Devine Consultant Services

Structuring Lives and Organizations for Success



Outsourcing the Learning Function:


Seven Key Questions to ask before purchasing learning from an outside vendor     


Make certain training achieves the increase from instruction to performance and profits are imperative in today’s society. What can organizations do when evaluating the multitude of alternatives available? 


Knowledge is power. This is an old saying that has been around for a long time. However, now more than ever it is true. With technology advancements, and professions becoming more and more competitive it is essential that an organization has a labor force that is not only experienced, but is continually enhancing their abilities. No organization can count on growth tomorrow while it leans on the successes of yesterday. Management anticipates and even demands performance effectiveness increase. This can only occur from a society where learning is valued and encouraged. 



The Endeavor of Deciding on Performance-Induced Training 


You could have been given the assignment to establish this position and/or support this position of training. No training department can be the remedy to everyone’s needs. A 2002 report by The Conference Board stated that 55% of companies outsource part of the training function. There are many instances when you should go outside the expertise of your organization and seek a professional consultant. But one quick check on the internet is enough to send you running for shelter! Its unbelievable how many contractors there are that want to instruct your personnel the “art of…” just about anything. From sales to customer-service, construction, excreta. You name it you will be able to find someone who is prepared and even eager to approach your organization and “educate” your personnel about it.  


Deciding on an effective training program is an elaborate procedure that requires carefully matching an organization’s needs to its employees’ needs and synchronize both to produce the desired results – generally this is to improve performance and increase profits. The procedure is complex because successful training utilizes an organizations approach, voice, mission and several other customized elements that are not available in off-the-shelf training alternatives. What enterprises honestly want is to equip their personnel with information that works instantly and provides an immediate increase to a particular product or service. 



Benefits of Outsourcing your Training 


Why should you outsource your training when you probably have many qualified Topic Matter Experts (TME) in your organization? Outsourcing segments of your training function can contain numerous benefits for your organization. The potential of saving your organization money in the long run is perhaps the leading factor that motivates most organizations to outsource. Sure you can take your TME’s off their everyday jobs to create subject matter for training your staff needs, but the cost of lost productivity along with the TME’s lack of expertise and thorough education principles typically spells disaster at the end of the day. By outsourcing you save not only money in lost productivity, you also reduce on expenditures of materials. You place the responsibility of expenses on the vendor and merely pay a per use fee. Frequently this will save an organization thousands of dollars. 


You also reap the reward of allowing your staff to focus on what they know best – your business. While some of the learning that occurs in your organization is specific to your business, a substantial portion of the training you require can be performed by outsourcing more successfully and with greater proficiency. Your personnel are free to direct their valuable time and attentiveness on improving your products and services for the benefit of your clients and your bottom line. Just as you are focusing on your business, a skilled training consultant is focusing on their business – learning. Frequently an outside consultant will have cutting-edge knowledge or the most innovative training in a specific topic. Take advantage of their research. 


The objective of all businesses is to facilitate employees within the organization to constantly be students. The expectation of this belief is that all functional teams in a business’s ecosystem are self-governing, self-motivated, and self-reliant. This expectation is the reasoning behind a majority of the training programs developed and existing in the soft-skill space. 


In the early 90’s Gerald O. Grow offered a self-directional model that adapted itself from the arguments put forward by Blanchard’s situational self-leadership model. Grow’s belief was that in order for training to be successful we have to deviate from instructor-led platforms to participant-driven classrooms. Such self leadership only comes when the student buys into the concept of constant learning.  


Grow suggested that in order for learning to become self-directed and training to have a opportunity, organizations interested in optimizing their training efforts needed to know which category the individuals were in.  


The goal is that in order for professionals in today’s marketplace to remain competitive and effective, they have to shift from being reliant on someone to instruct them, to becoming self-directed in a consultative environment where adaptability and flexibility are the rule. It is also understood that successful training programs structure each component into their activity arsenal so that regardless of where the participant is, the instructor can take on the role of a coach, motivator, facilitator or consultant. 


Selecting the Right Program 


So, how do organizations resolve the issue of choosing appropriate training that provides quantifiable results and keeps the work force active and motivated? 


