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An agile partnership needs agile people

Companies and public sector bodies have long turned to outsourcing as a means of achieving additional objectives beyond cost-cutting. In this new world where agility is key, it’s often about making their organisation more flexible, whether that’s supporting growth, capitalising on changes in their industries, driving innovation and digital business models, or transforming public-service delivery.

In an independent study conducted by Coleman Parkes Research on behalf of arvato, 77 per cent of senior business process outsourcing (BPO) clients across the public and private sectors said they expected their outsourcing partner to help them adapt to changing industry dynamics, and 59 per cent expected to be presented with innovative ideas for their business.

However, while the technology, systems and processes implemented as part of an outsourcing partnership all help organisations to be more flexible, it’s the people delivering the service and their ideas, creative thinking and dedication that make a partnership truly agile.

“Our clients ask us to help them achieve more complex objectives, such as growth, flexibility and transformation. To deliver this we need creative people with a real passion for our clients’ business, and we have to empower them to use their knowledge and skills to drive innovation,” says Bryan Mouat, chief executive, financial solutions at arvato UK & Ireland.

In fact, a recent survey by the UK’s National Outsourcing Association found that 65 per cent of outsourcing clients believe the quality of staff is the most important factor influencing outsourcing service quality. More than 60 per cent of respondents believe people are key to making outsourcing partnerships a success overall.

“Real partnership means trusting each other, being collaborative, flexible and committed… which in the end comes down to the people involved and how they work together as one team,” says Patrick Corbett, managing director, supply chain management, arvato UK & Ireland.

An agile approach to partnership that puts people at the centre means personality traits, emotions and relationships play an equally important role as processes and tools, but can sometimes be hard to predict and difficult to manage.

“We’re all individuals; everybody has different strengths and reacts differently to challenges. So it’s about creating the right culture that motivates people, fosters team spirit and allows employees to thrive,” says Debra Maxwell, managing director at arvato UK.


A new report by arvato, entitled Open Outsourcing: Empowering People, takes on the employee perspective and explores why people are key to the success of outsourcing partnerships.

Empowerment is the key to unlocking people’s potential throughout every stage of the outsourcing partnership

What is it like to work for an outsourcer? Can the fear of being outsourced stifle creativity? How can you create real teams to ensure processes run smoothly across organisations? How can people help organisations deal with evolving technologies and react quickly to changes in their industry? What do they need to become empowered to do so?

The report explores these and other questions with the help of clients, industry experts and, most importantly, employees. Five themes emerged as top tips for clients and outsourcing partners to create an environment that motivates, empowers, and helps individuals and organisations succeed:


An outsourcing partnership should be clear about its objectives, and a single, joint vision of success will really help individuals and teams pull in the same direction.


Outsourcing comes with many negative connotations and it’s no wonder some people are apprehensive about being outsourced. Just like in any period of change, it’s important to involve people early, communicate openly about plans and be approachable for employees to ensure they support a partnership from the outset.

“People need to understand how the whole partnering network operates, when and why a more collaborative service model may be valuable and beneficial, and building the knowledge transfer and learning capabilities necessary to enable this insight,” says Professor Paul Sparrow, of the Centre for Performance-led HR, at Lancaster University.


Real partnerships thrive in good times and in bad. To enable people to celebrate success, and to continue to work as one team even if things get difficult, means getting the right structures in place to support open communication, the flow of information, and exchange of ideas and feedback.

“Both partners need to listen to each other. That’s why governance is so important – you need the right forum to move things forward strategically, but also to address the nitty-gritty, day-to-day challenges,” says Rachael Charlton, director of human resources and organisational development at East Cheshire NHS Trust.


As change is the only constant for businesses and public-sector organisations alike, people will have to continue to learn and develop. Trust in employees’ capabilities and judgment, combined with the freedom to make and learn from mistakes, will empower them to innovate and embrace new technologies.


For outsourcing relationships to work, a true partnership is essential. This means working as one team, being open and honest, and sharing a mutual understanding.

“We didn’t want a traditional client-contractor relationship – I don’t like the term ‘outsourcing’ for that reason. We wanted a genuine partnership. If you get that right, you’ll have shared values, which enable a seamless service for customers no matter what changes you introduce,” says Huw Bowen, chief executive of Chesterfield Borough Council.

Empowerment is the key to unlocking people’s potential throughout every stage of the outsourcing partnership, from having the confidence to ask questions throughout the transition, to receiving the training to embody a client’s brand and become a real ambassador; from sharing a vision and operating as one team across organisational boundaries, to having the skills and being encouraged to challenge the status quo and drive real transformation.

It becomes clear that a partnership is only as good as its people – especially when it comes to being an agile business.

To find out more about Empowering People and access all issues of arvato’s award-winning Open Outsourcing reports, go to

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