The success of a learning leader is dependent on how we create an engaging learning environment that produces true performance improvement. We all utilize training suppliers to manage some part of that learning experience. Since we are all accustomed to working with suppliers, ideally, we should all be well versed in how to get the most from our engagements and knowledgeable about what it takes to be great partners. The reality is we are not. There are plenty of war stories told from both buyers and suppliers about failed engagements, and why the other party was to blame for a bad experience.
But I like to think that from all the failures, there are many lessons we can learn about how to manage a sourcing engagement more effectively. My experience has found that there are many more successes than failures that come from sourcing engagements, and the proof is in the fact that sourcing continues to grow in the corporate training market.
Here are some of the most valued lessons I’ve learned in working with learning leaders who’ve got the most from their partnerships with training suppliers. And remember, great training organizations must have high-performing training suppliers.
- Treat suppliers as partners. While suppliers fall under the category of vendors in procurement vernacular, the reality is the relationship between the learning leader and supplier must be viewed as a strategic partnership. It’s important they are viewed as a part of the extended team of the training organization and feel empowered to do what’s right for both of our businesses.
- Properly define and communicate expectations. The most common behavior I’ve experienced in successful supplier partnerships is when the expectations were clearly defined and articulated up front, and a part of ongoing communications during the implementation of the project. Learning leaders should never assume that what they are requesting is understood by the supplier when submitting proposals. The process for having a great partnering relationship with a supplier starts at the RFP, and continues through the contracting phase and ultimately through implementation of the project.
- Effectively do your due diligence. When selecting a supplier for an upcoming engagement, do everything you can to determine if the partner is a cultural fit for your business. The best way to do this is through due diligence. Don’t assume – make certain – they meet your needs. It’s a good idea to require your suppliers to demonstrate their capabilities by requiring references, credentials or case studies of projects they have successfully completed.
- Select suppliers based on capability first. Be careful of selecting suppliers based on price and assuming they have the capabilities. We’ve all heard and even made the statement that you get what you pay for. Training is not a commodity. And when you select a supplier based on price first, you are commoditizing the suppliers work. Focus first on the supplier’s capabilities, then on their business attributes, and ultimately on price, quality or speed.
- Be easy to work with. Training suppliers often tell me the clients they work the hardest for are those who are easy to do business with. They want to do the best for those who are good clients. Treating suppliers as if we suffer from “vendoritis” makes the supplier’s job more difficult, adding stress and risks to their ability to be successful. At the end of the day, suppliers have to be profitable too. A successful engagement is when both parties are successful and profitable.
- Value a supplier’s credentials. There are a variety of credentials in the market that demonstrate a supplier’s capabilities. Some are industry based and some are internal to their own organization. The bottom line is we need for suppliers to demonstrate that their own staff is properly trained to do the work we need them to do. If you are contracting for instructional design, make sure their ISDs are certified in instructional design. If you are contracting for managed learning services, expect your supplier to be certified training managers. If you are contracting for delivery, require your supplier to have certified instructors in their field of expertise.
- Hold frequent reviews. Stay in frequent contact with your supplier during the implementation phase of your engagement. Don’t wait until the project is completed to review their approach and progress. Regularly meet to ensure the project is on track and moving toward successful completion. And be careful of scope creep. Don’t allow reviews to be a means for change.
From where I sit, we have an opportunity to improve how we engage with suppliers and forge successful partnerships. Ultimately, these strategic partnerships are essential to developing effective training programs that deliver true performance improvement.