The simple method to choosing training would be to get involved with the current craze or the trend that appears to be popular. In Good to Great, Jim Collins alluded to the fact that great organizations are ones that maintain a status quo of core beliefs over a period of time. Virtually every organization that looks at adding new external components to solidify existing processes needs to be cognizant of the extent of change being introduced into the enterprise. 


People are mindful of the necessity to change and hope that each new idea by some means coincides and supplements that which is already in place. Changing direction is acceptable provided that people understand that the company is not changing the objective with every new input. That’s where dissatisfaction comes in.  


If you are now thinking about how using an outside vendor can be beneficial to your organization, then you need to consider how you will sort through all the options available to you. There are seven key questions you should ask any vendor before investing in their learning content and delivery. 


Key Consideration: Measurable 


Key Question #1: Is the training measurable? 


This is, of course, the age-old question, how do I know I am getting an adequate return on my investment? There are many evaluation equations circulating that help you calculate your return on investment. Probably the most trusted model is Kirkpatrick’s four-level model of evaluation. In this model you evaluate training on reaction (how the trainee feels about the training); learning (determine the amount of learning that takes place); behavior (on-the-job behavior changes due to the learning); and results (did the learning meet the desired results.) A reputable outside vendor should be able to show you how they (or you) will measure the effectiveness of the program on at least two of the levels mentioned above. 


Training programs that showcase measurability and are built with reinforcement in mind have greater success because they are built on the framework of taking guesswork out of the equation. If the training group is surveyed prior to implementation on their skill set, and the program implemented takes into account the specifics of such a survey, then the program can be tailored to focus on the areas needing most improvement. This gives the learner the luxury of knowing that the goal of the training is to address the gaps that are preventing them from having true success. In addition, when reinforcement on learned skills comes every week in the form of difference-making information, the validation is complete. 


By looking for and insisting on tracking mechanisms that allow you to prescribe solutions based on real data and diagnosis, you have a better shot at real improvement for the people you are training. 



Key Consideration: Scalable 


Key Question #2: Is the training scalable? Is there flexibility built in to the program that will allow for changes to meet future needs? 


The key to a successful training initiative is scalability. Not only should the instruction be customized to the specific products and services and pertinent to the industry in question, the process of delivery needs to be highly flexible as well. Your needs will shift and change throughout the life of a training need. The vendor needs to able to grow and/or shrink with you. In mid-stream of a year-long training plan what happens if events out of your control force you to switch gears? Be sure to discuss with a potential vendor the specifics of any long-term commitments you make. On the same note, make sure that the vendor can sustain their end of the commitment – if you need more training for example, will they have the manpower to make that happen. 


There are many different types of training that can allow for the flexibility you need to reach the people in your organization. Generally there are three ways to package learning: 


Off the Shelf Program  – Pre-designed usually in a three ringed binder with packaged leader’s notes and participant notes and a supporting medium of audio and video to assist. 


Blended and Tailored – An instructor interacts with the client to tailor pre-packaged content and make the tweaks on terminology and dialect to ensure that the participants feel comfortable. Classroom activities are simulated using real data and tying them into principles that are universal and time-tested. Measurement devices can be used to lend support to adjusting delivery of content to tailor to it the environment in which it is being taught. 


Cutomized– Usually private labels with licensing options involved in either the form of per participant taught or content used. Case studies are customized and role plays are written taking into account specific observable behavioral outputs of your team. Processes can be customized and the training delivered has the look and feel of an internal program validated by external assistance. 


By choosing the right-approach the success of training goes beyond logistics and is able to focus on the optimal desired outcomes. 


As organizations are moving to more of a real time approach it is becoming more and more evident that training programs that have a degree of interchangeability  and cross-functionality  are more likely to find an audience. Teaching service personnel how to sell and sales personnel how to service allows an organization to have many more opportunities for contact with their customers. To this end a program designed with interchangeability in mind provides greater options for your organization. 


Key Consideration: Trust 


Key Question #3: Can I trust the training provider?


