Weeding Through the Masses: Managing outsourcing

Originally published in Successful Meetings magazine, July 2006

Recently I asked a colleague, a well-known and respected meeting professional, what his biggest concern is when thinking about outsourcing to third parties. His response was: "How do I know that the person I hire will really understand what I'm trying to accomplish in the same way my internal staff does?"

His concerns are legitimate. In recent years, the marketplace has been flooded with individuals and companies selling aspects of planning services to meetings. Some are highly qualified and entrepreneurial; others see it as an early career path unto itself and begin with little traditional experience; and still others are in reality between jobs and filling their time with contract work in the interim. And how do you know which is the best fit for your organization when faced with little more than slick marketing pieces and references that are prescreened by the third-party candidate who is bidding on the job?

The good news is that when you are seeking a third party, your research can be far less restrictive than if you were hiring a staff member. Many former employers hesitate to give any references—good or bad—because of the potential liability. The same is not true of providing references for service providers and contractors. Typically, former clients can and will be much more forthcoming about the work relationship.

And you should hold these third parties to the same standards that you do when hiring a new staff member. Don't assume that because someone is successfully self-employed or because he or she has a good industry reputation that he is necessarily highly qualified for your particular project. Don't stop asking questions when she drops that age-old comment about her incomparable depth of resources. Those are valid points, but far short of sufficient reason to make your selection. Service providers should be chosen not simply because they are capable of doing a job, but because they can prove to you they are the best possible choice for your needs, bar none.

Place the burden of proof of quality squarely onto the third party until it meets with your satisfaction. That's the challenge many of us accepted when we entered the brave new world of third-party work. If your potential contractor can't be held to that standard, keep looking. More good news is that these days, there's always another company out there to consider.

Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM, CMP, is the president and owner of Meeting Horizons, an independent meeting services company founded in 1996 and specializing in meetings management, training, and consulting for corporate and association clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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