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Seb Anthony

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How do I manage external Learning & Development consultants?


I'd be very grateful for advice and/ or recommended reading on how to implement a structure for managing external training consultants.

I've recently inherited a fairly eclectic mix of consultants, each of who provide a number of open courses. To-date Service Level Agreements have not been made explicit and very little is being done to ensure an acceptable level of quality and value for the organisation.

The client-provider relationship is blurred somewhat, owing to the absence of regular review and renewal of agreement - and I have anecdotal evidence of certain providers who routinely renege on the most basic of commitments.

I’d like to establish a pool of providers whom I can trust and ensure that they remain competitive by means of a regular structured review of their services and pricings.

Any ideas where to start?

Jem Peel

11 Responses

  1. External Trainer Contracts

    As an ex-Head of Learning who inherited a range of external bods myself, I’d recommend the following:

    1) Use the fact that you are new to the role to your advantage
    2) Request all providers meet with you to review their training provision and, crucially, invite them to “pitch” in reply to your question- “Why should we continue to do business?”
    3) At the above meeting, ask them all to provide you with feedback and data to support their claims. If they can’t, that’s telling in itself!
    4) How would they summarise the business needs going forward?

    Once you have assessed who are the ones you want to work with, you can specify T&C’s regarding the work. Most reputable providers will agree to this, and to some form of success criteria being established. At the very least, your contracts should be worded to allow both parties the option of cancelling if things don’t work out.

    Happy to discuss this if you wish offline (now as an “good” external provider myself!!)

    Good luck and all the best for 2005


  2. Fear of change

    Being part of a small organisation that needs to manage external freelance consultants AND editor of a facility that helps, hear are my thoughts:
    As Liam commented, use your newness as an opportunity to revitalise your ‘supplier list’.
    Never assume the information you have is up to date, it is unlikely to be based on how TrainerBase data ‘expires’ (and that is managed by the members not me).
    Even if you have an up to date supplier list, ask the suppliers to pitch for opportunities; this will help to ensure the most appropriate supplier is used based on capability, capacity and price.
    Outsource your management of external consultants; there are a number of options inlcluding BookaTrainer (total outsourcing) or (its an external online database that you dont have to manage and enables you to ask trainers to pitch for work).

    I have been on a number of seminars and workshops that have considered the implications of managing external suppliers and a consencus was that purchasers do not like change (understandable as procurement/recruitment can be a pain), but many organisation stick with their same old ‘approved supplier list’ to the detriment of the organisation. Research I did earlier this year indicated a significant number of large organisation had these ‘appoved supplier lists’, many of which had not be updated substantially in years. The result was that some suppliers on these lists had come to expect the work and therefore did not see any competitive reason for ensuring their products, services or pricing is appropriate. Now before I get lynched on this; I am merely repeating what other purchasers have said.

    There is a cost involved in managing external consultants, the perception is that this increases if you put out ‘opportunities’ for suppliers to pitch for. The expense involved in this can be somewhat offset by the more competitive bid in the first place, or more importantly, ensuring the most appropriate supplier is used, not just the same peson you used last time.

    And one last thing; remeber, you are the customer:) or more importantly ensure that the external consultants rember you are the customer.

    Hope this helps is some ways, if you would like to give me a call please feel free to do so on 01239 711544.

    AKA Ed.
    Founder/Editor of TrainerBase

  3. Self manage v turnkey
    Hi Jem,
    I am a freelance trainer and can confirm Peter’s comments about tenderbase. from my perspective the key to delivering the right training is to agree specific objectives with the customer and tailor the programme accordingly. This creates a clear benchmark against which effetive valuation can be made. there are many providers in the marketplace and, as another respondent stated, you are the customer and are paying for training to your standard. In your shoes I would talk to colleagues and friends about who has provided them with quality training. It may be time consuming but your training pound is too valuable to waste. An alternative is to use a large company, there are some on the net,to manage your account. This gives you one point of contact and they are accountable for the quality provided. If you want more info drop me an email and I will happily discuss who I think could provide such a service.

