Holding Outsourced Partners Accountable.

By Ian Richardson, Managing Partner, Richardson & Richardson Consulting LLC

Accountability starts with the Entrepreneur

One of key lessons I took from running my I.T. practice for 16 years was that when I truly wanted something done, I needed to “do it myself.” Now it’s important to put this into context. By “do it myself” I do NOT mean that you must do physical work, tasks, communications, documentation, and other sundries yourself. What I’ve found, is that universally, without fail, I had to hold the “accountability baton” for anything that I truly wanted to have happen. This would mean that if there was task, project, initiative, or other item I cared about I would need to be the person in charge of holding my team, or our outsourced partners, accountable. 

Background Information

“That sounds like the same as having to do the work Ian.” 

It most definitely is not. I’ll elaborate with a story. We had a client that had a supplier we had to work with on a project. This project (upgrading an application suite across multiple sites) was complicated and required our team and the supplier’s team to be coordinated with each other. We both had dependencies on the other for the project to succeed. 

The client was a major account for us – They were a mid-6 figure per year of revenue account, took all our recommendations without hesitation, and growing like a week. We needed this project to go well. I needed it to happen. 

I spoke with my team to gain an understanding of the project. I set my expectations of them for check ins and put a reminder to myself when those check ins were due, so I didn’t lose visibility. If one was missed, my direct report would hear about it from me.  

I set the requirement for accountability to the members of my team responsible for the third-party supplier with the same process, a reminder that the task was due. The difference was that the reminder rested with the team member responsible for the supplier. Their status check to me would already include the supplier’s progress. By sharing the method (a simple outlook reminder on their calendar) I used to manage them, the team members would get a small reminder for the accountability conversation they needed to have. 

What are the results of holding outsourced partners accountable?

It made all the difference to the project’s outcome having us proactively engage with the vendor.  After a few missed deadlines we started touching base before the task due time to ensure all was on track. “Hey John, I see we’re scheduled to do X tonight, is that still a go? Anything come up? Anything we are needed for or can do to ensure it goes well?” That simple proactive poke would constantly prompt sharing that no, all was not well in the vendor’s world, and that items needed to be shuffled. We could rearrange the project, coordinate our team, backfill open spaces with other work, and update the client. All from a simple proactive accountability conversation. 

Those conversations would bubble up in the check ins to me. The project went forward and was completed. The client was delighted. But it needed my involvement and instruction on management of accountability to ensure that it went forward properly. 

We eventually built a policy and process around this methodology to help ensure that it became standard operating procedure. But it started with that project, and my recognition of a minefield of issues waiting to blow up a relationship. 

If you see an issue, you need to take ownership of getting the issue solved, and hold your team, including those who may be suppliers or subcontractors, accountable for doing the work needed. The change in attitude starts at the executive desk, it starts with the leaders in the organization. Setting a clear expectation (check ins due by 3pm on Tuesday and Thursday), having the conversations with parties when those check ins did not occur (Help me understand why you didn’t have this to me by the agreed upon time), and pushing the procedure down to the front-line team members drove the project forward to completion, even with reschedules and issues that “cropped up”.

Holding outsourced partners accountable process

So about those third parties – How can you truly hold them accountable?

  • We started off projects with a kick-off conversation. We listed the deliverables needed, as well as requirements of the clients (Work to be done post hours, due dates, communication preferences and contacts involved). This got everyone on the same page.
  • We asked the supplier who would be their point people for the project, and how to get ahold of them, or their backups, for pre, during, and post task conversations. We also provided the same information to them for both us and the client. Everyone knew how to talk to everyone else.
  • We documented the timeline, milestones, and tasks. We wrote down the calendar and shared it with all parties. When something came up, we updated and communicated the calendar to all parties. Everyone knew what was happening, when, and who was responsible for seeing it done. 
  • We then took ownership of touching base with all parties before those items came due. We proactively touched base with the client around downtime and production impact to make sure they were aware. We proactively called the supplier to ensure that their side of things were progressing as planned. We held onto the accountability baton.

Final Thoughts on holding outsourced partners accountable

By eliminating the assumption that no news was good news from our organization, we were able to ensure that projects stayed on task. It didn’t mean we didn’t trust the suppliers; it enhanced our trust level. The suppliers we worked with learned they knew they could count on us communicating effectively, and that they could be honest if things were going pear-shaped on their end. 

And it worked. 

THAT’S what I mean when I say “do it yourself” – You have to hold onto the accountability baton. 

If you’re struggling around accountability in your organization, or finding your third-party relationships tend to go “pear-shaped”, Richardson & Richardson can help. Check out our case studies for stories of organizations that we’ve assisted with similar issues and download our white papers for deep dives on tools you can use in your organization. If you’re wondering where to start, book a complimentary session with one of the Richardsons today to come up with a plan on how to move forward. 

Always Forward,

Ian Richardson

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