Month: May 2009

Book Review of Outsourcing and Human Resource Management by Ruth Taplin editor

Outsourcing and Human Resource Management: An International Survey (Routledge Studies in the Growth Economies of Asia): An International Survey (Routledge Studies in the Growth Economies of Asia) (Hardcover)
by Ruth Taplin (Editor)

Now it is tricky for me to say too much about this book because I am likely to be a bit biased – I was involved in writing three of the chapters. However I do think it is an extremely good book, and offers a very much needed analysis of a wide range of issues around outsourcing. Hats off to Ruth Taplin for gathering together these chapters, she has made an excellent job of developing knowledge in this area.

Here is the Synopsis
Outsourcing is an increasingly popular strategy deployed by a variety of institutions, including banks, multinational companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This book assesses the problems and solutions for those attempting to outsource through an analysis of human resource management, insourcing, lifecycles of the project, insurance requirements, operational management and recruitment within the context of the financial services industry, automotive and IT industries of Japan, North and South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Eastern Europe, China and India. Including detailed comparative case studies, this book: considers how outsourcing can best be made to work; explores the human side of outsourcing; offers practical advice for improving organizational relationships and performance; looks at important practices such as insourcing; and, provides much needed analysis of the risk and insurance issues involved in outsourcing.

The Shell drivers strike shows failings of simplistic outsource evaluation

Shell Drivers strike and close down business – how not to outsource

So the Shell drivers are striking because they have had enough of relatively low pay – squeezed by their employer ever since they were transferred in an outsourcing deal.

Clearly someone at Shell decided that driving tankers was not their ‘core’ business, and/or that they could do this more cheaply if they could transfer it to another company who ‘specialises’ in this sort of thing.  Research shows that, particularly in service jobs such as driving, cleaning, catering, outsourcing companies do squeeze the salaries and terms of contract – how else do they make money?

But the one thing Shell clearly forgot is how important the work is to their success. You should never outsource things that are business critical! I have heard a number of senior managers say things like ‘well it doesn’t matter if the staff are upset about the outsourcing, they don’t work for us anymore’ – but they do!

I have written about these issues elsewhere – and I know we have some experts on BizFace who understand the contractual aspects in detail (my research is on the staffing side), so I hope this generates some discussion. I suspect a few outsourcing companies will be miffed – but have a look at the advice below and think whether the Shell situation fits:

  • Don’t outsource a ‘problem’ – get your own act in order first.
  • Don’t outsource purely to save money – there are many hidden costs in outsourcing and management time is often spent on the contact for years ahead.
  • Don’t outsource something that may be critical to your service function – think carefully about what is meant by ‘core competency’
  • Do work through all the potential problems that may occur – you will be relying on the law of the market not the law of employment contracts. Risks are often underestimated – particularly the employee aspects.
  • If transferring staff do follow procedures in a fair manner and ensure that you ‘over communicate’ so they understand what is happening and the rationale.

Also consider:

  • Assess links to business strategy and potential for activity to yield competitive advantage – if low outsourcing may be a solution.
  • Also assess the internal capability of your enterprise to perform, and how difficult it would be to improve – if low, outsourcing is a possibility.
  • Consider the future, how clear is your understanding of whether and how this activity will develop and change in importance – if stable and certain, outsourcing may be considered.
  • How integrated is this function with other areas – if highly integrated and complex, outsourcing may not be useful.

And always remember – if something goes wrong, how much of an impact will this have on your business?

What are the key starting points for a successful Outsource deal?

The key starting points for a successful Outsource

Knowledge of what you want

There must be clear scoping of the demand and what is being put to the market. Within the objectives for the outsourcing there must be consistency and reasonableness of demands – cost reduction, as a key aim together with increase service may be inconsistent. Sign off internally why we are doing this and determine what is driving the whole process is agreed within the organisation – this is important from the Vendors perspective as well. If the vendor knows that cost reduction or technology refreshes are key objectives the response can be tailored to precise needs. Furthermore, objectives can change over time and the original case for an Outsource can be undermined by events. Revisiting the rational is an important task during the process – don’t be driven by the running train.

A clear process of acquisition

Decide sole source versus competitive sourcing to the market. Sole sourcing usually suggested (particularly by the vendor) if there is a history with the supplier and there is a time constraint – but there are significant negatives. Loss of leverage, not being able to compare alternatives, less aggressive pricing, and a sole source could have high impacts such as the legitimacy of the deal. Last but not least, the process may actually take longer as there is no time pressure that comes from a competitive environment.

