Monday, October 31, 2011

DIY* Silly - A Bane Called Outsourcing

One of my colleagues asked me today if we could outsource coordination of office events to an event management company. It sounded like an efficient solution compared to the pain that we undertake every time some event is being organized. Event management is definitely not one of our core competencies, and the argument looked like a case-closed one in favor of an external vendor. But, it also set me thinking. 3 or 4 events that we coordinated for our team was a resounding success. Be it a party, an annual competition, or a Himalayan trip. A team of 4 or 5 of us did the groundwork, another bunch did the running around, and a select few did the final coordination. And thanks to the teamwork, we could give each other high-fives at the end of each event. There was so much learning, a fair degree of control over what's happening, and most importantly the development of a sense of camaraderie. Something that would rarely occur if we used a third party vendor.

Which brings me to the fundamental premise of outsourcing - efficiency gains by weeding out non-core functions. To use another example, my parents organized a party of sorts for 30-35 close relatives when we took my little kid home back to my native place for the first time. My dad outsourced the lunch part to professional caterers. The food was good, judging by the burps, and the solution was efficient, as no one had to toil preparing meals for the crowd. But there was one thing missing - the warmth. If this party had happened when I was a kid,  I can visualize 10 of my relatives at least coming in a day before, helping with the cooking and all the associated tasks. I can see my uncles sitting in the veranda talking about their latest problems, real estate, kids' education, some cousin who refuses to get married etc. I can see my aunts gossiping, discussing movies-fish/vegetable prices, kids' education, some cousin who refuses to get married etc.I can see myself running around with my cousins till I dropped dead. Next day morning we would wear new clothes and stand out welcoming those who preferred to show up for the party, all the while eying the gifts that they had  with them. Once the party is over, people would just sit around, and some might even stay for the night. All that's compromised in favor of an "event" which is perfunctory at best. The event is successful, but the spirit/idea is lost.

One of my best childhood memories is the wedding ceremony of a relative. I stayed at their home for 7 days. I remember lending a hand almost every other hour to eat the laddus and jilebis that were being prepared in-house. It was non-stop boisterous fun for us kids. Our kids, unfortunately, will never have such memories. To add to it, when I came home last night after attending the Metallica concert, my boots and jeans were muddy, thanks to rain on Palace Grounds, BLR.  My family was upset at all the dirt, and I had a hard time explaining to them it's just "MUD", something that I grew up playing with.

Nobody needed to have worried though, because we have outsourced everything. We will send the jeans to the cleaners, and then ask the ironing professional (yeah, the people who live in shacks and make a living out of using the good ol' iron box to make time-scarce executives look spic and span. Iron box had a true metallic ring to it back then, unlike the spray/plastic variety which sits unused in our households.) to come and pick it up, iron it, and drop it back home. And I will wear it on Fridays, and pretend nothing happened.

Something's happened, to the extend that we outsource certain functions (at a minuscule level compared to the total population) to old age homes. Taking care of an old grand dad is not a core competency anymore.

In all of this, we do not possibly realize that warmth is a core competency which cannot be outsourced. The sooner corporations and managers realize it, the better for them. Managers cannot live in isolation thinking that "employee motivation and well-being" is a function to be outsourced to Human Resources. Similarly, office events are not playgrounds for event management companies. Irrespective of the strength of the labor market, successful companies will be built when they realize that true warmth in office relationships is a core competency. It's not a paradigm shift, it was always meant to be that way.

As for families and caterers, god help us. Nihilistic at worst, but that's the truth.

*Do It Yourself


  1. So true Sajish!!!

    If you want something to be done then you have to find the strength to do it yourself because no one else can do it as best as you.

    Poonam Jhunjhunwala

  2. Right Poonam - especially if there's a way you want it to be done.
    Someone told me about how outsourcing means efficient delegation of responsibilities. That's correct. But most times, it ends up in abdication of responsibilities and not delegation - which is when it gets problematic.