Building Bridges

Getting Invited to the Table: 3 Tips to Make it Happen

Have you ever been in a situation like one of these, experienced by two different colleagues of mine:

  • An IT group decided to upgrade a systems application and proceeded with the project. Dozens of elearning courses had already been developed for the legacy system. The L&D team was not included in the conversation about the upgrade but received direction to update all courses near the end of the conversion project, and was given a very tight deadline.
  • A subject matter expert taught new employees how to perform a process during on-the-job training. There were no job aids or checklists, and the SME was frustrated that the learners’ error rate was so high.

These issues resulted in unnecessary costs of dollars and time. It shouldn’t be a surprise that having an L&D leader at the table in business line decisions can not only be helpful, but also can make all the difference in preparing employees to perform effectively.

I was a panelist in a recent meeting of our local ATD Measurement & Evaluation special interest group. The conversation focused on using data with stakeholders. For example, how do we present findings and get on their agenda in the first place?

One of the takeaways from the panel was that you shouldn’t expect to just get invited to these stakeholder meetings. It takes a while to earn a seat at the table. So, what are some ways you can do that – whether it’s about discussing measurement and evaluation or what training is needed? Here are some ways that I’ve been successful.

1.  Plan for the year (a.k.a. start of a needs assessment): When I was a training manager, I had responsibility for multiple lines of business. I scheduled meetings with each business head my team supported. My goal was to document their business objectives for the coming year (or next few months) and identify where they felt the employees in their group might be challenged in working toward those goals. I dug deeper into these performance gaps and identified additional managers to speak with to determine where training might help close the gaps. One of my favorite references about this process is the Robinsons’ book (see resources below).

The key to being invited back is building the relationship. In these meetings, I am letting my stakeholder know that I care about and understand their business (because I’ll have researched it first if I needed to), that I want to help make a positive impact on achieving their goals, and I am a partner.

Business goal-setting and budget-planning often start in the fall. In what ways can you engage with your stakeholders now as they plan?

2.  Nurture the relationship: A couple of meetings a year doesn’t grow a relationship. Regular consultative contact can. What is important to the leader with whom you are meeting? What actions are you taking to help them achieve their business goals? What roadblocks do you anticipate in promoting a performance or learning strategy to support the goals? How are you striving to overcome those roadblocks, and what can your stakeholder do to help you? Eventually, once the learning strategy is implemented, you’ll have data to share with your stakeholder.

What are two things you can do this week to reach out to a couple of stakeholders? How can you help them?

3.  Focus on building trust: While this is part of nurturing the relationship, it is worth singling out. David Maister, et. al., include a table in their book The Trusted Advisor that illustrates how crucial trust is. The table lists levels of a relationship from service-based (answering questions, providing information) to trust-based (focusing on the client as an individual, having the ability to influence). While that last level will take a while to work towards, the levels in between these might be realistic as you continue to build trust. Those are needs-based (you help solve problems, provide solutions) and relationship-based (you provide insights and ideas). Identifying ways to focus on solving problems with or for your stakeholders will help you build the relationship to the point that they will seek you out when their decisions may impact employee performance.

What level are you at in your relationship with a stakeholder? What are two things you can do in the next month to move up to the next level with one of your stakeholders?

Resources:

Dana Gaines Robins and James C. Robinson, et. al. (2015). Performance Consulting: A Strategic Process to Improve, Measure, and Sustain Organizational Results. Berrett-Koehler Publisher, Inc.

David H. Maister, et. al. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. Free Press.

Babbling Away: How Proven Instructional Design Techniques Helped Me Learn German

It’s cool when you can see an application of the work you do when you are the consumer (or, as it were, the learner). Here’s my story. In preparing for my trip to Germany last year, I decided to learn a little German. I like to be able to use some basic phrases when visiting other countries, so at least I can show that I’ve made an effort. My son makes fun of me, saying I know a lot of languages at a 2nd grade level. Actually, it’s more accurate to say at a 2-year old level. But I digress.

