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Cultural fit (or not)

When companies decide to outsource part of their activities, this will require serious preparation. They invest time and effort in a sourcing strategy with considerations on what should or should not be outsourced. There is attention to the scope (involving one or more vendors) and a business case will identify at least the financial benefits.

A key success factor is often overlooked. Cultural fit is mostly taken for granted. This is strange, since there is a broad consensus in the field that culture is an important aspect of any engagement. But what is culture? And what is the culture of an organization that is outsourcing? Or that of a potential vendor?

What is culture?

Various authors have written great things on this topic. On books discussing the international differences in culture, I think The Culture Map by Erin Meyer is second to none. From my own experience I have some (anonymized) examples:

  • In the collaboration between two departments within a ministry there was an ongoing stream of conflicts and escalations. Quite regularly I found myself in contact with management of both departments. One department consistently pointed out the need to comply with European tender processes and to make sure the governance was in accordance with a pre-agreed RACI-matrix. The other department struggled to accept the continuous delays in achieving tangible results. The focus on process compliance vs. the focus on efficiency made it as if both groups spoke in different languages.
  • Recently I was involved in a negotiations process and found out about two extremes in decision making. The team on one end of the table had the full mandate to get things done while the other team had to take every material change back to their senior management. During negotiations there are ways to work around this but will this work in the years to come? More likely than not will this result in frustrations for at least one of the parties involved.

My point is not that one culture is superior to another. But it should be clear what the own culture is, and which norms, values and rituals in another organization or department are compatible with those. Or not.

Determine your own culture

It is not easy to determine your own culture. Obviously we are all transparent, client-focused and result-oriented. But are we really? Who are the local hero’s and role models within your organization? And what example do they set with their behaviour? As an advisor I ask these kind of questions and often this leads to memorable conversations. And sometimes to confrontational insights. A tool like Delegation Poker for example, can help to provide clarity in the mandate and room to manoeuvre for a negotiations team. In my experience the implicit assumptions that organizations have on their own culture are often far from correct.

A cultural fit is one of the key success factors for any long term engagement. Insight in your own culture and thinking about the desired culture of any collaboration should therefore be top of mind in drafting a sourcing strategy. Not to find partners who are a clone or ourselves. But we do need to pay attention to possible differences and address these head-on.

About the author

Erik Snijder is a freelance sourcing consultant and program manager. Under the label 2iQ he helps both clients and vendors in setting up and further improving successful engagements. In doing so he can leverage 3 decades of experience working for both clients and service providers both in the Netherlands as well as internationally.

A Dutch version of this article was posted on the website of Sourcing Nederland.