As already mentioned there are literally hundreds of options you can take to provide training from an outside source. You need to ask for references before plunging in. When talking to the references be sure to ask them not only what they liked about the vendor, but what they would change about the experience if they could. Find out how long the vendor has been in business and a list of industries they have served. Much information can be gleaned by going to the vendor’s website. Take the time to do some due diligence before spending time interviewing potential vendors. 


With an increasing need to show a return on investment, most companies are treating each department as an individual cost-center. To this end all learning requires practicality. Training programs that are principle-based will be able to provide practical applications that stand the test of time. Programs that are trend-based will succumb once the initial pendulum swing is complete. Take a close look at the underlying philosophy of the material – will it still be relevant next year and the year after? 


Key Consideration: Guarantee 


Key Question #4: Is there a guarantee on the results of the training?


If there is an evaluation model in place (see key question #1), then what happens when the desired results are less than anticipated? A vendor who is confident in their material and their material is sound and well-researched will be happy to offer you some guarantee of their training objectives. 


When your workforce is scattered all over the map both domestic and globally, finding a program that will provide the options of distance learning becomes the most viable for an organization. Any program that has a chance of success in this new global village must have as one of its charters of formation the concept of maximizing the logistics of personnel that will be trained. 


Key Consideration: Interesting 


Key Question #5: Is the training interesting and engaging?


It is one thing to have great information; it is another for the learner to be motivated to learn the information. Not only should the learning be well researched, but it should also be put in a context that makes the learning easy. Ask the vendor what adult learning principles they used when designing the program. The concept of adult learning focuses on identifying existing knowledge and growing it from there. Participants in every class have a set of expectations and have a definition of those expectations as it applies to them. To this end the best training programs use more simulations, role plays and case studies to augment key points. Whether the program is distance learning, classroom or blended it needs to capture the attention of the learner – and keep their attention throughout the process. 


Key Consideration: Application 


Key Question #6: Can the training easily be applied to the real world situations of your organization? 


A recent Stanford University study found that “95% of the people who hear, understand and agree with a principle do not have the ability to apply it to their lives because they do not have the necessary resources.” Will the vendor supply your organization with resources to make the training last outside the learning environment? 


If the learning is too generic or too theoretical, your staff will have trouble transferring the learning to their jobs. Habits are, by nature, hard to break. Change is many times resisted. How does the training help the learner apply the new skill once they are back on the job? It is critical in transferring the learning to the job that during the training process the learner is given the opportunity to experience how the new skill will work. 


Key Consideration: Reinforcement 


Key Question#7: How is the learning reinforced and retention increased? 


The best laid plans in the world are useless if there is no reinforcement on the skills. It has been said that 80% of whatever is taught in a classroom or by way of a distance e-learning initiative is usually forgotten the moment the person disengages from the session. Only 20% has a fighting chance and a year later less than 1% is even remembered. To combat this, a company selecting the right training vendor has to insist on a reinforcement piece that reminds the students of skills learned and strategies mastered on an ongoing basis. 


Electronic models that provide this reinforcement by way of automatic e-mail alerts that are either audio or video based prove to be tremendously successful. When participants go into an active understanding that there will be post-training follow-up for a period of time, the odds of accountability and responsibility go way up. Couple this with requirements to actually make commitments on each stage of the reinforcement and you are guaranteed success.   


As already stated habits are hard to break. The training may have been interested, motivating and the application was understandable and still you can find that the new skill is not transferred to the job. Repetition is a great way to increase transference of the learning to the job. However, that repetition must be engaging and keep the learner’s interest. Also, an element of accountability will make the learning transfer happen more quickly and last longer. Does the vendor have a method for involving management in the training and the follow up? No one wants to add even more tasks to their day, so you will want to ensure the system is easy to use and maintain. 





Finally, it is important to realize and understand that the people who undertake the jobs in your organization are people and not units of productivity. Equipping the people with the attributes to think, act and perform in a manner that allows them to win in all areas of their life will be an asset to your business. 


Remember, it’s not what’s new that makes the difference but what works. Once you have interviewed your vendors and selected the learning program, you can relax in the knowledge that you have chosen the best fit for your organization’s criteria. By asking these key questions you have gained the knowledge you need to successfully create the learning environment your organization needs to stay competitive.