Interview with Tony Reilly, GP Strategies by Dani Greening

After sharing his thoughts on transforming learning services, GP Strategies EMEA Vice President, Tony Reilly consolidates his insight into the key success factors for outsourcing your learning.

So Tony, we’ve presented the model for transforming learning services, but let’s go back to basics; how do customers put in place a successful outsourcing learning managed service?

The key is planning and developing an agreed vision and strategy. Customers need a plan of where they want their organisational learning to be in the next 3-5 years, and be really clear on what they want from a managed learning provider. What are their key objectives in supporting their stakeholders and internal users? Can they articulate their vision and objectives in a simple message that will drive their selected partner to keep the transformation on track throughout the journey?

In my experience, the customer needs to develop a strategy in order to reach their vision before they consider appointing a Managed Learning Service Provider (MSP); they need to understand what is in and out of scope. When they go through that process, they need to have the built in agility and flexibility to be able to change and amend their requirements with their preferred MSP. Unfortunately, very few organisations achieve that.

Jars of sweetsGenerally, a customer, through procurement sends out a Request for Information (RFI). It’s here where the ‘sweetie shop’ mentality kicks in. Customers are given plenty of great ideas to choose from, and they start to build some of these ideas into their existing strategy, which is something I applaud every single time. Not only does it keep the potential MSP partners on their toes, but it also gives the customer the ability to take best practice from elsewhere, and then build that into their strategy and vision.

RFI’s and Request for Proposals (RFP's) vary by customer in depth, detail and scope. An MSP can normally work out how much due diligence has been completed prior to issuing the RFI/RFP. Most organisations aren’t aware of the work they need to do and the time they should invest in gathering the data to go to RFP and fewer fully understand the work they need to conduct to transfer to an MSP either from an incumbent or from internally provided learning services.

If you could pinpoint some of the key elements to consider in selecting an MSP, what would they be?

Hand pulling keyI think one of the key elements to consider as part of your selection is the confidence you have in the MSP’s capability, capacity, experience and footprint. Customers are now much more experienced in asking questions. For instance, they now request potential MSP’s which countries they operate in, they ask for an entity, as well as company registration. They ask how many full time employees the MSP has, how many associates they have in each area, and what their learning capabilities are, and they use that to build their response and plan.

The principle success factor for a great transfer is the MSP’s project teams, both in transition through to steady state. Customers should spend time getting to know who they will be working with and determine how the partnership will add value.

Presentation Teams:

Make sure that the people you see presenting their solutions and capabilities are part of the team that will work with you, once you’ve chosen your MSP.

What I’ve seen on numerous occasions are sales teams presenting pitches, and being selected as a chosen vendor with the belief that the presentation team will provide the services post award. In many circumstances, you are then provided with a sparkly new transition team who you’ve never seen before. My suggestion would be that the people you want to work with should be the people that present the solution to you. And you should feel very confident that your team have proven their experience in implementing learning transformation and maintaining an effective learning system in similar sized engagements to yours.

Change, Transition, and Communication:

The key success factors which customers should focus more on are the MSP’s people, change management, transition, and communications. My experience, after implementing over 30 learning outsources, is that your transition plan is pretty much only accurate on the day that you agree it. After that, they rarely proceed as planned. In my experience, they start to deviate because customers rarely understand the amount of work they need to do as part of transitioning the services to a new or replacement MSP.

As part of the transition process and the ongoing delivery of the learning system, the establishment of a robust governance structure is key. Look for a partner that has experience of establishing a cadence of reviews that will allow you to have complete visibility on the progress towards your vision.

Processes and Tools:

As well as a depth of relevant experience, the right MSP partner will come with a set of proven processes and tools that will allow them to implement and run a learning system in partnership with its customer. Whether you want an ‘out of the box’ solution, or a tailored approach, a good partner will have process templates and tools to support and drive consistency and efficiency in any aspect of the learning journey, from design and development, to training administration, and delivery.

Vendor Management:

Of course, another key to success is how the newly appointed MSP transitions the vendor management services. Customers and the MSP must communicate to the vendors well, and have full confidence in them. Sending them a new contract and telling them to cut 15% off their prices doesn’t endear them to their new MSP partner. What we find works best is having regular meetings where we invite everyone in; both the customer and provider. The customer sets out their strategy, the benefits, and reasoning behind the decision to move to an MSP. After the explanation, we ask the customer to withdraw so that we can engage with the vendors to allay their fears and initiate the new relationship.

Describe what the most successful outsource you’ve ever worked on was like?

One of the most successful outsources I was involved in was when the communication was direct, open, and honest and the relationship operated as a true learning partnership. The whole system was transparent, well communicated, and the change mechanisms were put in place in advance. Ultimately, what I would say to customers is that once you’ve been through the procurement phase, make sure that you select a partner that you enjoy working with, who challenges and adds real learning values, because that relationship will be essential in ensuring success for both partners.

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