Choosing an L&D partner? Save yourself pain by looking for these five qualities.

Businesses are not homogenous; they are multi-dimensional and require tailored learning approaches. In developing successful L&D interventions with impact, how do you identify the right partner for your business? Start by looking for these five qualities.

Technology is radically changing the learning experience. In the digital age, where access to information is instant, abundant and uncurated, block learning is losing relevance and impact. Instead, businesses are discovering that employees require fundamentally new pathways to development.

Due to the looming skills gap, traditional models based on delivering a suite of training courses are no longer sufficient.

This is because as the boundaries between our professional and private lives become less distinct, employees increasingly want their workplace development to mirror their personal experiences.

These days, that experience is unlikely to look like a classroom.

Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) describes new learning approaches as far more “focused on the delivery of knowledge in both the physical or digital environment.” Moreover, he says “brilliant learning is about learner involvement. It should encourage self-directed and socialised approaches.”

Consequently, businesses are looking to work more closely with Learning and development (L&D) Partners to help them navigate through this new learning ecosystem and get learners to engage with subjects in more social ways, making the experience more meaningful.

But with “so many L&D providers, it can be difficult to evaluate them all,'' says Stephen Humphreys, Country Director at GoodHabitz. He warns “investing in an L&D partner is a long-term commitment, you don’t want to be switching provider frequently.”

For the same reason, a well-chosen partner can reap dividends for companies, making training both enjoyable and meaningful.

How do you choose the right partner for your business?

Businesses are not homogenous; they are multi-dimensional and require sophisticated approaches.

How do you identify the right partner for your business? According to Nick Winwood, VP Corporate Partnerships at Headspring, cultural fit is paramount. He advises that organisations should prioritise "L&D partners who understand their business and who they feel comfortable working with."

Concepts like cultural fit are broad-ranging and cover a range of aspects. Let’s narrow down the search criteria to five core qualities every L&D provider needs to embody to be a capable business partner.

1.    Is able to bridge the gap between learner needs and business objectives

Increasing the volume of courses was once seen as the panacea for every workplace learning dilemma. But in today's complex business environment, this approach is unlikely to make an impact on your bottom line.

It’s more vital than ever your L&D partner can engage with a whole range of stakeholders from HR, internal team leads and senior directors.

“Partnership is the operative word” argues Andy Lancaster. There has to be a whole new level of co-ownership between all partners.

By taking such a holistic approach, your L&D partner should be able to facilitate a closer connection between your business and your learners, so learning strategies aren’t delivered in a vacuum.

It’s more vital than ever your L&D partner can engage with a whole range of stakeholders from HR, internal team leads and senior directors.

Moreover, to enable the right conversation to happen, a good learning partner must act as a ‘sparring partner’ says Nick Winwood.  And, “as an external organisation, they can present their views in a more honest and forthright way.”

Key questions to ask

  • Can your provider demonstrate experience working in partnerships?
  • What tools do they employ to engage learners?
  • Can they provide examples of evidence-based critical challenge?

2.    Brings diverse thinking and insights from a global perspective.

Diverse thinking stimulates great design, which organisations need to avoid becoming stale and stagnant with L&D strategies.

“Organisations are going through an accelerated change”, observes Winwood. As a result, “many don't have the time to think about what's going to happen to them, even if that should be the core of their business.”

He suggests working with a provider helps you make well-founded learning decisions – someone who frees up the space for your business to think clearly about the future.

Having access to a global view of the meta-themes influencing a company's learning challenges is invaluable to L&D professionals.

“This way, organisations can benefit from having a broader view on the external perspective as well as what else is happening more immediately.”

Key questions to ask:

  • What strategic expertise and knowledge does your provider offer?
  • Do they understand broader market forces and how this might impact your business?
  • What experience do they have working with similar organisations to your own and what unique value can they add?

3.   Knows how to develop an engaging learning journey

First and foremost, creating an engaging learning journey requires a “diagnosis of your learners’ needs” says, Andy Lancaster.

According to Nick Winwood, “there's more to great learning than just the content; it's the style of delivery.”

A flexible approach is a must if you want to create experiences which are both purposeful and emotional for the learner.

Learning is less about the rate of knowledge acquisition and more about nudging a behavioural change. “Therefore, learning programmes must offer a memorable experience.”

To achieve this, your L&D partner must use up-to-date technology. Classroom training is dying out, and learners prefer online and blended learning.

“They also need to be producing really engaging content, or no amount of encouragement will get people signing up to learning programmes" argues Stephen Humphreys.

Customisation is critical. “A flexible approach is a must if you want to create experiences which are both purposeful and emotional for the learner.”  says Nick Winwood.

Furthermore, by having a broader perspective of what's happening, "Your provider should act as a ‘repository’ of good practice. They should be experts in learning methods and understand the key benefits of each," says Jean-Marie Ardisson, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at Headspring.

Key questions to ask:

  • What experience does your provider have in using new technologies to deliver learning experiences?
  • Do they have good practice models?
  • Do they have examples of delivering engaging and impactful learning solutions?

4.    Can demonstrate impact

A significant shift is occurring in how impact is measured.

The success of any learning intervention is no longer based solely on attendance and completion rates. “It's more around what behavioural change can we see? How can we see a tangible difference in what's happening in an organisation as a result of the learning” says Winwood.

Furthermore, he points out it isn't how much knowledge an employee absorbs. “In fact, what is more important is how they use it and what changes as a result." 

“Organisations are much more fickle now about the impact and the measurability of learning interventions than ever before,” comments Jean-Marie Ardisson. He points out that any partner you work with “needs to prove that what they’re doing is providing results.”

"Although measuring impact is challenging, it is not impossible," says Andy Lancaster. He argues that a quality vendor will be keen to support impact measurement and include it in the product scoping, design and delivery.

If that conversation is being side-stepped; take care.

“Measurement inevitably requires the gathering and use of quantitative and qualitative organisational data and insights. It’s the shift in those that will be the evidence for effective learning and development, so ensure that your provider is involved in the full process of impact detection.”

This approach requires openness and transparency between both parties. Measuring impact increases the overall cost of learning and development, but encourages buy-in to the experience.

If that conversation is being side-stepped, take care.

If you find partners who are keen and have the expertise, it is an excellent indicator that your collaboration will be meaningful and engaging.

Key questions to ask:

  • What impact measuring methods and tools does your provider use?
  • How do they propose to evaluate the learning?
  • Do they have previous examples of using impact data to inform learning development?

5.    Ability to innovate with a beginner's mind

People always are always looking for something new. And, with businesses tackling disruption, the need to continually improve is more heightened than ever before.

But repeating old versions of learning experiences is no longer a guarantee for business success. Instead, businesses need to innovate.

Eyal Nachum, Executive at Bruc Bond (formerly Moneta International) says “Whatever learning & development partner you choose, they have to bring these qualities: daring and creativity. It’s hard engaging people, but it’s a little easier when you can surprise them and think outside the box.”

Key questions to ask:

  • What experience does your provider have in designing customised solutions?
  • Does your provider have experience of engaging with partners and learners to co-design new models of learning?
  • What methods do they use to identify new solutions?


Organisations need to ensure their L&D strategies are more closely plugged-in with business goals than ever before. This is key to maintaining a competitive advantage in a disruptive environment.

In the past, L&D has lived in the shadows of its big brother HR. As a result, it has been treated as an add-on rather than an intrinsic element in strategic business planning.

This arrangement is no longer sustainable.

Instead, L&D interventions must respond to the interests of the business. By offering unique insights and expertise, an L&D partner can act as a vital conduit to strategic learning solutions that align learner skills development and business outcomes.







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