Flight of Fancy? Synchronicity and Outsourcing

Watching the Blue Angels do their amazing and death-defying feats in the cloudy skies above Seattle last week, I was awestruck, marveling at the fearless synchronization on display.

Which lead me of course to muse about what could happen if that kind of synchronization was the rule rather than the exception in outsourcing. The Blue Angels make it look so easy, but obviously it’s not. It’s the ultimate in skill, teamwork and trust among the co-pilots and with the maintenance people on the ground. The Vested Outsourcing vision, message and model is straightforward and simple in many respects, but it is not easy to achieve. It’s really hard and also requires a degree of teamwork, trust and flexibility in achieving successful outsourcing that is often not very evident.

While those thoughts were crossing my mind, I came across a Harvard Business Review blog post by Human Resources expert John W. Boudreau, the author (with Peter M. Ramstead) of Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital.

Coincidentally, Boudreau’s post has to do with aircraft and flying right. Or in the case of his “Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner Retools Talent Management,” maybe not so right in every case.

Boeing’s 787 debuted recently at the Farnborough Airshow in England; it’s a highly innovative aircraft that’s also been dogged by supply and production difficulties and delays, which I’ve referred to previously.

Boudreau posits that the Dreamliner story has “implications for the future of HR and talent strategy that are as important as its technical and strategic innovations.” The Dreamliner line rests upon what is often called the world’s most sprawling supply chain, and managing this complicated and often unruly chain is a key to the company’s success.

“But with the strategic decision to shift to the composite technology that necessitated this supply chain came a shift in the company’s talent strategy as well,” Boudreau writes. “The pivot-point of talent management shifted from being entirely within Boeing to the talent and ideas that resided in Boeing’s suppliers. Therefore, like many other HR leaders today, the company had to learn to manage a sprawling global supply chain for talent as well as components.”

In turns out, he continues, that supply chain, inventory and risk optimization, which are front and center in the outsourcing mind, are “good metaphors for the way that HR leaders need to think about their talent pipeline.”

Boeing “manages the supply chain for carpet differently than for wing-frame boxes, striving for reduced risk, higher quality and tighter tolerances in the latter.” Those same principles suggest that the level of acceptable risk, cost, and performance should vary for talent capabilities as well, he continues.

It’s people after all who ultimately deliver on performance and desired goals; it’s people who flip the levers on the processes being implemented and who manage the outsourcing framework.

The Five Rules need people who are skilled, flexible, fearless and collaborative to make the vested relationship soar. People in sync with each other and the mission at hand.

In the case of Boeing it occurs to me that the company needs to have managers with the talent — and the courage — to properly manage its suppliers, but without micromanaging them. It’s a tenuous and often difficult balance to achieve and the storyline from Boeing’s 787 experience indicates there’s work to be done on that component.

In the case of Blue Angels, if the pilots and crew are not on the same page for an instant, disaster can ensue. Not being on the same outsourcing page is not at that level of intense risk, but failure to collaborate, identify talent, work in sync and vest together on mutual goals over the long term will almost surely result in a disastrous outsourcing relationship.

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