Nine Questions to Assess an Important Aspect of Outsourcing

“What gets measured gets done.” Outsourcing consultants often tout this well-known maxim from business management guru Tom Peters in relation to measuring an outsourcing service provider’s performance. But there’s an important aspect that many companies don’t measure – the relationship itself.

When I talk with outsourcing customers and ask them how – and how often – they assess their relationship rather than the provider’s performance, some answer that they reviewed its status on a dashboard in a governance meeting at least annually. Many answer that they “just know” how the relationship is doing based on the fact that there are no conflicts or based on their plan to add more functions to the scope.

It surprises me how many answer that they don’t really know if the relationship itself goes through any sort of formal assessment.

Stephen Dent, CEO of Partnership Continuum, Inc., and a renowned expert who advises companies on building and sustaining highly effective, trusting partnering relationships, says that the relationship aspect in an outsourcing arrangement is what enables:

  • Open communication
  • Creativity
  • Agility
  • Resiliency

“Smart partners win not only because of what they do but, even more importantly, from how they do it,” says Dent. “They win from leveraging their connectedness and from valuing the building of their relationship.”

And if the relationship factor is valued, it gets measured.

Does your organization have a relationship assessment program in place? To find out, take this simple assessment. Simply answer each question with “yes” or “no.”

  1. Do you have a jointly developed strategic road map or framework in place?
  2. Do you have a measurement system in place to document and track your relationship’s mutual benefits?
  3. Are the relational expectations between you and your partner documented?
  4. Do you have a jointly developed partnering/relationship agreement in addition to the contractual agreements?
  5. Do you measure the relational components along with the economic benefits?
  6. Is trust a formal indicator that is measured and regularly reported within the relationship?
  7. Have the relationship managers received formal training on how to build and sustain partnering relationships?
  8. Do the executive sponsors of the relationship meet at least twice a year (and face-to-face at least once a year) to review the relationship’s progress and its strategic relevance?
  9. Have your joint successes been prominently displayed in both organizations’ locations?

Add up your “yes” and “no” responses. If you have three or more “no” responses, you don’t really have a relationship management program in place.

Dent explains that partnering entities often fail to put a measurement system in place to document and track the relationship’s benefits. Documenting the benefits avoids the perception that one partner is gaining benefits at the expense of the other, which builds resentment and leads to mistrust.

Another benefit of having a relationship assessment program is having a separate relationship agreement. This helps in managing through situations where key people leave the relationship and move on to other roles. “As relationship members change over time, previous agreements – especially around relationship expectations – can get lost in the shuffle,” states Dent. He advises that new managers coming into a relationship need to be briefed on the relationship’s culture – not just the deliverables – so they have a clear understanding of their behavioral role in sustaining and enhancing the relationship.


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