Sunday, March 20, 2005

Overcoming Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in Offshore Outsourcing

Offshore outsourcing can easily backfire if team members succumb to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). Interests of internal and external team members start to diverge, and everyone becomes less effective. The key to overcoming FUD is to bridge the gap between "us" and "them" so that internal and external team members are interdependent on one another for shared success.

At DoubleClick, we build virtual project teams that include full-time employees and consultants from our offshore vendor. The bottom line for us: on a day-to-day basis, teams that are successful think of one another as peers working for the same company. The only differences should be physical location and who writes the paychecks. Teams that aren't as successful tend to think of the offshore team members as a souce of cheap, overflow labor to take on everything that the folks in N. America don't want to be bothered with.

Our model doesn't work at all if our full-time employees are affraid that their jobs will be sent offshore. When guided by FUD, they can't have an interest in their offshore team members' success. One point we continually remind our onshore team about is that we are growing both teams, not just the offshore team. We're not laying off onshore personnel or reducing onshore headcount through voluntary attrition. No matter what we say, though, our actions have to do the hard work of convincing skeptics that their jobs are not in jeopardy.

FUD is not limited to full-time employees, either. Offshore team members can also be uncertain about their future if their client isn't fully engaging them in the project. For example, if the offshore team does not have access to enough, timely information about the business and the project requirements, they will be uncertain about their project's chances for success, upon which their future promotions will depend. They may tend to follow stated requirements to the letter than ask questions to clarify requirements. In the best-case scenario, requirements will need to be clarified and the project will be late. In the worst-case scenario, requirements will not be clarified and the deliverable will not deliver the expected value.

Narrowing the gap between client and vendor helps address both onshore and offshore team members' FUD. At DoubleClick, we started by building an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Some teams had a long history of working together and this atmosphere was already present. Others were just getting started and had to be actively coached to see their common goals and interdependence before they were open to mutual trust and respect.

Overcoming FUD, however, is only one step towards effective offshore outsourcing; doing so helps prevent team members from being de-motivated, but it does not necessarily drive team members to maximize performance. This is really "Motivation 101."

For a refresher on motivation, look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg's Dual Factor theory. In short, Mazlow and Herzberg's theories state that meeting the more basic human needs of physiology, safety, and belongingness is necessary to prevent people from being de-motivated, but not sufficient to motivate people to maximize performance. To drive performance, we must go a step further and address higher-level human needs like self-esteem and self-actualization for both onshore and offshore team members...

But this is a topic for another day.

1 comment:

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