Great training organizations excel at many processes and practices, but there is one capability at their foundation: administrative services. When this capability is in place, an organization can deliver a seamless experience for training administrators and learners alike.
According to longitudinal research by Training Industry, Inc., most training professionals rate administrative services as less important than others, and only about one-fifth report strong performance in this area at their organization. The exceptions are in government agencies and medical industries; training professionals who work in government place administrative services in the five most important process capabilities, and professionals who work in the government and medical sectors rate it as their highest-performing process capability.
Administrative Services: A Baseline Capability
“Government agencies use a procurement process for most administrative services,” says Dr. Theresa Horne, CPTM, a senior program manager working in leadership and talent development at the National Labor Relations Board. This process capability is so important because of its nature as “a hot procurement item (and costly portion of the budget,” she explains.
“Additionally, vendor services is a top priority for most [federal] government training departments, because federal work differs greatly from private industry. Thus, the process of finding vendors for training that have a deep understanding of federal department activities, objectives and regulations is paramount,” Horne adds. Government and medical organizations also typically have more regulations to comply with, making administrative services more critical than in many other industries.
Many of Wex’s biggest master service agreements require that the company has “a robust training plan for sales and service employees who will be supporting their business,” says Kathryn Connolly, CPTM, director of global talent development at WEX Inc. “In addition, because we are a publicly traded company and have a bank subsidiary, all employees are required to complete annual courses on banking regulations and compliance modules. We need to report completion of these modules to our audit team, but from there it is up to each training function and business unit to build out processes to track and communicate training efforts back to the business.”
Administrative services practices include:
- Tracking course completions, test results and other outcomes.
- Scheduling instructors, course materials and facilities.
- Registering learners for courses.
- Tracking badging (e.g., certification expiration and compliance)
- Tracking and reimbursing tuition expenses (e.g., as part of a tuition assistance program).
- Managing vendors and outsourced processes.
Managing Vendor Relationships
A critical part of administrative services for many training organizations is managing the procurement and outsourcing of learning products and services. While a training organization may outsource part or all of any process capability, Training Industry’s research found that organizations are most likely to use external partners for technology integration and content development and least likely to use them for portfolio management.
“Portfolio management is personal to the organization, meaning a shift in strategic priorities can result in no longer needing a specific training program. Staying aware of the five-year corporate strategy allows an internal training manager to see the larger picture and … adapt the learning strategy to the corporate strategy and culture of the company. I don’t believe this alignment could occur well with an external partner,” says Connolly. Wex uses vendors for some of its content development and language translation and skill-based training — though it follows up by certifying internal trainers “to facilitate most programs after the first vendor-facilitated event is completed,” she adds.
Horne believes that outsourcing content development frees training managers “to do the important work of diagnosing and aligning activities to strategic goals” — two of the most critical training processes, according to Training Industry’s research. Meanwhile, “portfolio management is not as prescriptive as content creation, so many learning leaders prefer to manage their portfolio with a keen eye towards the strategic alignment.”
Best Practices for Managing Vendors and Outsourced Processes
Regardless of which processes a learning leader outsources, Horne notes that it’s important to maintain alignment between the vendor’s activities and the overall learning and business strategy. Other best practices she and Connolly share include:
- Identify the outcomes you want to achieve with the vendor relationship, and then use what Horne describes as “a systematic approach” to select them based on quality, value, prior experience with similar organizations, culture and value alignment, and scalability. “The vendor’s values need to align with your company’s values to establish credibility with the employees,” Connolly notes.
- Share any information that will help the vendor tailor its solutions to your organization and learners.
- Maintain open and continuous communication and evaluation.
- Make sure the vendor can grow with your company. “For example,” Connolly says, “as the company expands into other regions around the globe, the vendor needs to be able to adapt the training programs for these geographical teams to fit the culture.”
The bottom line to remember when it comes to vendor and all other administrative services is that they must serve strategic alignment — the cornerstone of a great training organization. For example, says Connolly, “Training viability is contingent on the perceived value we provide to the business, but this is more than just training hours, attendees and course completion.”
As a result, a training organization’s administrative services must go beyond tracking course completion to help “tell the story about training alignment and how [the organization has] supported the business to increase revenue, mitigate risk, or reduce or contain cost,” she explains.
After all, that’s the goal of every great training organization: to use its high performance in each of the training process capabilities to support employees as they achieve business goals.