How to Choose a Learning Outsourcing Partner for Impactful, Cost-Effective Employee Development
Over the last several years, the work, the worker, and the workplace have transformed. But how we conduct business isn’t all that has changed. As people have become more comfortable leveraging technology to find solutions and consume information, providing easily accessible, ruthlessly relevant, and in-the-flow-of-work learning opportunities has never been more challenging. Providing those employee development opportunities, however, remains critically important.
Keeping up with these new learning expectations requires resources with different skill sets than your organization is used to allocating to employee development. To meet this new demand for modern learning, many organizations are now strategically sourcing their learning and development solutions and services through a managed learning services (MLS) supplier or partner.
Outsourcing to an MLS partner can streamline your learning organization, improve the effectiveness of your learning offerings, and enhance the overall learner experience. It can also save your organization time and money. Consider the following best practices as you prepare a request for proposal (RFP), identify the best partners, and finally, select and contract with a supplier.
Preparing the Request for Proposal
Solicit Input from Internal Stakeholders
The most successful outsourcing initiatives engage the right blend of team members from the start. The balance of procurement and operations resources is critical. In some scenarios, early involvement of less obvious representation from IT, data privacy, legal, human resources, and tax resources may help to ensure that your organization achieves its desired outcomes.
Failure to build and level-set the right team during the RFP process may significantly lengthen, complicate, and even derail the RFP process. Including all interested parties early on creates a smoother transition and implementation.
Align on Strategic Goals and Objectives for Outsourcing
Outsourcing can provide a variety of benefits to your learning organization, including:
- Expanding your capabilities to design and develop learning in new ways;
- Increasing your capacity to deliver learning to a diverse learner population;
- Improving the efficiency, quality, and consistency of your learning operation;
- Reducing cost and providing opportunities to reallocate budgets;
- Streamlining your supplier base to achieve maximum value;
- And freeing up internal resources for more strategic activities.
It is critical to identify and internally agree on your specific, overarching strategic objectives for partnering with an MLS supplier before beginning the RFP process. Making these objectives clear in an RFP helps your future partner define an operating model based on your specific objectives rather than solely relying on their own experience and assumptions.
Clarify and Define Scope and Scale
A common shortfall of many RFPs is a failure to define the scope of what is to be outsourced effectively and accurately. A Q&A between you and the potential MLS partners may uncover many of these details, but having a clear scope and providing sufficient detail in your RFP will help to minimize the number of supplier questions and reduce the impact to your team and RFP timeline. To make certain you receive supplier proposals that can be readily compared and that match your objectives, include all relevant operational details, data, and metrics you can obtain and share.
Consider Timing and Impact
Determining the impacts of change on the organization is critical to ensure the success of your outsourcing initiative. Do you have the backing and commitment from key stakeholders? Do you have available resources to support the RFP process and implementation? Are there activities underway that may be disrupted by an outsourcing transition?
The RFP process often requires many resources and subject matter experts during the transition of services to the new supplier. Having early stakeholder commitment and agreement on planning and timing is critical to ensure continued momentum for the project. Reviewing other training and technology initiatives occurring at the same time is also helpful when establishing an RFP timeline, transition plan, and implementation date.
Identifying the Best Suppliers
Tap into Industry Experts for Insights and Recommendations
The most capable suppliers with the best reputations and track records of success are well-known in the training industry. Look to unbiased sources to identify suppliers that should be considered for your outsourcing initiative. Some resources to leverage include Training Industry and Fosway Group.
Limit Bidders to No More Than Four Suppliers
When trying to select and source the best partner for an outsourcing initiative, too often, companies send solicitations to a long list of potential suppliers. The more suppliers you include in the process, the more questions you will receive and the more proposals you will have to read and evaluate.
This can put a significant burden on your resources and lengthen the RFP process. Limiting your solicitation to no more than four viable suppliers will allow you to keep to your timeline and ensure that your project stays on track. If time permits, consider soliciting a larger pool of suppliers through a Request for Information (RFI), which would allow you to quickly assess supplier capabilities and cull the list for the RFP.
Supplier Selection and Contracting
Assess Supplier Capabilities, Experience, and Reputation
Through a review of supplier proposals, presentations, and your follow-up inquiries, you should be able to assess whether a supplier has the necessary capabilities and experience to meet your needs. But you should also read between the lines to gain insight into the supplier’s reputation: Do they have long-term relationships with their customers? Multiple contract renewals? Expanding scope and services over time?
Take the time to fully understand the supplier’s governance approach and operating model so you can evaluate what it would be like to work with your partner every day.
Look for Value Beyond Scope
Suppliers can bring value beyond meeting your basic goals and objectives. You should also consider a supplier’s response time, management style, and capacity for agility and flexibility. Speaking to the supplier’s references can provide plenty of insight, so consider asking the following questions:
- Does the company you’re working with match your company’s culture?
- Does it add value and bring innovative ideas and solutions to the partnership?
- Has your support team been stable and easy to work with?
- Are issues addressed and resolved promptly and to your satisfaction?
These questions can expose key differentiators between suppliers that extend beyond the scope of the project and provide additional insights into whether a supplier is a good fit.
Negotiate and Strategize to Get the Best Supplier for the Best Price
It can be extremely difficult to get an apples-to-apples comparison when evaluating suppliers. Typically, differences in assumptions create variances in proposed solutions and pricing, and it isn’t until you have selected your supplier that the true scope and solution can be finalized.
Selecting an MLS partner is a strategic decision with long-term implications. It would be short-sighted to use price as your primary criterion for supplier selection. A best practice is to set costs aside, choose your preferred supplier based on cultural alignment and ability to deliver results, and then negotiate to get to a mutually beneficial price.
Write a Contract that Creates Value over Time
Like a marriage, a partnership needs a shared commitment to success and takes effort on both parts to sustain over time. While good intentions and alignment are important, a well-written contract is necessary to ensure partnership success.
Good contracts incorporate formal measurement of the supplier’s performance in meeting the strategic objectives of your partnership. This includes establishing agreed-upon metrics for key activities and deliverables and outlining penalties if performance falls below expectations. The best contracts are focused on creating and sustaining a strong partnership over time, often including incentives to encourage performance beyond expectations and to bring added value. This is often done by defining metrics around innovation, continuous improvement, and cost savings.
Deliver Impactful Employee Development
Following these steps when choosing an MLS supplier can help your outsourcing partnership reach its full potential and help you realize many benefits, including enhanced employee development by providing ruthlessly relevant and easily accessible in-the-flow of work learning opportunities.
By taking time to evaluate critical success factors and objectives and carefully selecting your MLS partner, you will significantly enhance your organization’s ability to develop a high-performing workplace culture and meet challenging business goals.