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In office environments where cushy, stable jobs are the norm, the simple mention of the word “outsourcing” is sometimes enough to incite a panic. I’ve seen this time and time again.

As an agency owner, I get brought in by business owners and managers to handle a wide variety of SEO-focused services.

I’ve seen good, bad, and chaotic reactions to teams seeing what they perceive to be an outsourced partner (me) rocking the boat. More often than not, it looks like this:

GIF showing the scene from the office where Michael and the office crew are panicking

Before every project I take on, I intentionally meet with the person who hired me to coach them through the process of setting expectations with their team.

I thought it would be helpful to turn the advice I give my clients into a post that I can share with you.

How to Approach the Topic of Outsourcing Without Causing a Panic

If you want your entire team to view outsourcing as a benefit rather than a threat, it’s important to approach the topic delicately.

It’s hard to do, but it is possible. However, thinking it through is key.

1. Clearly Communicate the Purpose

First, open the conversation by offering a clear explanation behind the reasons you chose to outsource.

Reasons like accessing specialized skills usually get taken fairly well.

On the other hand, when I hear reasons like cost reduction, improving service quality, or addressing concerns with past campaigns, I know things are going to get rough.

Sometimes these reasons lead to employees viewing my role with defensiveness because they interpret my involvement as a threat to their job security.

As a result, they heavily challenge the necessity and credibility of my role.

At this point, I usually get questioned fairly intensely and have my recommendations or findings debated. To counter, I provide previous examples of where I’ve seen success with similar recommendations.

I try to reassure them that I am there as an asset – to work alongside them, not replace them – but that only goes so far.

I usually ask team leaders to be very involved early on as a way to build trust.

2. Try to Keep the Focus on the Benefits

If tension still exists, continue to highlight the benefits of outsourcing as a subtle way to shift perspective. Instead of seeing the downsides, discuss incentivizing benefits such as freeing up resources or fostering innovation.

This typically has mixed results. Some team members may start to come around, while others might still feel threatened.

I usually expect to see my previous accomplishments still being downplayed by some, but curiosity arises in others.

I suggest managers establish an open feedback look at this point. This allows the employees to see that their roles are evolving rather than diminishing.

This helps to build respect for their own expertise and accomplishments.

3. Provide Assurance and Comfort

Another key point to clearly communicate is job security and the future the current employees will hold in an organization where things are restructured.

This is especially critical for team morale if layoffs are anticipated. I find this situation especially challenging if my work has replaced that of another who was let go.

Remaining employees usually scrutinize the details looking for inconsistencies between management’s assurances and the perceived consultant’s agenda, leading them to focus on potential faults rather than benefits.

The most effective leaders provide regular updates that show specific examples of job security and role evolution to counter this threat.

If employees can see themselves evolving with the organization, leading to growth and stability, they will usually back off a bit.

4. Encourage Feedback From the Team

Once the dust settles, this is where things get interesting.

When managers ask for feedback and encourage employees to voice their opinions, concerns, or questions, they usually do one of two things: get on board and maximize their contributions, or dig in and voice their resentment.

Employees may intensify their challenges to proposed changes, partly to underscore their importance and expertise in front of management.

This type of feedback can become more about defending personal turf than enhancing the project as a whole.

Good managers can usually see through this, but I still encourage them to continue to seek feedback.

Regular, scheduled meetings where employees can express themselves openly are a great time for management to reinforce their commitment to hearing and addressing the concerns constructively.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan

I highly suggest having a detailed plan in place, including timelines, potential partners, and the specific processes to be outsourced – before discussing outsourcing.

This helps to significantly reduce fears of the unknown.

However, expect employees to heavily scrutinize the plan during this phase. They’ll search for gaps or flaws that might help justify their concerns.

It’s important to understand that this scrutiny and criticism, as well as the tendency to magnify minor issues as significant risks, often stems from worries about stability and a deeper fear of change.

If you can figure out how to do it without rocking the boat too much, I suggest at least exploring the option of involving employees early on in the planning process.

By engaging them in decision-making, especially in areas that affect their work directly, employees can develop a sense of ownership over the changes, which means they can focus less on potential negatives and more on constructive involvement.

6. Continually Follow Up on Feedback

After getting the initial discussions about outsourcing out of the way, I highly suggest maintaining open lines of communication by regularly updating the team on the outsourcing process and the impact it is having on the company.

This follow-up stage is important because it helps to preserve trust and morale, while at the same time, making team members feel that they’re still valued and a part of the decision.

It is at this stage that I usually see the resistance diminishing, and team members either jumping on board the outsourcing train, or at least accepting the new reality of the situation.

They will likely still persistently remain vigilant, closely monitoring whether commitments from management are being met and delivering the value that was promised.

If this happens, I suggest taking your feedback system one level further and implementing some type of shared digital dashboard or regular newsletters.

Tracking forward progress in real-time gives less leverage for pushback and can also reassure employees that value is evident.

Final Thoughts

By focusing on clarity, transparency, and the benefits to the organization and its employees, you can discuss outsourcing in a way that minimizes fears and builds understanding and support.