An increasing number of companies are relying on external providers. Although the public sector can also benefit from this development, there are several obstacles in the way.
Keep in-house or outsource? That is the question for today's HR executives. A growing number of companies are refocusing on their core activities, a strategic exercise that began some time ago. An economy on the mend and the shortage on the job market, however, are accelerating this trend. Ester Van Eupen, Senior Manager with Accenture Strategy – Talent and Organization:
"It used to be a case of hiring external staff for transactional or operational activities; take for example call centres. Today, outsourcing is much more a means of increasing an organisation's flexibility, for instance by adding a flexible "shell" of external staff to its fixed core of internal employees. This shell consists of external staff with specific skills or knowledge. Often these are highly skilled professionals who are a very scarce commodity on the job market. The main advantage is that the organisation no longer has to go through expensive and time-consuming recruitment procedures. Not only does it save time and money, it also means having to invest less in training: you simply pick the skills from the market."
The government is also increasingly placing its faith in outsourcing. Kristien Van den Bon, Business Development Manager for the Government at SD Worx, explains why:
"Governments have to make savings. There are three ways of achieving this. Option one: scaling-up. An example is the imminent mergers between municipalities, cities and public centres for social welfare (OCMW). Option two: more standardisation and digitisation. Option three: scale back to core activities only and outsource everything else. This enables organisations to guarantee more professionalism and a higher level of efficiency, thereby saving them time and money. The outsourcing trend will undoubtedly continue. The public sector is no exception."
Inflexible tender procedures
In practice, outsourcing is anything but straightforward. Tender procedures, which are often complex, can be a spanner in the works. Kristien Van den Bon calls for a more pragmatic approach:
"Public tenders are not just a burden in terms of time and money for the government authority organising the process; the companies responding to the tender have to use their time and resources too. Many companies don't like the process as it results in a lot of paperwork and the outcome is very uncertain. People also focus on the cost price far too often. At this juncture, it is sensible to remind oneself that the cheapest solution is not necessarily the most worthwhile in the long term.
Government authorities should concentrate more on the total cost of ownership, an approach that maps out the direct and indirect costs of products or systems. It really is the tip of the iceberg; the hidden costs of inefficient products or services put a major squeeze on the organisation's investment in the long term. The inflexible structure of tenders often makes it difficult to make the right choice. Instead, organisations quickly become bogged down by the legal complexity of the procedural requirements. Quality is something that is difficult to express in figures from contracting procedures."
Flexible working: quite a challenge for the public sector
Although teleworking has become commonplace, it is not always received positively. A rigid, hierarchical attitude is often to blame. It is therefore not surprising that newer and more flexible ways of working, like co-sourcing, are met with great resistance, despite the many benefits.
Teleworking has been on everyone's lips for decades, but the real breakthrough has only been made recently. In many companies, teleworking has not got off to a good start. Jan Laurijssen of SD Worx says the reason is straightforward: employers have to learn to let go.
"With teleworking, your employees are partly in charge of the process. Not all companies are ready for this. The problem is that companies introduce teleworking for the wrong reason. They move to a smaller office with flexible workspaces, simply to save costs. Employees have the option to work from home and that, basically, is the end of the story."
Kristien Van den Bon, Business Development Manager for the Government at SD Worx, believes working from home must be actively endorsed at the executive level:
"Executive managers must take the initiative, otherwise it remains largely a theoretical exercise. The FPS Social Security organisation was a pioneer in teleworking. At the time, manager Frank Van Massenhove put a lot of effort into getting this off the ground. This type of project can only succeed if it is headed by a charismatic leader who personifies the change and takes responsibility for the process. Cost-cutting alone is not sufficient as a prerequisite for change; you have to believe in it. Without top-down support, teleworking is doomed to fail.
Incidentally, the "New World of Work" involves much more than teleworking. It is also about flexibility in terms of working hours and place of work, whether that is at home, at a satellite branch or elsewhere. Virtual teams, organising work in autonomous teams, target management, etc. are also aspects of this new way of working. These all have a positive effect on employee engagement – not insignificant when you consider we will all have to work for longer."
False sense of control
Many employers are hesitant about introducing teleworking for fear of losing control. Jan Laurijssen dispenses with that assumption:
"Let's be honest: you are giving up a false sense of control. Take for example a conventional office with employees working at their computers. Bosses see that their employees are working, or at least they think they are. How do you know those people are really being productive? In fact, it's been shown that teleworkers respond very quickly to e-mails from line management. They are keen to prove they are hard at work. Consequently, people work more efficiently at home than at work. The boss thinks he's no longer in control, but rest assured: people are quite capable of self-management."
Flexible remuneration: do’s and don’ts
Increasingly, employers are having to learn how to take the individual wishes of their eclectic workforce into account. This requires customisation. But how easy is it to manage this flexibility in practice?
