One of my responsibilities as a Learning and Development Business Partner at Orange was to help my client areas to source the right development providers. We outsourced a lot of training and had some key suppliers who were trusted and reliable.
I must admit though to being slightly terrified every time I had to source a new training provider! They all said similar things, costs seemed to vary massively with no clear reason and it was hard to know where to start. Above all this though was the fear of getting it wrong. Yes, there was the cost element, I didn’t want to waste money, but more than that was the time that people were going to invest. Big groups of people each committing to a day or more training was a far bigger fear than the supplier cost.
As we’ve seen recently from the story of KFC, choosing a supplier, or changing from a supplier who has been doing OK for you, is a tough call, with the possibility of heads rolling of you don’t get it right!
So, without realising it I developed a way of choosing suppliers that meant I could appease the worry that choosing a supplier came with, and I’m going to share that with you now. You may have your own, and please feel free to share those too.
Ask for recommendations
It sounds obvious but if you’ve got colleagues who’ve worked for different companies ask them if they can recommend anyone good. The potential clients who come to us because someone has recommended us always seem happier and more confident in their conversations, they have an understanding that we have a proven track record so some of the fear is taken away.
See them in action
One of my pet hates was when the business owner or salesperson came into meet us, told us about the programme, showed a rough idea of content (which was all great), but then expected us to sign up without meeting the person who would deliver the training.
For me it was critical to meet the actual person doing the delivery I could get a feel for how they would fit in with the organization.
We get a lot of our clients through speaking engagements, whether for the CIPD or local groups. People who meet us this way and have a need for what we do often become clients very quickly, because they have seen us in action. By seeing us talk, they get a feel for our company culture, our style, our ethos.
For example, we take what we do incredibly seriously, but in our training and in all our conversations, we think this translates best by being relaxed, allowing people to discuss and have fun. We have a style, and we know that it won’t be right for everyone. We try to put ourselves out there as much as possible, so people can see what we do, see how we work and see if it will suit them. We’re just starting to run open courses, giving another opportunity to get a sense of us and our style before committing to any big programmes of work.
I remember when I first started at Orange I attended a presentation skills course – the person running the course said that women should wear high heels if they want to be taken seriously when they present! Needless to say, I didn’t pay much attention after that and they never came in to deliver again. It was so at odds with the culture of Orange at the time it was a relationship that was never going to work. If the provider you’re looking at don’t do talks or open courses, ask them to get the trainer in to deliver a short session to a small group of people and see how they do. You need to ‘try before you buy’ and know that the trainer will work for you.
Be as specific as you can be
We get a lot of people who know they need to develop their managers, for example, but we could probably spend a whole month doing this! What’s really helpful to make sure you get what you need is to be specific, what is it you want to see that you’re not, or what are you seeing that you don’t want to see. This will help the provider ensure they are focusing on the right areas and check that they have the right experience.
Trust your Instincts
You know your company well and know what will work and what won’t. You will also get a feel for the provider you’re talking to – do the two match? Your instincts will almost always be right about it. The only times I ever made a mistake with who I brought in was when I listened to others and didn’t trust my own thoughts on it. Go with your gut instincts!