“Outing” some of the Downsides of Outsourcing

In a previous post, I promised to give an update on the outsourcing (sorry “co-sourcing”) project that’s been going on at the corporation where I used to work. Who could have guessed that it’s not going as smoothly as anticipated? Here’s just one anecdote from a single division of the company on the effects of the latest fad gone bad.

Ann was an AP clerk whose position was eliminated last month due to co-sourcing. Prior to making the decision to let her go, no one bothered to ask Ann what she actually did or how she did it. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the new brainiacs at corporate HQ mandated that her position be eliminated on a date certain. Ann is gone.

Poor Marie! Her misfortune was geography. She just happened to occupy the cubicle that was next to Ann’s. Marie is a staff accountant who has been with company for two years. Her only interface with Ann was the fact that they sometimes ate lunch together. Now Marie is being inundated with piles of mail, requests for emergency checks and investigations into why suppliers are not being paid. The operating and purchasing folks could care less about the co-sourcing project. They need things done. But why are they all now coming to Marie? According to these folks, the answers are simple but equally ridiculous:
1. Ann was their “go to” person and Ann took care of them,
2. Ann was in the Accounting Dept. and Marie is in the Accounting Dept.,
3. Ann is gone and Marie sat next to her and
4. Ann and Marie were seen together.
Although Marie protests and tells them that she has nothing to do with accounts payable, they pester her incessantly anyway. Some will even wait for her to vacate her cubicle and then secretly swoop in to drop requests on her desk or chair. Marie’s voicemail and E-mail inbox are now full to overflowing. Marie is overwhelmed.

Marie’s boss, Jim, is in the same boat. He’s only been with company for six months. Jim was initially told about the co-sourcing project and the fact that Ann would be leaving. Coming to work for a large corporation, Jim assumed that that the project had been well thought out. Get real Jim! Jim is now being attacked by even higher level operating and purchasing folks over the same issues. In Jim’s case, however, the frenzy goes beyond simply dealing with the needs of that constituency. It seems that Ann performed a lot of other accounting related tasks that were not exactly of an accounts payable nature. Ann had been with the company for over ten years and had survived a variety of previous reorganizations and downsizings (sorry “rightsizings”). Over the years and through necessity, Ann had taken on a variety of different tasks, all of which were mundane but no less essential. No disrespect to Ann, but in a lot of cases, she was really unaware of how important some of these duties were. She just performed them with aplomb. Now Jim is finding out exactly how deep in the hole he is.

Jim has complained to the co-sourcing project leader at corporate HQ. He was informed that only certain accounts payable functions were being co-sourced and that many related duties were still his responsibility. But never fear, the bulk of the tasks had been transferred and he was only being left with a few. Uh Huh! He was also reminded of the cost savings associated with the project. In other words, “Too Bad.” Jim has also gone to his superiors to make them aware of the other problems. Tough luck, Jim! YOU should have thought of that earlier! Now Jim and Marie are stuck “holding the bag”. They are frantic, frazzled, and overwhelmed. Marie is actively seeking employment elsewhere.

If my hunch is correct, you can multiply this story a hundred fold throughout the many divisions of the corporation.

As I’ve written before in the post Ed’s “No Excuses” Program: Had it really worked for thirty years or thirty years ago? dated 3/16/2007 and filed under Never Fail to Amaze, it doesn’t seem to matter whether outsourcing, co-sourcing, cost reduction programs, etc make any sense or are apprporpriate in the context of an organization. What matters only is that it’s the latest fad. If GE, Toyota, and Microsoft are doing it, it must be good. They know what they’re doing and we must do the same. The whizz-bangs at corporate HQ are brilliant. We must trust them to know what’s best. Of course none of this will ever affect them, so it’s always OK.

Instead of analyzing the workload first to eliminate the arbitrary, superfluous and redundant tasks and requirements, the focus is always on cutting the resources. What a back-asswards approach to problem solving! Even after reducing staff, they will continuously come up with new requirements and even more compressed timetables – turning the arbitrary, the goofy, and superfluous into the essential.

When will they learn?

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One Response to ““Outing” some of the Downsides of Outsourcing”

  1. Carrie Says:

    Your post sounds way too familiar to me. Everyone has those weird odd jobs that take way too much time, which management refuses to acknowledge takes more than 10 minutes per week to complete.

    On a different note, I’ve never had duties that were completely outsourced away from me. The duties were outsourced, but I was still accountable. I would spend so much time making sure the tasks were being completed, or gathering up the endless necessary information to send to the outsourcers, it would end up being more efficient for me to have done the work myself.

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