BPO Hiring for the Long Term

posted on 14th September 2014 in Business with no comments

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The People Grail: High-Quality People in Offshore Back-office Operations

A recent post on, “Hiring back office staff in the Philippines…what no one tells you,” got me thinking about the topic of staffing. The Outsourcing Guide is a sort of omnibus offshore outsourcing information site focused on the Australian market. It’s definitely worth the occasional look.

Hiring Consistently High-Quality Staff is Time Consuming & Difficult

What’s interesting about any prescriptive discussion about staffing is that it’s never been particularly easy. The accepted industry metric for hiring is 10 to 1. For every ten applicants interviewed, a BPO will hire one person for training. As employees undergo preparation for their role the ratio will grow as people are wooed by competitors, fail to make the grade, or simply leave.

Many BPO’s have workarounds for staffing, which can be good or bad for their operational integrity. Large projects, compressed ramp times, and staffing penalties force organizations to compromise on hiring in the early phases of a large program. Conversely, pulling a competitor’s mid-level manager can yield a substantial hiring multiples as people move as a team remaining loyal to their immediate supervisor.

According to the article, an employer should focus on English language comprehension as well as cultural affinity. As the author explains, in BPO parlance “cultural affinity” is shorthand for:

  • Understanding of culture and values (of the supported nation or region)
  • Ability to comprehend the supported locale’s language and accent
  • Familiarity with national idioms, sarcasm, and slang

Those are tall orders for any offshore operation. Ultimately he suggests sourcing employees with previous offshore experience in the supported locale (Australia in this case) such as travel to or study in the destination. Alternately, previous employment with a foreign-oriented business here in the Philippines can yield hires with language comprehension and (Western) cultural affinity.

Here is an alternate approach to staffing for an offshore BPO. This isn’t necessarily an approach suited to centers with teams larger than 150 (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Rule of 150, or Dunbar’s Number), but it works well for a Philippines-based BPO located in a provincial college town.

Hire for Aptitude and Cultural Fit & Invest in People for the Long-term

When we hire, we ask, “How well will this person mesh with the team and integrate into our service delivery process?” It’s a deceptively simple question that covers many considerations. Philosophically this approach is more akin to drafting a sports team than hiring for a BPO. Like building a sports team, we expect our team to mature their role over months or even years.

Of course, this assumes that our employees will remain with us for the long-term. (Many have been with us since inception). This creates a far different dynamic for service delivery than the majority of offshore business process providers in that we don’t regard personnel as infinitely interchangeable.

In this scenario; individuals and teams understand the underlying logic behind a given process so we have a far more holistic process than a rote KPI. Stated more succinctly, employees learn the business that they support. This, in turn, streamlines processes up and down the line and results in greater customer satisfaction and program longevity.

Develop a Robust Corporate Culture that Transcends Geography, Language, and Ethnicity

I’m an American working with a group of people who hail from towns across Luzon and the Visayas. Our customers are based in the China, Japan, the UAE, United States, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines. Dealing with a range of cultures, languages and locations mean our team culture and narrative needs to be relevant for a global audience.

Beyond global resonance, our culture binds us to a high standard of service delivery clearly guide us in this direction. The tactics for executing tasks and projects may be debated but the desired outcome is always clear.

While I can’t offer a culture sound-byte, I can say it privileges mutual respect, dedication to our customers (and their customers), work-life balance, and candid communication. In the best sense of the phrase, we (customer, company, employee) are in this together. This is why we limit the number and the kinds of projects we undertake and focus on an understanding of these projects with a big degree of depth and precision.

Hire to the Culture Selecting for Fundamental Skill Level, Intellectual Capacity, Work Ethic, and Integrity

This references an amalgamation of LinkedIn-choking status updates, but it’s true. We hire people for their core skills and personality and teach them the skills and techniques required by their position.

By far the most important characteristic we look for is the prospect’s capacity to align with our way of doing things. Working and playing well in our system a big deal. So is the capacity to learn.

All this points to seeking people who are genuinely enthusiastic about working with us doing what we do why not look here. That means they will be focused and engaged.

Coach, Train, Counsel – Repeat

The flip site to this approach is that the organization must be vigilant about developing its people. This needs to be more than lip service or the occasional weekend retreat.

Team and individual development should be the defining characteristic of operational activity — starting with meaningful (and candid) performance reviews with constant feedback on task completion and ongoing operations, quality analysis of deliverables and informal discussions.

A rambling concoction of commentary about business and living in the Philippines, travel around Asia, things read and opined upon.