The Human side of outsourcing – managing people change

In an earlier article I discussed my research into managing the transition of people in an outsourcing situation. I highlighted the problems people experience, anxiety, lack of control, resistance and reduced performance. Many also found it very difficult to treat their previous employer as a client, and were not able to feel a part of the new company to which they had been transferred.

An outsourcing transfer can be viewed as a form of transition. This change process involves involuntary movement from one company to another, with possible similarities, from the staff point of view, to mergers and acquisitions. The transfer may also include staff reductions or ‘downsizing’, and the new organization will make some effort to develop a relationship with their new staff in the form of organizational socialization. All of these transition processes are likely to impact upon perceptions of justice – in other words, whether people feel they have been treated fairly or not. These perceptions are important as there is substantial evidence that if people feel they have been treated unfairly they are far less likely to perform well. However, of specific interest here is the repeated finding that good attention to procedural justice concerns can increase perceptions of fairness even if the outcomes are unfavourable. If we assume that, at least initially, staff will view the likely outcome of being forcibly transferred to another organization as unfair, it may be possible that procedural justice will reduce their perceptions of unfairness.

What do we mean by Justice? Distributive justice considers perceptions of fairness of outcomes (equity, equality, and needs). Procedural justice emphasises the importance of fairness of the methods or procedures used (decision criteria, voice, control of the process), and Interactional justice is based on the perceived fairness of the interpersonal treatment received, whether those involved are treated wish sensitivity, dignity and respect, and also the nature of the explanations given.

I have had some people ask me why they should bother about how people feel if they are no longer working in their organisation.

For most companies who outsource, the staff will still be required to carry out work for them, albeit under the management of the outsourcing company. It is also possible that at some stage the organization will wish to back-source (bring people back in house). My ongoing research indicates that organizations will experience problems if they do not attend to the needs of their staff during the transfer process. To manage justice perceptions it is important to ensure you do communicate and that the process is viewed as fair.

Some of the practical considerations for the transfer itself therefore include; effective and ongoing communication of the business rationale, a focus on procedural and distributive justice, training of managers to ensure open two-way communication and interactional justice is enabled, and accepting and working with the emotional aspects of the transfer rather than pretending it does not exist.

An aspect not often considered at all by organizations is after the transfer. It will be important to ensure remaining staff receive clear communications regarding the changing roles (their own and their ex-colleagues). A balance will need to be made between letting go, so that transferred staff do not feel they cannot move on, and creating barriers to communication. Most importantly, consider how the contract influences your relationship with them. In the UK for example if the tupe agreement includes a mapping-on of salary increases or other awards it is vital that a process is put in place to ensure this happens, rather than forcing the transferred staff to continually monitor the situation.

So do think about the people side of the transfer if you are outsourcing, and remember that you need them to be motivated and to continue to perform. Achieving this will be difficult and should not just be left to the company you have chosen to outsource to.