATION
Solutioning in business is a creative endeavor. And what we call "innovation" is really just good old fashioned creativity. With the exception of the rare genius overflowing with ideas, the same thought process used to create a best-selling novel or museum-quality painting can be used to increase contact center ROI. The following list provides a few of the conditions necessary for innovation to flourish.
Lack of judgment or evaluation: Fear of judgment effectively kills innovation. When ideas are subject to constant, immediate evaluation, the person whose idea is questioned will be more concerned with defending the idea than in thinking up a new one. In an outsourcing situation, this can be very difficult to avoid. When there's a problem to be solved, especially if the problem is ongoing and is causing revenue loss or has some other financial impact, tension and impatience is often the norm. This is where a value partnership approach between business owners and service providers can help create a psychologically safe environment where new ideas can be heard without being immediately evaluated.
- Presence of non-experts: It has been said that innovations can only come from amateurs as the expert knows too many reasons why the innovation is not possible. Alex Osborn, one of the pioneers in harnessing creativity in the workplace, suggests that those on the periphery of the business under discussion frequently make suggestions, which may be exceptional solutions on their own or may be the ones that spark the mind of the expert in coming up with the winning solution.
- Spontaneity: In the context of brainstorming sessions, it’s often helpful to refrain from posing the question or problem to the group ahead of time as the participants will likely apply judgment to their own ideas and censor those which unbeknownst to them may have led someone else in the direction of a viable solution. On the flip side, another person may become married to a particular idea before the meeting even begins and be constantly defending one position.
HOW THE 20% DOCTRINE CAN CONTRIBUTE TO INNOVATION
A recently published book by Ryan Tate, The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business explores the concept of how employees taking a defined portion of work time to focus on personal projects can be a good thing. The practice may have originated at 3M, where employees were allotted 15% of their time to "chase rainbows" and work on their own ideas. Yahoo continued the trend with "Hack Days" where staff was given 24 hours to build whatever software project they wanted. Google followed up with a "20 percent time" initiative which dictated that employees could use up to 20% of time at work to pursue projects they had conceived themselves. AdSense, Gmail, Orkut, Google News, Google Reader, Google Suggest and Google Moderator were all developed from 20% time.
The philosophy behind the 20% doctrine encompasses all of the conditions necessary for innovation described earlier.
- There is a lack of judgment, as the choice of project is at the complete discretion of the employee.
- Non-experts are often included. According to a
, at 3M, "15% time is extended to everyone, not just the scientists (you can hear the cheers in marketing), the idea being: Who knows where the next Post-It Note will come from?"
- The projects are usually spontaneous, arising from thoughts or ideas that come about during a typical work day but that the employee would normally not have time or opportunity to pursue.
Whether you call it a hack day, down time, or 20% time, innovation is expensive. However, most would argue that lack of innovation is a business killer. And whether it’s a piece of integrated software that makes it easier to track compliance or a revised workflow for an IVR, 20% time (or a smaller variation) could be the way forward.
Outsourcing service providers must ensure that they are proactively addressing future needs of their clients and succeeding in becoming true value partners. This requires an active “innovation culture” and that includes the necessary framework across functions that support the process. This includes tweaks to performance management, rewards and recognition, systems and a process that enables the “bubbling up” of ideas and innovation teams speedily and effectively.
On the other end, aligning any innovation efforts with real client problems is an important prerequisite (e.g., jointly reviewing client objectives and the outsourcing provider’s innovations in the quarterly business reviews) to ensure the applicability of ideas. This will ensure that these ideas really “add value” to clients, and help solve their business challenges.
Is 20% a waste of time or can it revolutionize outsourcing? Does it have applications beyond product development to service and delivery as well? How much control over innovation projects should be placed in the hands of the client?