I had used CDs in the past, where the narrator says phrases and you repeat them. The approach these CDs use is limited, with whatever you repeat back not checked by anyone (or any app). So, I decided to try a particular app I had heard advertised. They provide a series of “courses” and “lessons” and, within each lesson, 15-20 short topics. What’s so special about that, you may wonder? Well, it turns out I learned much more quickly and effectively than with the CD program. Here are some of the techniques used in the app that instructional designers also use to the benefit of their learners:

Scaffolding

Topics and lessons build. For example, the app provides four words at a time, each said aloud and requiring the learner to say it back (with feedback if the pronunciation isn’t quite right). Next, the learner identifies which translation goes with the German word. Then the learner types the word. More words, grammar rules, or phrases are taught similarly.

I was so pleased to realize that, when I thought I forgot a previously learned word, the approach planted the word into my brain in a place from which I could retrieve it. I was able to remember the word with just a little effort.

Spaced repetition and reviews

The scaffolding example above is great, but if the app never returned to the words or grammar rules, I’d likely forget them. So, throughout a lesson I am required to recall words and rules I learned a few topics ago and use those words and rules in slightly different ways. There are reviews after every couple of lessons that consolidate the learning.

Practical application

Learning words and rules doesn’t do much on its own – except maybe allow me to decipher something I see in writing. But throughout each lesson there is a sample conversation, based on realistic situations I might be in. For example, there is a conversation with the hotel manager about the room. So, now I can see how the words and rules I’ve learned can get used in a practical way. I am required to type the answers and listen to the conversation. I also repeat each part of the conversation so I am more comfortable being involved in it.

The goal of any course is to give learners the ability to do something with what they’ve learned. That measurable action could include listing ingredients in a quiche, explaining steps in a process, applying sales techniques, or creating a new approach to solving a problem. While these goals are reflected in the learning objectives, the learners should also be given the opportunity during the learning to actually do these things.

Testing/feedback

The app provides feedback throughout the course. While there’s no official “test” there are opportunities to test myself, receive feedback about the correct answers, and retake the lesson if needed.

Without feedback, how would I know I actually learned? Whether through a formal, scored final exam or unscored, check-your-knowledge, quiz-type questions interspersed throughout a course, it’s best to have an opportunity to recall what I learned, and receive feedback.  This testing/feedback approach is one way to help me remember.

Learner choice and self-direction

Skipping lessons early on might not have benefitted me. However, once I got a few lessons under my belt I could select from a long list of specialized grammar and vocabulary lessons. For example, there is a lesson just on pronouns. That was a great review for me, as I found them a little overwhelming to remember. Another lesson is on names of foods. That came in handy so I didn’t need to look up every word on a German menu! If I were forced to complete the courses in order, I would have spent time learning things I would never need to know. Instead, I could move through some things quickly, jump ahead, or skip around as worked best for my needs.

Learning is most effective when the learner chooses to learn. Sometimes that’s not practical as in the case of compliance training, for example. But providing learning activities “just in time” helps learners find the information they are interested in, when they want it. A classroom course does not provide this. But job aids, performance support tools, and well-constructed elearning courses like my app can meet this need.

As instructional designers, it’s important for us to use techniques and tools that enable learners to apply their knowledge immediately. With scaffolding, spaced repetition and reviews, practical application, and self-direction, learners successfully gain new knowledge — even a new language like German.

Making the Move to a Virtual Classroom


Perhaps our current distancing restrictions are just the gentle nudge—or powerful push—we needed to leap daringly into a virtual world that many have been part of for a long while. Collectively, we are learning how to make the most of our virtual tools, and I believe that in doing so we are positioning ourselves to create better experiences for our learners.

