As a learning and development professional, you understand the challenges of developing and implementing major learning solutions, both in terms of available resources and expertise.
Achieving business-driven objectives through L&D requires a diverse mix of skills, strategies, and experience. Engaging with external learning partners can provide a "one-stop shop" for delivering those benefits, and it is often easier than building and coordinating the resources in-house or via staff augmentation.
Whether you're building a single training deliverable or more complex, long-term learning solutions, a strategic learning partner can help you structure, develop, and implement a learning strategy that aligns training and performance initiatives with organizational cornerstones.
Bringing in external learning partners is necessary to enable L&D to ultimately meet overarching business goals, but convincing the decision-makers elsewhere in the organization can be its own challenge. Make the case for learning consulting that is strategic and results-based by addressing these five frequently asked questions.
1. What can external learning partners bring to the table that our internal resources can't?
Even the most robust L&D organization will, from time to time, lack certain highly specialized skill sets necessary to execute a given learning initiative. The consulting business model allows strategic learning partners to tap into a deep and wide pool of available personnel resources and deploy them as needed—often for limited engagements that would make internal hiring infeasible. The strategic learning partner can (and should) also employ proven methodologies that have been perfected with dozens of other organizations. These best practices add value to your organization above and beyond satisfying the near-term learning initiative need.
Moreover, the right external learning partner brings an invaluable outsider's perspective to your organization. Since their goal is to complete the project successfully, their viewpoints and advice are impartial, free from internal political pressures, and informed by their experience in the world of talent development. Put another way: Strategic learning consultants can help challenge conventional thinking and tunnel vision in a way that may be difficult or career-threatening for an internal employee.
2. Would it be cheaper to hire new staff than to contract with external learning partners?
In most cases, no. Typically, if the L&D organization has a need for increased volume or capacity, that requirement will fluctuate up and down depending on the ebb and flow of the project. If you hire additional staff to accommodate the needs of a project, what happens when the workflow decreases or the project finishes? By working with a third-party learning partner, it's possible to leverage resources only as needed, so that when the demand subsides, you're not stuck finding something to do for the extra staffers, or worse—laying them off. In addition, you can hire a pinpoint solution that perfectly fits the project.
A common L&D solution for adding capacity is to use a staff augmentation firm, for which the L&D organization pays an hourly or weekly rate for a contract worker to be part of the team. An alternative to staff augmentation is the project-based model, in which external learning partners charge a flat fee for a defined set of training deliverables. There are benefts to both approaches; which one you employ is often based on the desire to meet fixed deadlines and project budgets, as well as to what extent you are willing to manage the learning resources.
3. How can we be sure training ROI will exceed the cost of the consulting services?The learning strategy plan should spell out the ROI expected from the learning solutions, which should make it clear from a financial perspective whether the project should not be initiated. If the learning strategy plan includes a solid business case that can justify the investment in a custom training project, then the learning initiative can be confidently undertaken; if the anticipated ROI on training initiatives falls short of the expected investment, then the L&D organization should reconsider the scope and parameters of the learning solutions.
4. Will we have ownership of source files after the project has concluded?
You definitely should! It is standard practice among reputable learning consultants for the client to receive all source files at the conclusion of a project. The work agreement should detail the project closeout process, and you should expect to receive archived files plus a lessons learned summary and feedback surveys. It is also reasonable to expect and request access to collaboration spaces throughout the course of the project for monitoring, input, and file acquisition purposes. Confirm up front that the contract spells this out to your satisfaction.
5. This learning project is still in the very early stages of development. Is it too soon to begin working with strategic learning consultants?
It's almost never too soon. The early stages of development are perhaps the most critical for the project's success, because it's the optimal time to get the organization aligned with the team, the business, and the learning strategy. The better aligned and the more effectively that learning leaders can communicate the impact of learning, the more evenly senior management will allocate resources (in both money and time) to the L&D organization for future training initiatives. Experienced strategic learning consultants can help you create that alignment and make that business case to key decision makers. In addition, getting the contracts signed sometimes takes longer than expected; nobody wants paperwork to delay a kickoff meeting.