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BPO and Continuous Improvement: It’s about the Talent

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By Martin Conboy

These days, according to all the research and articles written about it, BPO is no longer about reducing costs through labour arbitrage, but adding value through innovation. However, that’s much easier said than done. The crucial challenge in maintaining collaborative BPO relationships that drive innovation and add value is having the right talent with the right skill sets and attitude supported by the right systems and technology.

Both service providers and customers need to insure that the talent or skill sets necessary for collaboration in place.  Unfortunately, the basic skill sets that are needed for collaboration and continuous improvement are often not present in the ranks of BPO customers, and frequently they are lacking with BPO service providers.

The onus is on providers to take the first steps in re-aligning their approach. It is incumbent upon them to  acquire and develop talent with the right skill sets  and attitude.

For many people employed in the BPO industry, work is about a strict adherence to procedures and process.  It’s a way of working that’s driven by metrics under a framework of command and control. It’s about the number of transactions performed per hour. It’s about working harder to achieve targets, rather than smarter. Best practice tells us that we should be measuring outcomes rather than an artificial measurement like AHT.

Collaboration, which drives innovation, is a different model. It depends on living and breathing people, not process. It depends on outstanding communication — because collaboration requires thinking and acting together. Technology can help facilitate this, but we’re still coming to terms on how we implement it and best to do it. With it comes a new set of critical skills.

The ability to accept and be responsive to continuous change is most probably paramount. BPO and outsourcing teams and leaders should aim to initiate change rather than react to it. You want leaders and team members who are curious and love learning new things, who are willing to learn, and want to contribute to the success of the team.

The confidence to make decisions is important. Collaborative decision-making can fall into the trap of an issue being over analysed  and no clear path or  action being taken. In general, any decision is better than no decision. Usually a blended approach is the best, between independent decisions, and collaborative decisions factoring in the best input from internal and customer teams. Here you need people who are willing to share knowledge and generate ideas for mutual gain/success. In our brave new world it’s all about team. As they say there is no ‘I’ in team, but there is and ‘m’ and ‘e’.

It’s important to foster continuous communication. Two way communication is the glue that forms the bond between provider and customer and holds great teams together.  Developing people’s listening skills and the ability to clearly and succinctly convey their point of view is important. A structured meeting process and avenues for communication are necessary, but not too much where people are attending pointless meetings or over promoting their point of view.

Promote Self-Awareness. Committing to know yourself deeply and showing a willingness to deal with difficult interpersonal issues. Whether you want to improve a single relationship or change the culture of an entire organisation, an important step is to increase people’s self-awareness. The ability to make effective choices and live an authentic life depends to a great extent on a capacity to be self-reflective.

Expect and manage conflict to reach consensus. A conflict and a fight are not the same thing. Conflicts are normal and are largely unavoidable in a BPO relationship, whereas fights are emotional, often personal, disagreements which do not lead forward to consensus.  It’s a matter of seeing conflicts, issues or under-performance  as a sign that something is not right in  the terms of the agreement or in the relationship itself—and that solving the issue is in the interest of both parties

Appropriate structures, SLAs, contracts, reporting and control, still need to be in place.The challenge is to strike the right balance. With none, things fall into chaos, but too much can have the effect of stifling innovation, flowing forward movement, and even hampering growth. After all the reason we need written agreements is so that when we have a disagreement we can refer back to what we originally agreed upon.

In order for people to work with other people, there needs to be a fundamental set of collaborative practices and behaviours at play. Such as respect for the individual and their viewpoint, awareness of the strengths that each person brings to the joint activity, commitment to work through issues to completion, and trust that each person is working towards the best outcome for the whole

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July 30, 2014
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