A Case of Selective Hearing? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On August 9, 2011

A colleague and I recently hosted a roundtable for the leaders of captive centers (i.e., offshore operations not belonging to third-party ITO or BPO suppliers) in the Philippines. In attendance were leaders from more than 15 organizations with operations at varying degrees of maturity. So what do you think their reactions were to the discussion?

On one level, most participants could have felt good. Makati City is bustling (and far better organized than, say, Gurgaon or Bangalore). Most operations are growing well, and are perhaps a key factor in the Philippines’ overtaking India in voice BPO. Everyone around the table is facing the same operating issues around attrition, wage increases, staffing for night shifts, and the constant traffic of visitors from the parent company coming to kick the tires and bond with the associates serving internal or external customers halfway around the globe. The issues would have been worrying for the leaders if they weren’t all dealing with the same stuff.

At another level, the leaders should be worried. After all, it’s easy to be absorbed by the operating issues of trying to keep a few thousand people engaged and focused on customer service and attendance, and making sure they’re happy and well-fed in their 24×7 operations. But the world is changing. Parent companies have gotten a lot smarter in what work they send where, and to whom. Third-party providers are the ones renting out a majority of new office space in Manila, and they are eager to grab what market share they can from the captive pie. Many of these third-party operations are led by Indian managers who are perhaps a bit tired of things in Gurgaon or Bangalore and have come to the Philippines to get their next kick in life.

So why does this matter? On one hand, things can continue as-is; after all, life is good as long as headcount in the captive center keeps increasing, isn’t it? On the other hand, status quo can relegate these operations to becoming a mere spoke in the global supply chain of their parent organizations. Decisions that shape their future will continue to be made by the leaders back home, or worse, by peers in these organizations’ centers in India or other locations.

It’s time for the leaders of the Philippines captives to face the fact that business as usual is not going to last as long as the third parties are coming and parent companies are getting more discerning. More importantly, they need to make themselves heard by demonstrating leadership capabilities beyond day-to-day delivery, and taking charge of the offshoring agenda, or at least starting to shape it.

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