In my last e-letter, I wrote, “We are writing some new rules as we go, one day at a time, as we try to grasp what our workplace will hold for us next week, next month, and in the year to come. Let’s figure them out together.” In that spirit, we launched our EnVisioning Virtually Peer Group Forum. During our first meeting, a group of instructional designers and trainers gathered virtually to share and learn best practices for converting live to virtual instructor-led courses. Here are some of the takeaways:

1.  Focus on the Learning Objectives
This is no surprise to instructional designers, whose focus is always on supporting learning objectives. When we begin converting our live classes to virtual, we have a wonderful opportunity to review the learning objectives and content in our existing courses. Are all the objectives critical? Does all content support at least one of the objectives? If any content is “nice to have” and not critical, can it be removed or placed in reference materials?

We can also examine knowledge-oriented (vs. skill-focused) content. Can some of that be pulled out of the class into pre-reading or elearning, ensuring learners come to the class with the same foundational knowledge and enabling you to reduce class time?

2.  Engage Learners
One key to engaging learners is keeping the virtual class size manageable – no more than 16-20 learners. That way, the facilitator can monitor individual engagement (we suggest creating a tracking checklist), appropriately call on people, and watch the videos for visual cues.

It is also helpful to keep the virtual class shorter than an in-person version. Many experts suggest no more than 90 minutes or 2 hours, including a break or two. Try different lengths and see how it works for you and for your learners. Just remember that, the longer your class, the more challenging it is to keep learners engaged. You may need to get creative about scheduling.

It is also helpful to remember that, though virtual meeting applications offer many ways to engage participants, it is important to select the approaches that support your key points. While polls can be very useful, just because polls are “cool” doesn’t warrant using them.

3.  Practice. Practice. Practice.
You will become intimately familiar with your virtual classroom application including how to monitor chat while you are facilitating, manage breakout rooms, create and execute a poll, and share your screen while watching learners. There are a lot more balls to juggle with a virtual classroom than an in-person classroom, which is why experts recommend having another individual in a “producer” or “host” role.

In addition to learning the facilitator side of the application, it is helpful to practice as a learner, experiencing their view of the videos, breakout rooms, and polls.

In our next EnVisioning Virtually Peer Group Forum, participants will have the opportunity to practice facilitating short course pieces while using virtual classroom tools. There are a few Forum spots left. If you would like a chance to practice or learn from others in a supportive setting, please email me please email me by 5pm on May 5 and let me know the hottest two topics you would like to see or try out.

How is your virtual network evolving?

My 2011 gorgeneering experience has guided me in recent weeks.

In my need to find adventures a few years back, I thought I found the perfect one: it was advertised as “gorgeneering” and I pictured myself wading through the low and slow waters of a rocky gorge. I didn’t know I would first need to rappel into the gorge, alongside a raging waterfall. For some unexplainable reason I forced myself over the edge, easing myself down the face of the cliff, sometimes more of a jerking motion than easing motion. Screaming the whole way, I sincerely thought I was going to fall out of the harness to my death on the rocks below. But I had started my way down and there was no going back, no one coming to rescue me. My husband still laughs at the story. I am still disturbed by my frightening experience.

Our two guides were brilliantly patient and helpful as we navigated through the gorge, shimmying over smaller yet not insignificant waterfalls that were over-filled due to the opening of an upstream dam in advance of aptly named Hurricane Irene, which was due the next day. We used ropes to swim across the freezing rapids, our wet suits keeping us warm enough. We paused for a break here and there, our guides moving ahead to scope the gorge and determine the best, the safest way forward.

I continually mustered my courage to proceed on this adventure in the only possible direction, the only way out, the only way to the exit. I made it to safety, exhausted, but stronger and wiser with lessons learned and stories to tell.

We haven’t chosen to be in this moment of time, but we are here together, mustering our collective courage in this gorge, helping one another navigate through to safety on the other side. I have no doubt we will be exhausted. I have no doubt we will be stronger and wiser. Most certainly we will have lessons learned and stories to tell.

