Outsourcing jobs


A few weeks ago, there was a government report indicating that outsourcing jobs to other countries could benefit companies in the United States.

I don’t know much about the entire story, but the general thought seemed interesting. I mean, we all understand the bottom-line financials as one way where companies try to benefit from the outsourcing process. But such a viewpoint generally gets a hushed-tones type of presentation, where people understand that most folks don’t look at domestic job losses as having benefits.

I talked with a good friend of mine that works for a company that hires roughly half of their staff in other countries. My question was about the benefits involved in outsourcing. He generically responded that he didn’t have many thoughts on benefits, since most were simple economics. But he did say that outsourcing can create headaches that are often never anticipated before a company takes the outsourcing-to-other-countries leap. Here’s a basic rundown of what he said happens quite often:

1. When having to work as a team, members from other countries put a group at an immediate disadvantage because of communication problems. First, and the most nightmarish, depending on what country you are working with business hours don’t match up. He mentioned one group that was a day ahead of him by time zone, and that it always took a minimum of three days to get a single question answered. He would receive material, but by the time it he saw it, the work day for the sender was over. When he would send it back with questions or suggestions, they didn’t receive his feedback until after he had gone home for the day. In short, something with two or three questions, even small ones, could take a week to resolve if the answer to the first question was needed before addressing the second. Second, while stressing he wasn’t thinking of what most people might traditionally and immediately imagine as language barriers, language and similar issues of understanding can be a problem even when everything appears to be clear. The need to be specific and understood creates a certain formality or rigidity that sometimes results in incomplete efforts. The drive to be understood creates a lack of understanding. For example, ask for a person to complete programs 1 and 2 and they do. But they don’t check to see if the results work. Why? Because no one was asked to use the programs, just to write them.

2. Any company working with multiple operations, even in the same country, can have difficulties when people are working on a project but aren’t in the same place. Sometimes shortcuts or solutions that can be shared in an office aren’t as efficiently passed along to other locations. Consistency problems happen, even with the most stringent of procedures to keeps things consistent in place.

3. Motivation is different. Deadlines mean different things. Often times my friend said he would work late not only for his own work, but to finish the work he was expecting from personnel in another country. It wasn’t that their efforts were poor or that their skills were lacking. They just weren’t on the same page with what was supposed to be done, or a deadline that was rapidly nearing, and since it was his responsibility to get it done and make it work… well… he just gave up and did it himself.

In essence, yes it might make financial sense to outsource jobs to foreign countries. It might even be something that improves international trade and brings in alternative solutions. But you can’t ignore factors that might slow down work, increase demands upon specific staff members and lower morale.

It’s not showing anything that is a benefit to outsourcing. But it does provide a bit of insight into areas that I think often get overlooked if even considered. I was able to assemble it in about three e-mails.

I’ve often believed that the best consultant for any company is already on that company’s payroll. Grab a front-line employee… grab an employee that is involved in the literal and figurative heavy-lifting tasks. Instead of giving some supposed outside expert hundreds of thousands of dollars, offer that employee a free dinner and tickets to a show for the family or perhaps one or two hundred dollars. Ask them, and listen to the answers.

Perfect concept? Hardly. Not perfect at all. But not expensive. And I would guarantee you that more often than not, you’ll fill a few pages of a notebook with interesting observations.

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In the early days of the In My Backpack web site, I was trying several different ways to present material.

My journal entries were referred to as “A Momentary Lapse…” for a period of time, which eventually transitioned to “Are you chewing gum?” for a bit. After a few restarts, modifications, and relaunches, the Now Playing area took over.

One of occasional segments—appearing perhaps ten times a year or so—was called Random Thoughts, which I described as…

Too long for “A Momentary Lapse…”… Not enough for a full article… Need to get them off my “ideas to work on” list…

This essay was originally created and presented as a Random Thoughts entry. I’m bringing it back as a From the Backpack offering because I’m curious about the content and the effort. But, worth noting, it may still seem a bit incomplete, needing more development, and may or may not have gone through some additional edits and re-writes beyond my usual finds when searching the archives.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com