Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Choosing the Perfect Talent Management Solutions Partner?

So, the dust has settled on the Learning Technologies event and no doubt attendees have gone back to the office with a bag full of leaflets to look at some time in the future. And exhibitors will have returned to their HQs with fists full of business cards to follow up. You might have just put all your leaflets straight in the bin, they might be sat buried in your in-tray, or you might even be having conversations with some of the companies you met about how you could work together.

But, how do you get from these early stages of speed dating at a show, to actually finding your ideal match?

How do find that partner who can create a sustainable, long term impact and a great working relationship that will be valued for years?

No 1- Know and Communicate Your Goals

The single most important aspect of finding the perfect partner is to really understand and communicate your business goals.  The measurable and tangible business targets that you need your partner to help you achieve. The more business aligned, real and robust these are; the more business critical and visible they are; the more likely your choices will actually deliver value. It really is pivotal.  If your objectives are vague, L&D centric - not focused on business returns, then even the greatest partnership and perfect partner will fail.  Without a solid foundation, even the best solution will end in a whimper of disappointment…

So, you need be business driven, tangible and geared to contribute visible business value, almost immediately.

Having this clarity of (measurable)  intent and communicating your goals clearly to your potential partners will be the most important thing you do.

Robust goals lead to robust solutions.

No 2 – Look for more than Functionality and Immediate Costs

So, now you know where you’re really going, you can look for your partner.

But what, makes a perfect partner?

During our recent webinar for the Learning and Skills Group, we asked two open questions about this topic.  The online discussion revealed some interesting insights:

‘What makes a good learning systems partner?’
The responses included words like ‘trust’, ‘good support’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘providing a good customer experience’. These are all answers based on the approach of the learning provider, their culture and their people. 

But when we then went on to ask the second question:

‘What are your key criteria when selecting a learning systems partner?’
The answers instantly changed. The focus shifted and the answers were suddenly all about the technology and the features and functionality that a system can provide. Responses included ‘integration with existing platforms’, ‘flexible reporting’, ‘regular upgrades’ and ‘simple navigation’.  

And thereby hangs the tale.

When choosing a learning provider – whether it’s for a system, a tool or e-learning content – there are two pivotal factors.  It’s critical to bridge the gap between the technology itself and the ability to deliver success.

Cost, preferably a view of total cost of ownership, is always a fundamental consideration of course, but other factors need to come into play as the answers to our first question demonstrate.

So, why is that so often, qualities such as user experience, support and flexibility get overlooked during the procurement process?

Some of this is driven by the procurement process itself.  The professional procurement and IT approach is to find the partner who matches your needs.  This is the low hanging fruit that is easy to quantify and potentially easiest to prove.  If the solution has the functionality then there is a view that the rest is a matter of contacting, SLAs and supplier management.

But, that doesn’t guarantee success or deliver long term impact.

The problem is that in order to deliver long term impact, there are some really critical factors that are so much more important than a functionality list.  These are the genuinely more elusive perspectives of how easy the vendors’ implementation team are to work, the ease and flexibility of solution configuration, the simplicity of administration, the scalability of their customer support to handle problems etc.

Providing insights into the breadth of understanding that is needed to make good Learning and Talent Technologies decisions is one reason we’ve created our Vendor Perspectives Reports.  They help bridge this gap.  They provide real, independent insights into these critical factors. So, now when you’re evaluating learning technology solutions, you’ve got a short-cut to expert insights, analysis and inside information that will help you make the right decisions.  Not just in the context of your reference call contact, but across many customer scenarios.

So, whether you are at the early stages of assessing learning solutions, or re-evaluating your existing options, our advice is to begin by considering the wider factors that are critical to success, in addition to your functional specifications.

For example:

Quality of user experience - across all system roles
Ease of delivery & technical execution
Enterprise flexibility & sustainability
Service capability
Total cost of ownership
Access to innovation

Many of these have long term impacts.  Business drivers change over time, and finding a partner who can move at the pace of your business with innovation, sustainability, ease of delivery, flexibility and with a ingrained quality user experience are some of the key factors that will mean that you’re not hunting for a new partner once the contract comes to an end.

As we’ve said many times in the past, functionality alone is never enough to drive successful partnership and valued solutions.

Finding the Perfect Partner – Your Perspectives
Whether you are a user or a supplier of learning technologies we’re keen to get your insights:

How effective have your solution selections been?
What goals are driving current solution searches?
How robust are they?
What experiences and advice would you give to others trying to choose their ideal partner?
What are the biggest mistakes people make?
What are your top tips?

We’d like to hear about them, post them here via the comments or on
Or tweet me @davidperring.

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