We are writing some new rules as we go, one day at a time, as we try to grasp what our workplace will hold for us next week, next month, and in the year to come. Let’s figure them out together.

Even building a snow fort calls for project management!

It’s that time of year, and with an expected winter of bounty, it is time for snow fort planning! My husband, Seth, and I have made a snow fort or two in recent snowy years. We look forward to making another this year. But first, we do need to plan a bit!

Here is what we do to plan:

Initiate – We commit (usually, just to each other) to creating a snow fort once we have at least 18” of easily movable snow on the ground. We decide if we’ll do all the work ourselves or engage some friends, and we ensure we have the tools needed – snowblower, shovels, fire pit, seating, and decorations. Most important, we decide what the purpose of our snow fort will be, usually to have an outdoor entertainment area on a few wintery and starry evenings.

Real snow igloo house in the winter Carpathian mountains. Snow-covered firs on the background

Plan – We envision our ideal snow fort, even draw out the plan. Then we agree on who is doing what and if we will “outsource” any of the labor to neighborhood kids. Seth usually uses the snowblower to create our rough footprint, then we both shovel the snow into the desired shape. I select decorations, and we both set them out. We plan out the timeframe for doing all this work – usually over a weekend.

Implement – When we finally have the requisite amount of shovel-able snow, we get to work. We communicate as we work. What if I just can’t lift another shovel-ful? Or the snowblower goes on the fritz? Of course, our project is low risk, so if we don’t complete it, our friends will understand. Or maybe we plan to resume work the following weekend.

Close – Our celebration comes when we host our first snow fort event under the stars – complete with hot cocoa or a cheese fondue. Inevitably, Seth and I decide what we would do differently next time, perhaps create more seating or elicit more help.

This is a simple project, but these phases can apply to any project you work on, such as a plan to design and develop a training course. Key activities in each phase often include:

Initiate – Defining project deliverables, roles and responsibilities, and any assumptions you are making about the project.

Plan – Listing project milestones such as: complete needs assessment, prepare curriculum design, develop course modules, prepare evaluation tools, pilot course, and measure impact. Each of these tasks will have multiple subtasks, some of which rely on others to be completed before they can start, so the plan will quickly grow more complex than our snow fort. For each task you will determine a duration, responsible person, resources needed, and other information to help you monitor your progress.

Implement – Beginning the work! This is where the needs assessment tasks begin and the course is developed and piloted. To help you stay organized, you might create a Gantt chart, perhaps in a project management tool like MS Project or Smartsheet. With a Gantt chart, you can easily visualize the tasks to be completed and in what order. You’ll also see which jobs can be worked on simultaneously, so you can assign resources appropriately. Project management tools offer other approaches to staying organized.

You’ll also pay attention to risks and issues. What if your subject matter expert is no longer available or is running late? What if the information you need is unavailable? You may need to address unexpected snafus and adjust your plan throughout your project. Many organizations hold weekly or even daily meetings to ensure the project runs as planned.

Close – Finally, closing out your project once the course or curriculum has launched. In this step, you’ll determine what worked well and what you’d change next time. Perhaps you’d have a backup subject matter expert next time or you would create the learning assessment earlier in the process.

Whether your project is a snow fort or creating a course, it’s crucial to develop an organized process for managing its day-to-day tasks. When you follow the initiate/plan/implement/close model, you can keep your project on track and set it up for success.

A Bird’s Eye View from the Belfry

We recently took an amazing vacation, which included a couple of days in Bruges. Bruges is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its original medieval architecture throughout the city. During our first day in the center of Bruges, we were a bit overwhelmed. There was so much activity — horses with their carriages and their passengers, tons of people walking about, all kinds of buildings linked by cobblestone pathways, cafes along the entire perimeter, and so many stores including multiple chocolate shops — how can one select? There were pathways leading out of the square to museums, lakes, the famous swans of Bruges, pubs, and more chocolate shops.