  4. Organisational context
    The other comments have summed up some key points in managing external providers. When I was managing a poolor preferred suppliers, I would bring them together to explore the key aspects of the organisation to ensure that everyone had a basic understanding of the purpose, vision, key outcomes the organisation was trying to achieve. Also structure… and key systems. ie – the organisation is a system and when training occurs it impacts on many aspects of the organisation… so it was important that all consultants understood the organisation and its priorities.
    The other key point for me is to have very clear deliverables…. this is not always possible to define in outcome terms (ie personal development training) but every program for which consultants are contracted in my experience requires an agreement outlining commitments, deliverables, outcomes, fees, schedule. As a consultant I appreciate having this very clearly laid out (I usually do this in collaboration with the client)

  5. Sack em all!
    No, seriously, perhaps not all. But certainly the ones who, as you so politely put it “routinely renege on the most basic of commitments”. I’ll add nothing to what you should do (comments below all seem sensible) but would add that suppliers who work (and work well, I hasten to add) build up a knowledge of the organisation which should be valuable in terms of the way training is transferred into the workplace. Please don’t underestimate the importance of this – in the final analysis, it shouldn’t be down to just price. Otherwise, suppliers will wonder why they invest time and energy in getting to know and understand an organisation when after all, price is the key criteria.

  6. Price….
    Price is always a consideration, but never the only factor. I totally agree with your comment Karen that consultants build up an enormous amount to knowledge about an organisation and one of the roles in managing consultants is to find ways of capturing that knowledge…. an external provider who has an in depth understanding of your business, priorities and the organisation is worth paying more for!

  7. Measure their performance agianst your Vision, Mission and Goals
    If you are familiar with the Balanced Score Card you can create a set of Scores which link to your company objectives and measure accordingly. I would invite them to a ‘Showcase’with an audience. Have them present to you how they ‘add value’and how they would like to be measured. I would insist they deliver it in a presentation using the Balanced Score Card.

  8. A note about price.
    Hi all

    I notice that the thread has drifted towards the theme of price, the inference being cheapest.

    As it looks as though this may have come from my earlier posting (competitive reason for ensuring their products, services or pricing is appropriate); my apologies if the mention of money immediately sent everyone off on the wrong track. I did say ‘appropriate’ and concur wholeheartedly with the comments that price is only one factor and more often than not, the cheapest does not always win. The tendering process I was alluding to, as well as keeping those current trainers with a wealth of knowledge on their toes, does or at least should, encourage new entrants the opportunity to do as much fact finding as possible. All this can then be added to the ‘balanced scorecard’ (definitly agree with this one) approach to selecting the “most appropriate” solution for the organisation.

    Onwards and upwards.


  9. integrate all externally resourced projects – don’t separate lea
    I really like the comments in this exchange.

    Some additions:
    (1) Ensure that all the externals you use are updated on all the initiatives underway in your organisation. For example, if there is a major IT system redesign, it would be useful for learning and development specialists to know about this. They may be able to assist in unexpected ways in supporting that initiative. More importantly, they can ensure that the initiative is referred to or used as relevant case study material in their own programmes. Let’s say you have a learning programme running on negotiation. On a systems redesign project, there is high need for internal negotiations about the content, process, etc. These internal negotiations can be highly emotional, and a richly motivating arena for people to want to improve their negotiation skills. This is only one example of the benefits of updating learning consultant on all your initiatives.
    (2) ensure that your externals meet each other. I have always done this when salaried, and now set it up for clients as an external myself. Why? You need to make sure that everyone is using the same language and models. For example, you might have contracted management consultants to work on a particular issue in your organisation. What problem-solving approaches are they using? These are the problem-solving methods that it makes sense for your people to be trained in. There are many approaches to brainstorming – it is more powerful when learning consutlants and other consultants use the same ones.
    (3) discuss with the external learning consultants what options they can suggest for using your learning investment in your marketing. There are win/win outcomes here. Your company wants your customers to see you as an innovative, learning and forever developing organisation. This should feature in your marketing literature. The consultants want to promote their products and processes. They should be willing to produce case studies etc that you can use.

    Jem, you asked about managing external learning consultants. You have had several responses that are about controlling costs, and also about focusing on business objectives, both of which are important. It would be useful to hear from you again about what aspects of managing externals you are most concerned about/interested in …

    best wishes

  10. Criteria

    As a provider even when on a preferred supplier list I would provide a proposal that would cover the following:

    Expected ROI
    Expected business outcomes
    How the outcomes match your strategic/business needs
    Assessment standards/process
    The consultation process I would use with stakeholders when developing resources/products
    Delivery schedule
    Any follow-up service that I believe to be appropriate

    If you get this from all providers you at least know what return you are going to get.

    Is the price competitive? The CIPD annual training survey gives some ideas on training costs, see their web site.

    Do contact me if this ex training manager now provider can be of assistance.

    Good luck.

  11. How did you get on
    Hi Jem

    I have just started something similar.. How did you get on? Do you mind sharing your highs and lows?


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