Inoculating Against Outsourcing Discussions
It's always better for in-plants to spend time on communication and customers up front and create a built-in resistance to outsourcing among leadership than to be reactive when faced with a worse-case scenario.
At Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Business Support Services, we work to "inoculate" against outsourcing discussions through customer-focused interactions and by communicating our value both upwards and across the organization. Some things we do for each are:
- Ensure every team member receives training in customer service. From shaping the dialog with the customer to determine their wants and needs, to providing a service the customer will want to repeat. If your customer base is happy with you and convinced you are going above and beyond to meet their needs, then it's that much harder for an outsider to sell "better service."
- Publicly recognize and appreciate your best customers. We all have customers who set the standard for us. They provide sufficient lead times, complete documents for print, fully know what they want, and are a joy to work with. We recognize a "Customer of Quarter" with a plaque and certificate sent to their manager for presentation. This lets our customers (and their management) know we appreciate their business.
- Build your customer's perceptions and culture. A minor change of major significance was simply changing our name from "Copy Center" to "MFC Publications." We coupled that with working hard to diversify our product offerings and becoming known for offering solutions to our customers’ problems. We don't have a formal “right of first refusal,” but the culture has changed so the result is the same: Customers come to us first.
- Know your major stakeholders and invest your time heavily into forming and growing your relationship with them. Ours are our Communication and Facilities departments. We went from them not knowing who we are and what we do to being valued partners to be consulted from the beginning of major events and projects. We involve our designers in equipment upgrade training, paper schools, and product searches. This enables them to design to our capabilities and has greatly improved our relationships.
- Follow the money and look for areas to offer internal support. There are a lot of capabilities that have low barriers to entry. We discovered our trade show folks were spending a lot of money on items for shows: things like coasters, buttons, product cards, etc. We discovered production capability through button machines and dye sub are relatively cheap to get into. So now we offer those items for production. We limit quantities, but these items are perfect for customer meetings, small shows, demos, etc. It's cheaper and faster to go out for 5,000 of something to support a major event, but if you need 50 before you leave tomorrow, we can do that.
- Talk to your customers. Ask them what they want that you don't provide. Ask them how you can serve them better. Adjust if needed and follow up.
- The goal is to build a large number of allies in as many places as possible. If you have the enthusiastic customer base that believes in you and what you do, then there isn't a "problem" for outsourcing to fix. You may be pushed on budget, but that is an argument that can be fought.
Communicate Your Value
- Study your organization's strategic plans and initiatives. Look for areas where you can directly support or contribute. Buried inside of an initial culture optimization plan was a desire to increase employee recognition. We developed templates for certificates, plaques, and other tokens of appreciation. When leadership decided to focus and push recognition in a major way, we were ready. Last year we produced more than 1,600 appreciation certificates, 955 plaques and awards, and more than 3,200 tokens of appreciation.
- Align your own strategic plans and goals to support the organization. Explicitly call out where you are doing so and ensure you report your plans at the highest level possible. Show leadership you are planning to support them and the organization in an affordable manner for the next three to five years. They're more likely to think of you long-term if they know you are planning for them long-term.
- We regularly perform cost comparisons on projects and report our savings over outsourcing to senior leaders. (Don't forget to consider fast turnarounds, special requests, and other considerations in your estimate.) For high visibility events like senior leadership meetings, Presidential visits, and major award ceremony program support, savings were reported upline the week after the events. Annually, we produce a one-sheet infographic highlighting our accomplishments in January. In February, we celebrate In-Plant Awareness Month and hand them out to everyone. Special copies go to all leaders in the company.
- Get time on new leader's calendars and have them walk through your facility. Show them how you can support their organization and people. Talk about ways they want you to support them and, if it's possible, make the change or communicate why not.
- Develop a logo, and brand everything you can. Mark canvas prints or acrylic. Stamp paper straps on document bundles. Include a card with contact info and links with every job. Let people know what you've done.
Hopefully these suggestions will help your in-plant show its value and "inoculate" you against any outsourcing discussions.
Jim Denova is manager, Business Support Services at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. He joined the aerospace company after retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004, where he served for 21 years.