Forums

Background – I’m in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry and manage a group of teams providing professional services to a major S&P 500 client. Last month I submitted a process improvement recommendation to the client (the process is performed jointly by one of my teams with review and oversight by the client) which would help reduce resource time, on both sides, while maintaining or improving quality on certain portions of the process. A meeting was held with the client to review the details and the outcome was a big surprise to me and the other attendees.

The Resulting Issue – The meeting attendees included the process owner, his manager and other client team members close to the process. The process owner was very upset and ‘offended’ at our recommendations and clearly took it personally and accused us of ‘questioning his management ability’ and claimed that this was the ‘best execution of the process compared to the other units in the company.’ Subsequent feedback in private from some of the other client attendees indicated that he was out of line and overly emotional. I feel that I’ve done the ‘right thing’ addressing both the needs of the client and us as well in a professional, objective manner. However, it can now end up very ‘wrong’ if it jeopardizes achieving the objective. We’re having a follow up meeting with a much smaller group (myself, the process owner and his manager) to address his concerns. I’m unsure of the best approach to take and have considered several options including offering a formal apology (yes, I’ve listened to the apology podcasts and I truly feel like the issue is his), standing firm and trying to resell our suggestions, retracting the suggestions that seemed to have offended him, etc. Any feedback is appreciated.

On a side note, over the holiday I started reading The Heart of Change (based on the MT recommended reading list) and find this behavior to be very consistent with behaviors described by the authors that impede the implementation of needed change. Unfortunately, I’m still relatively early in the book but am finding it to be very useful so far.

-R26

Mark's picture

Rookie-

[i]Would you rather be right or effective? [/i]

It sounds to me like you're "right" - that is, you have an idea that will help the client. And, your feelings about being right are at least in part keeping you from being effective. It seems that someone who has power over what you want to do - the process owner - didn't know what you were doing, and is truly expressing his feelings regarding learning about the recommendation in front of the client.

[b]The fact that his behavior is galactically stupid and selfish is largely irrelevant. This is not about what HE did or didn't do. It's about what is best for the client, and what you can do to help them get it, based on the present set of circumstances. [/b]

So, what to do?

First, apologize. Go to the process owner, and follow the apology cast, and admit that you were wrong to leave him out of your planning, and you completely understand why he responded the way he did, and you regret how what you did contributed to that.

Second, ask him for help in re-pitching the client. Make it a joint proposal, if you must. Be willing to suffer for your idea, and for your client.

The fact that he may be seen as getting some of the credit for your idea is irrelevant. THE CLIENT KNOWS.

Is it possible that internally he will work against you? Yes. But the die is already cast in that regard - if he is the kind of person to do that, it's too late to stop it now... though about the only thing that could help is an apology.

Is it possible that a year from now he will be dismissive of you, mentioning to some colleague that he got what he wanted from you, spinning it to his advantage? Yep.

And so goes the lesson to get your ideas pre-wired with all those who can have such an impact on their implementation.

A lesson well learned, frustrating as it is to come at the hands of a silly and selfish nincompoop.

Apologize. Re-pitch. Don't recant. Work for your client.

Welcome to wisdom. It's the rocks in that stream that make it sound so lovely.

Mark

steveaz26's picture

Thanks Mark! I agree. I really don't care about who gets credit (a shift from my earlier years) and will focus on being effective. This is a tough one for me as I see the behavior as irrational but a good lesson as you said.
-R26

steveaz26's picture

It worked! Just a quick follow up. Had the follow up meeting and I followed Mark's advice to apologize-repitch. Started with a sincere apology placing responsibility on myself for the cause of the issues. From there the rest of the meeting went better than I expected. I believe we're back to heading in the right direction towards being effective and accomplishing the overall objectives. The status meeting with all parties involved at the end of the week will be a good indicator.

Thanks for the advice!

-R26

Mark's picture

Rookie-

The credit always goes to the one in the ring. Well done YOU.

Let us know about the meeting.

Mark

cowie165's picture

R26 how did that meeting go last month?

steveaz26's picture

It went very well thanks. The emotional customer got together with one of my direct report managers (his equivalent counter part) to discuss, prep and decide on what items to discuss in the team meeting. The meeting included about 10 people split equally between customer and us. My direct report purposely suggested topics in their prep meeting that would be relatively safe to discuss. There was good discussion across all parties in the room. From the body language the emotional customer was a bit uncomfortable at times but there was obvious consensus among his peers which helped move the meeting along. At the end it was decided that there would be a similar prep meeting prior to the main one which would be held every 2 weeks. So far it is progressing nicely. That's the good news. The bad news is that I know I'm going to have to tip toe around immature emotions every time there's a potentially controversial subject. Will be interesting to see how things progress over time.

cowie165's picture

When you mention that the topics broached in the meeting safe to discuss, it reminds me of the Carnegie guidelines on how to avoid an argument, "Get the other person saying yes!". Call it foot in door technique or whatever, it sounds like it was a move in the right direction! Sounds great.

I have a colleague, who reports to me on certain issues but I don't write his annual report. He is EXTREMELY sensitive to any feedback - he doesn't trust positive feedback (but getting better) and completely shuts down on receiving corrective feedback ("are you saying I can't do my job? [The guy I took over from] never had a problem with me!" etc.). It looks like I might be able to relate your experience to mine:

* Focus on being effective, not on what is comfortable (for me, it means keep having the hard conversations).

* Keep it small to start with and work towards the deeper water, rather than holding [unrealistic?] expectations of a positive response.

Cheers R26, thanks for your post.

AManagerTool's picture

Bottom line, you didn't anicipate the reaction of the people who are at the cutting edge of the recommendations you are making. Outsourcing is a sensitive subject. You are messing with peoples paychecks. While I don't condone his initial reaction, I understand it. Getting him to partner with you was a great idea. It probably gives him a sense of control and security in a situation that is very tenuous for his career.

steveaz26's picture

Mark C. / A...Tool - Great input, thanks!

Mark - Yes, our experiences definitely have commonalities. I feel for you dealing with someone who is defensive. I must admit that one of my biggest surpriseS about this job is having to deal with people on the customer side who can be so close minded, defensive, etc. On the flip side one of my other surprises is how comfortable I feel in dealing with most management issues with my direct or indirect reports. I'll be first to admit I still have a lot of growing to do particularly in the area of constructive feedback but I'm very happy with the relationships I've built with my team and peers.

A...Tool - Your point is well taken. I quickly discovered that BPO is a very sensitive business and relatively thankless as well. As the outsourcer, you are the 1st one to blame if anything goes wrong and the finger pointing and general accusations can get pretty bad if not downright unfair. Many times I can't control those things but I always tell myself I can control my behavior and mind set in reaction to them. I can also be supportive to my directs when it happens to them as my management is to me which goes a long way!

-R26