In a competitive bid position cost savings have a better chance of being realised, suppliers can come with more innovative proposals that the in-house supplier – at least in principal. The process can actually be quicker as the client can drive the competitive process – by a strict time based approach to the process for example. But on the other side competitive bidding is more resource intensive, for the supplier as well as the client.

Be precise, not prescriptive, comprehensive but concise in the layout – focus on key objectives. We need the ‘what’ not the how – avoid laying down all sorts of preconditions about how the service is to be delivered – that’s the suppliers job in the proposal. I have seen in several RFP’ s detailed specifications of what packages to use and how precisely the service is to be delivered – effectively closing off all innovative solutions that may have been available from the vendor.

RFI is a high-level document inviting general response and can be used as a test for possible solutions and to pre-select candidates for the bid. Usually there is no bid price given by the suppliers – nor should we expect too much detail here. An RFP invites a formal response and takes longer for the vendor and the customer to evaluate. Ensure we are being realistic and take care that the quality and clarity in the RFP promotes conformance in the proposals received.


In negotiation avoid shortcuts and set specific goals – and ensure they are delivered. Evaluate, clarify and frame negotiations to keep competition alive. Document all discussions and carry out frequent self-assessment. Use a term sheet, this helps drive and track the discussion and allows apples to apples comparison – over time the term sheet can evolve into a contract

Manage the up and down communication channels carefully. Make sure no seniors speak to vendors and control vendor access to senior management. Some vendors are good at getting around the formal process to the senior management and exploiting this to short-circuit the tender process. We all know of ‘golf course’ deals that cut through a bid process and enable vendors to return to the customer team informing them they ‘know’ the requirements of senior management.

Keep talking to vendors and meet frequently to discuss the proposals – the more open and interactive the better the eventual outcome.


First of all vendors to this for a living – often the vendor sales team have been doing this for years and when this is done will move onto the next. The customer side on the other hand may have not done this before or at least the team carrying out the supplier proposal evaluation may be completely new compared to the last time the outsource process was done.

Also some of the customer team will also have a day job to contend with – don’t forget this (or holidays etc.) plan capacities well. Plan well, resource well and set realistic time scales – time pressure can act in the vendor’s favour and allow skipping of important details. Never let issues that should be solved at negotiation drift into ‘we will solve this later’ discussions. They never are and these can be a source of major conflict later. In an old course, some time ago on bargaining it was said: ‘It is better for the negotiation to break down rather than the agreement’. All-important details must be cleared before signing a contract.

Partnership rhetoric will appear at some stage in the discussions from the vendor side. Partnership usually means giving all the risks to the vendor from the customer side or to closing off competition from the vendor side (sole sourcing). Partnership can be invoked to get over tricky points and put them off until later stages or to close out competition. Partnership should be based on performance and strict business principles not waffle

Maximum gain minimum vendor pain during the proposal stage – and remember to ask what we are looking for from outsourcing until we know what it is!


Companies using only online applications may be guilty of age discrimination by excluding those unable to access the internet

Had this in from Personnel Today – highlighting that many homes still do not have internet access, and that there is still an age gap (although I suspect that is changing, I will check the data). All the same, if you insist people only apply online you are excluding some workers:

  • Companies using only online applications may be guilty of age discrimination by excluding those unable to access the internet: 22 October 2007 10:34
  • Companies who hire staff using only online application forms could be found guilty of age discrimination as they are excluding certain age groups unable to access the internet, a law firm has warned.
  • Many companies now use standardised web-based forms when recruiting to cut costs and reduce paperwork. Companies are also doing this to avoid the legal repercussions of candidates claiming age discrimination if they have stated their age on a CV and have not been put forward for an interview.

But law firm Wedlake Bell said this could backfire if the application forms are only accessible online as it precludes older age groups who may not have access to the internet or are not computer-literate.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2006, 55% of people aged 50 or over in the UK had not used a computer in the previous three months (compared to 13% of 16- to 30-year-olds).

Other figures show that only 61% of households currently have internet access.

David Israel, partner in the employment division at Wedlake Bell, said: “Companies who give job applicants the sole option of applying for a position through a standardised online form could find themselves challenged in a tribunal for being ageist.

“Companies should always offer, for example, to post application forms to people who are unable to download them.”

Age Discrimination