Time for a remarkable statistic. The average Belgian worker only changes employer three times in their career. This means Belgians have one of the lowest employment mobility rates in Europe. In fact, 30% of Belgians over the age of fifty have never changed jobs. The figures are even lower for government institutions: labour mobility is at a level of just 1%. If you think young workers are more mobile, you will be surprised. Research conducted by VUB sociologist Mark Elchardus has shown that young employees are not the job hoppers people often consider them to be. Young people are happy to work for the same company for ten or twenty years. However, they must be given incentives, much more so than the baby boomers. No simple matter…
A competitive salary and attractive employee benefits are no longer sufficient, says Ester Van Eupen of Accenture:
"Companies must have a good image, state-of-the-art technology and interesting career paths to offer their employees. It's all about culture, opportunities, work-life balance, an attractive physical work environment and belonging. These perks strongly influence productivity and staff retention.
As to young people, they want first and foremost to be challenged. Simply carrying out a job is not enough for them. Young people seek meaning and personal development. Companies must therefore profile themselves as an attractive employer that can respond flexibly to its employee's needs. This is the only way to retain employees, because the widely held belief that young people do not commit long-term, is simply incorrect. The government and healthcare sector score well in terms of fulfilment. This is really important for many employees."
The call for a highly individual approach did not appear out of the blue. When seeking a job, young people behave like consumers. This is not surprising, as today's customers have become used to customisation. Every product or service can be customised, and this tendency can also be seen in the workplace. Male or female, young or old, Belgian or non-Belgian – different employees have different concerns, cultural standards and core values. Customisation is increasingly becoming the norm.
Employers must therefore provide variation, for instance by making internal mobility easier. Leen van Damme, remuneration expert at SD Worx, believes this makes sense:
"People don't always want or have to climb up the corporate ladder. First and foremost, they are interested in developing a broad range of skills. Good internal mobility is always a win-win situation. Employees are given the opportunity to grow and change. Employers also benefit from this, because your employees stay motivated and are more versatile."
One size does not fit all
Whether your work is interesting and varied or not – at some point it is about the money. Leen Van Damme is in favour of flexible remuneration, an issue many companies are struggling with:
"In most sectors salary scales are still all about age and seniority. Each employee in the same category is entitled to the same benefits. But today, "one size fits all" no longer cuts it. People want individual choices, and flexible remuneration gives employees this option. Compare it with a store where employees can shop around. Employees are allocated a budget for fringe benefits. They can use this for extra leave days, for example, or more cash, a smaller company car and a bicycle, or a larger car, etc. They may choose once a year, and employers can modify the fringe benefits they offer.
Can this change be brought about in the public sector? Why not? The City of Ghent was one of our first customers. Although the options may be more limited, government organisations can take the lead when it comes to flexible remuneration. Giving people the option to take more leave, for example, also provides leverage for keeping people in employment for a longer period of time.”
Flexible remuneration offers many advantages. It increases staff satisfaction and retention. Employees who are considering moving to a different organisation always weigh up the pros and cons. They will think carefully before giving up the perks of their job. Offering them something they won't find elsewhere increases their loyalty. Koen Dewettinck of Vlerick Business School warns about the potential pitfalls:
"Organisations must be able to keep the administration processes manageable. I don't think it's advisable to give people too many choices, as this makes them indecisive. Develop a few prefab packages from which people can choose. Remember that becoming more flexible requires more work, and that HR departments are increasingly expected to be more efficient.”
Export plans? Make sure you talk to our experts first
To prepare your international adventure properly, ask yourself the right questions and talk to people who have done it all before: partners, customers, fellow exporters and experts.
BNP Paribas Fortis listens to the questions asked by international entrepreneurs and offers reliable advice. "A lot of exporting companies ask for our help when it's too late", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, says.
Entrepreneurs with little export experience are often unaware of the bigger financial picture. So what do they need to take into account when they set up a budget for their export plans?
Frank Haak: "Budgeting and pricing are affected by a lot of crucial factors: working capital, currency exchange risks and currency interest, prefinancing, profit margins, insurance, import duties and other local taxes, competitor pricing and so on. We always advise customers or prospects to start from a worst-case scenario. Quite a few companies are insufficiently prepared for their first international adventure: they see an opportunity and they grab it, but quite often disappointment and a financial hangover are not far away.
Our experts have years of export experience and the BNP Paribas Group has teams around the world. This means that we can give both general and country-specific tips. Let's say a machine builder wants to design and manufacture a custom-made machine. We recommend including the machine's reuse value in the budget: can this machine still be sold if the foreign customer suddenly no longer wishes to purchase it or if export to that country becomes impossible due to a trade embargo or emergency situation?"
What type of companies can contact BNP Paribas Fortis for advice?
