For years, businesses around the world have been struggling with their learning or talent systems. I see companies changing learning management systems like they would their wardrobe, all because of a simple frustration. “My system will not do what I thought it was going to do for me,” they often say. So I ask the question, what did you expect your new system to do for you? And the response 90-plus percent of the time is answered in features and functionality.
What if we changed our thought process when selecting a new learning or talent system and began thinking about the real problems it was going to solve for our business? Not “how” the system will work, but really about what we are attempting to achieve for our business. It is easy to get caught up talking about the cool new technology features. That happens to me all the time. Technology takes over my life because I am focused on the cool new app instead of focusing on how that app is going to help me solve a problem. What if my focus was not “what an amazing new feature on my iPhone,” but how can I use the
entire phone to make my life easier, to be more productive, and to achieve more for my family and my business?
There has always been a challenge connecting learning and talent — or what I will refer to as “people development” activities — to the business. Yet it is critical that we see the business in our selection of a new system.
The Evaluation Process
Consider an evaluation process for the selection of a new learning and talent system that connects three primary points: Business Drivers -> Training Need -> System Capabilities. There is a unique relationship between each of these keys to selection. Let us start with the needs of the business first.
Business drivers provide our base for valuation of a project as well as the definer of people development needs. People development must support the requirements of the business and therefore must provide value to the business. Define the problems you are solving for the business. Example: Your business is growing and is adding sales staff at a rapid rate. It is apparent that the new sales staff is taking longer than expected to enter the market and begin selling.
The impact on the bottom line needs to be reversed, and management is looking for a resolution.
Training needs should be defined by the drivers of the business. The impact of a
new system will be shown first as a positive impact on the training processes and operations. Make sure that impact on training is connected directly to the business need. Example: Your training department recognizes the issue with the sales staff and is creating a training program to reduce the amount of time for hire to effectiveness for new sales staff hires. The training program has now been created and the need is delivery, tracking and reporting. System requirements are only in place to support the organization’s ability to design,
develop, deliver and report on training as defined by the business drivers. The system is an enabler for solving business problems. The functional requirements of the system enable training delivery. In the example problem described above, we find our business driver, our training need and now we can define the functional requirements for the system. These functional requirements must enable our ability to go back to the beginning and solve the real business problem, which is slow ramp-up time for new sales people. Training, remediation, reporting and accountability will solve the problem. The system will not solve the problem.
Now what does all of this have to do with the selection of a new learning and
talent system? If you understand the critical business drivers of your company, if you can make the needs of the training organization to the business drivers, you will be able to define the functional requirements needed to select the proper learning and talent system for your business. Find three to five solid business drivers and work to document and define each opportunity. Connect your existing training programs and define your training needs directly from your business drivers. If you cannot connect a training activity to a business driver, then do not include it in your selection process.
Functional requirements that are not connected to solving real business problems are distractions and in my experience are the rabbit holes that cause primary dissatisfaction with learning and talent system vendors.
This all leads us to the final key for identifying the proper vendor. You must test the vendor to see how it will actually help you provide specific solutions for your business. I recommend the development of a series of business test scenarios. These scenarios should incorporate your real business problem, the training need and the process you use today to achieve results. Make sure the vendor follows your process and does not try to just do a demo. Ensure the vendor provides a sandbox for you and your team to explore. Do not depend on the guided tour. Try the system out yourself.
Through this process, you will not only discover the primary reality, (will the vendor’s system enable my training programs to solve my real business problems?), but you will also come to understand the personality of the vendor and their willingness to engage with you, support you and seek to achieve common results. Fifty percent of your selection process should be geared to understanding if this vendor is someone you can work with.
As you begin your selection process, remember the keys to successful selection of a learning and talent system:
1) Define and document your company’s business drivers (what problems are you trying to solve?).
2) Connect the business drivers with your training activities and document your
3) From training needs, establish functional requirements that support and
enable training programs to solve business problems.
4) Test your vendor. Be specific, and find out if they can truly help you solve your business problems.
5) Get to the vendors. Is this a company you can work with? Technology represents 50 percent of the solution. A vendor’s willingness to work with you and your partner in solving real business problems is also 50 percent of the selection equation.
Be diligent, do your homework, and I am sure you will achieve success in your selection of a new learning and talent system.