16 Oct 14 Is your offshore research partnership in good hands?

It is people who create effective relationships…or destroy them. And this certainly holds true for research offshoring partnerships. No doubt research offshoring relationships need to have robust institutional and process frameworks at their base. You need a comprehensive contract, service level agreements (SLAs), a defined workflow, processes for feedback and escalation, guidelines for communication, and so on.

Additionally, the people managing the partnerships need to be committed to it and must have the requisite competencies to manage them. Without the “right” people, even the best laid out partnerships can fail.

Positive attitude to offshoring

Is the manager of the research offshoring convinced of its benefits to the organisation and committed to the success of the relationship? If yes, he/she will be willing to go the extra mile to iron out the creases and transfer the enthusiasm to the rest of the team. There has been considerable media hype against offshoring in recent years, and it is possible that some of the people involved may be negatively predisposed towards the relationship. Champions of the partnership need to consciously socialise its potential benefits within the organisation to create a positive attitude. Some motivation can also be generated by making the success of the partnership a key KRA for the people involved.

Unambiguous communication

Communication is often a challenge when people from diverse backgrounds and cultures collaborate remotely. Even if they speak the same language, their styles of communication tend to be different. A brief and concise email message, for example, may be appreciated by some, but may appear rude or brusque to others. It is safer to verbalise your thought process in greater detail, particularly in the initial phase of the partnership, to avoid misunderstandings.

Documentation and articulation

A remote partnership requires the manger to be far more organised than he/she typically is when managing teams face-to-face. More detailed documentation of processes, minutes of meetings and calls, research/ work briefs, MISs, etc. are required for smooth operations.

Investing in success

The success of the partnership rests on the offshore team being able to deliver research as expected or better. Even with crisp briefs, tight SLAs and training, it is not realistic to expect this to happen from day one. In the initial period the manager needs to spend a lot of time in giving detailed feedback to the offshore team. Not everyone is good at giving feedback; doing this remotely can be even more challenging. If the size of the engagement justifies it, it makes sense for the manager to actually go and spend time with the offshore team during the transition phase.

How Feedback Matters

Manager A

Manager B

  • Defines objective
  • Sends a specification document
  • Expects output on the agreed deadline
  • Defines objective
  • Sends a specification document
  • Gives a telephonic brief,
  • Expects interim deliverables, gives feedback
  • Refines specifications if required
  • Expects the output on agreed deadline
Manager A checks and refines theoutput and uses it for further analysis

  • No capability is built
  • He repeats this process each time
Manager B uses output as-is forfurther analysis

  • Higher capabilities built
  • He gets ready outputs each subsequent time
Manager A believes he can only get half ready outputsHe is somewhat satisfied Manager B believes he can get ready outputs
He is extremely satisfied

Nurturing relationships

Finally, you want the partnership to be managed by someone who will nurture it and grow it, so that the organisation benefits.

Not all managers are good at all of the above. And that doesn’t mean they are not good managers; just that they are not suitable for managing an offshore partnership. Of course, this is not something that cannot be learnt; organisations can prepare their managers for it.

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.

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