Frank Haak: "All types! Entrepreneurs are often hesitant to ask for advice. Sometimes they are afraid that it will cost them money. However, the right advice can save them a lot of money in the long run. For example, we recommend a letter of credit or documentary credit to anyone exporting goods to a foreign buyer for the first time. This product is combined with a confirmation by BNP Paribas Fortis to offer the exporter the certainty that it will receive payment when it presents the right documents and to assure the buyer that its goods or services will be delivered correctly."
The consequences of not seeking advice: what can an exporter do in case of non-payment without documentary credit?
Frank Haak: "If you are not receiving payment for your invoices, the counterparty's bank can be contacted in the hope that it advances the payment on the customer's behalf. However, we shouldn't be too optimistic in that respect: the chances of resolving the issue without financial losses are very slim. Once you have left your goods with customs, you usually lose all control over them. Hence the importance of good preparation: listen to and follow the advice of your bank and organisations such as Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). It will protect you against a whole host of export risks."
BNP Paribas Fortis
- is the number one bank for imports (approx. 40% market share) and exports (approx. 25% market share) in Belgium (according to the statistics of the National Bank of Belgium): it offers advice/financing and can help you to discover new export markets through trade development;
- is proud that Belgium is one of the world's 15 largest export regions and is pleased to give exporters a leg up, for example by sponsoring the Flemish initiative ‘Leeuw van de Export’.
Source: Wereldwijs Magazine
The conversation manager: essential and permanently online
Coordinating a company's social media strategy is a task in itself. Who will you use to handle this? And what about involved customers who suddenly get too involved?
Because of social media, the role of a traditional marketing manager is evolving more and more towards being a conversation manager: someone who facilitates consumer communication. This includes communication between customers themselves and communication between the customers and the company.
Some key tasks in the conversation manager's job description are:
- Uniting and activating ‘branded fans’, as they will recommend the brand to friends and family.
- Listening to what people are saying about your company and seeking their active contribution to your products and strategy.
- Creating content worth distributing in order to encourage discussions.
- Managing these discussions.
- Ensuring your work is very customer-oriented and customer-friendly through customer care, i.e.by responding faster and providing more than what the customer is expecting.
Some companies are big enough to hire a full-time conversation manager. In other cases another employee will take on this role part-time. A third possibility is using a specialised company.
Caroline Hombroukx, conversation manager at content marketing company Head Office:
“No matter which option you go for, communication in social media must come across as personal. There is definitely a reason why large companies such as Telenet and Belgacom have created a fictitious person to deal with their customers; Charlotte and Eva respectively. The conversation manager also has to know the company and its social media strategy very well. It may therefore be an advantage if someone in the company itself takes on that role. That person is right at the source and so can distribute information, take a quick picture and post it online, etc.
This task is not for everyone. A conversation manager must have experience with social media, have fluent communication and writing style and must be empathetic, positive and solution-oriented in his or her dealings with customers. Prior training is not a luxury, because the employee must be very aware of the company's content strategy. The audience is varied and unpredictable. You have to decide time and time again whether certain content is or is not suitable for your target group. It is also not a nine-to-five job: the online world keeps on turning even at night or at the weekend."
The advantage of hiring a conversation manager from an external company is that in principle the expertise is present. In that case the challenge is to know the company to such an extent that the customer has the impression that he or she is talking to a real employee.
Getting angry is out of the question
Traditional marketing and advertising are a one-way street. If they do not work, they are a waste of money. However, they are not likely to result in angry comments. A company venturing out on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, can be sure to receive comments and reactions. Including negative ones. Caroline Hombroukx:
“On social media the consumer is suddenly right next to you banging the table. It is important to respond well to that. Getting angry yourself is out of the question. You need to respond by showing that you understand and you are taking the question or complaint seriously. Everyone following the discussion must see that the company is providing a quick answer and is trying to find a solution. If a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge this openly and honestly. You can also show the problem as something positive: as an opportunity to improve your brand, product or service. Of course you must find a suitable solution in the end. If the person sharing the complaint becomes too negative, you have to try and divert him or her to a private channel: a private message on Facebook, a direct message on Twitter, an e-mail or a phone call."
An enthusiastic, understanding response also works well if the consumer is sharing something positive about your brand, company or service. Thanking the consumer strengthens the bond between the company and the customer. Caroline Hombroukx:
"The dialogue with the target group is an opportunity to improve your product or operations through constructive criticism. Make customers feel involved. It creates a strong relationship. If you are publishing a magazine or starting a poster campaign for instance, you can let customers choose the best layout or title from three options posted on Facebook, for example. Everything that engages customers can only strengthen their commitment."
Social media dos and don'ts
- The consumer is always right (even when this isn't the case).
- Be open, honest and friendly.
- Use a personal style.
- Respond quickly to any questions or reactions.
- Stay positive and be understanding.
- Do all you can to engage your customers.
- Come up with a free gift every now and then.
- As a brand, try to avoid political topics.