The staff does the work, the outsourcer gets the credit

When an outsourcer relies on in-house staff, it's already a touchy situation. When the outsourcer claims credit for the result, in-house staff have to play the game carefully in order to win

Dear Bob ...

I work in a large IT shop that brought in an outsourcer to handle some key projects and functions.

[ See also: "Afflicted with silos? Here are some tactics that might break them down" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

You'd recognize the name. We didn't get their A Team, assuming they have one, which I know because their "professionals" frequently need my help. Sometimes it's because they don't know our systems, sometimes it's because they don't know their jobs.

I'd even be OK with that if they showed us any respect. Instead, what happens is that when I do help, they take all the credit. One of my co-workers refused to help them once, and got in hot water with the CIO for not being a team player.

I know the world of business isn't always fair. That's OK. I don't even mind having to play the outsourcer's stupid games.

I just hate losing them. Any suggestions on how I can play to win instead?

- Outsourcicle

Dear Outsourcicle ...

Of all the short-sighted moves outsourcers can make, this one is probably the worst.

The culprit is almost certainly the outsourcer's account manager. This is the person responsible for managing the relationship with the client and with nurturing the account. He or she probably figures that giving in-house staff any credit would be a barrier to the next contract extension or expansion.

And he or she is probably right, in the short term. Eventually, though, in-house staff figure out ways to surreptitiously sabotage the outsourcer's efforts as a way of getting even with the constant stream of indignities.

Which brings us to you: I don't recommend sabotage. In addition to being unprofessional and starting some seriously bad habits, there's the likelihood of your getting caught.

Instead, you might consider enforcing the formal procedures that are probably in place already to ensure you work effectively and work only on the company's most important priorities: personal time management, the service desk, and the enhancement request procedure.

One of the precepts of proper management of personal time is that you take control of your calendar and don't allow anyone to "interrupt interruptions with interruptions." So if anyone on the outsourcer's staff asks for your help, agree amiably, and let them know the next time you have an open slot on your calendar.

Choose carefully -- too long and you're being obviously obstructionist; too soon and you're making things too convenient. I figure more than four hours and less than a full day should work pretty well.

Don't overwork this tactic, though, because while it will discourage the requests, it won't give the situation any visibility.

So anytime the request will require more than, say, a half-hour of effort on your part, politely instruct the requester how to make use of the service desk to ask for assistance. For requests that would take more than four hours, direct them to the enhancements queue request procedure.

Doing so has a number of salutary effects. First, it makes all in-house support of the outsourcer visible to IT management. Second, you establish yourself as a team player, working within the formal procedures established by IT management to make the organization more effective.

It also helps the outsourcer become more effective. Right now, many among the outsourcer's staff find it easier to get you and your colleagues to do some of their work for them than to learn how to be self-sufficient. By making yourselves less available, you shift the "convenience threshold" to a different place. Many will figure out that by learning a few things they won't have to wait for you, looking uncomfortably unoccupied as they do so.

And finally, it helps the CIO get more for the company's money, because every time you do the outsourcer's work, the company is paying twice for the same results.

If you decide to take this advice, make sure you avoid publicly gloating over any small victories. This only works if you're clearly operating this way for the most professional of reasons.

The moment it appears to be a personal act of revenge instead, it will blow up in your face.

- Bob

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