The term "outsourcing", that is, leveraging the skills, talents, and/or resources of someone else for your own benefit, seems like a pretty business-centric concept. However, if you think about it, you can see examples all over the place. In fact, Mother Nature, savvy businesswoman that she is, provides us with numerous case studies in successful outsourcing.

Take, for example, the humble clownfish: a cute, yet small and slow sea-beast that faced a dilemma early in its existence: a) learn how to swim a lot faster, b) quickly sprout razor-sharp fangs, or c) go extinct. But rather than wasting all the evolutionary time and energy required to swim faster or grow fangs, the ever-resourceful clownfish decided to outsource the key to its survival and partner up with the poisonous sea anemone. In exchange for a few food scraps, the anemone protects the clownfish from predators, ensuring the continued survival of the species. In today's economic climate, many organizations are facing the same time/resources dilemma as the clownfish. As such, they are reticent to hire "new head count" for fear of another business downturn. "Do more with less" has been replaced with "do more with the team you have." In many cases, organizations realize capacity constraints jeopardize the ability to meet internal demand for products, services, or other deliverables needed to move the business forward.

Many companies will expend available resources on outsourcing or contracting with other firms possessing a particular expertise in the area of need. The key benefit to such a strategy is when the project is over or deliverable is in place – the outsourced partner does not represent a continued payroll expense as adding a new team member does. Further, the outsourced partner will bring a team of resources to the project, enabling faster delivery so the business can begin to enjoy the benefits of the business change sooner.

But how can you be sure your outsource partner selection will be as fruitful as that of the clownfish and anemone? Just because you aren't hiring a new full time employee doesn't mean you shouldn't use the same well tested selection and hiring strategies. To that end, here are three tips to improve your odds.

  1. Can they do the job? This comes down to credibility and skill. Start by reviewing samples of the outsourced firm's past work. Ask to see recent projects addressing similar business challenges for their other clients. Are the samples professional? Does the level of quality match or exceed what your organization has come to expect? Also, don't hesitate to ask for references – and check them! Any outsourced partner worth doing business with can provide references who will be happy to comment on the success of a past project.
  2. Will they do the job? This one is a bit trickier. The key is to know what measures/metrics you are wanting to move (increase revenues, decrease costs, improve cycle time, etc.) and have a clear understanding of the desired business outcome. Then, working back from that business outcome, define the role of the outsourced partner in getting your organization to the new desired state. It's important here to articulate the timeline as well. Quality outsourced partners are not afraid of committing to a timeline and will embrace being held to internal "measures and metrics" when helping you make a measurable impact for your organization.
  3. Are they a good fit? After checking off the first two boxes above, will the outsourced partner "fit" with your organization's culture and norms? Are they pleasant to be around? Likable? Polite? Responsive? Attentive? Trust-worthy? Beyond being able and willing to do the job, will they be a good representative of your department when working with your internal constituents?

So there you have it: can they, will they, and are they a good fit? These are three critical questions to ask about a potential organism whose venom you plan to utilize in order to protect yourself ... or an outsourced partner joining your team's efforts to move your business forward. Three "yes" votes will help you enjoy the benefits of allocating your precious resources in a way that can move your organization ahead without adding to payroll over the long term.

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