We were overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do first, until we decided to climb the Belfry of Bruges. If you’ve ever been there, or seen the movie In Bruges, you know what I am talking about. We climbed the 366 steps, which became progressively narrower, winding, and more treacherous. Finally, we reached the very top where we could take in the central market square of Bruges. We could see from up above all the horses with their carriages and their passengers; we could see, with help from our map, where that one most special chocolate shop was that we just had to visit. We could see the layout of all the cafes and choose the one we wished to sit at, near the building with the architecture we most wanted to explore after sipping a local beer.

What we really needed was this bird’s eye view, the big picture, to help us figure out the detailed picture. Of course from the belfry we couldn’t see the intricacies, we couldn’t experience the tastes and sounds and smells of the square, but we could determine the context so that when we sat down at our cafe we knew what we were looking at across the way.

Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Brügge (B), Belfort von Brügge -- 2018 -- 8611” / CC BY-SA4.0

The experiences that we immersed ourselves in were fabulous but overwhelming without a big picture first. In our case the belfry helped us do that. We also supplemented our overview with a walking tour. And then we spent the rest of the time diving into the experiences we had selected, with a better understanding of how each part fit into the greater whole of a bustling, beautiful city center.

Similarly, at the start of a training program we provide the big picture to help set context, so learners know where they are before beginning the learning experience itself.

Think about this for a minute. Say you’ve gone into a library you’ve never been in before and you are looking for a book. Do you go directly to it? Probably not, if you’re not familiar with this library. But you might look at a library directory to see how the books are organized, you might check the online card catalog, or you might ask for assistance. Once you have a basic idea of where your book is located, you can go find it.

Now think about a training program you’ve been in. Do you dive right into the details of the experience: how to do a quality check, how to hold a performance review conversation, how to administer an IV? Wouldn’t you rather have the stage set for you, so you can figure out how you see yourself in that situation? When we work with subject matter experts we often begin with questions such as: What is the goal? How will the target audience use this information? What gets in the way?

So, next time you are developing a presentation, course, or curriculum, take a trip up to the belfry. It may take extra effort to climb all those stairs, but that effort will pay off.

Growing Your Knowledge Garden

Back in the spring, you buried your seeds in the soil. With the spring rain falling and the sunshine warming the earth, small seedlings began to poke their heads out of the ground. You intend to care for these small plants so they will flourish. But what would happen if you planted the seeds and watered them once, then simply left them alone?

If you’ve ever planted anything, you know the answer. In the absence of water, sunshine, and weeding, the plant won’t grow. Or, if one month happens to be excessively rainy, the plant may spiral out of control, taking over everything in its path and dominating your garden.

So, how can you avoid these two scenarios? You cultivate the plant — you water it, fertilize it, stake it for support if needed, and trim off dying leaves so the healthy part will sprout. For best results, you’ll check on your plant a couple of times each week, watering it and seeing if anything else can be done to best support its growth. You might even say encouraging words to your plant (while no one is looking.)

The same phenomenon exists in the training world. Too often, we “plant” a training program, then expect the learners to “grow;” that is, retain and act on all they’ve learned. We expect learners to apply their new knowledge effectively in their jobs day-to-day.

Unfortunately, this belief isn’t supported by studies from brain science, which have shown memory slippage following single training sessions. How quickly do we really forget what we learn?

You may have heard of Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist. Back in 1885, he conducted experiments in which he attempted to memorize random combinations of three-letter syllables. Ebbinghaus’s testing showed that right after a learning session, recall of the letter combinations was 100 percent. However, memory loss increased sharply over the next few days and finally leveled out 30 days after the learning experience. This discovery by Ebbinghaus became known as the forgetting curve.

Thus, instructional designers must actively work to combat this memory loss. Luckily for us, Ebbinghaus stepped up to offer a strategy known as the spacing effect. Just as with plants, we need to space out the “watering” (instruction).

Ebbinghaus wrote, “It makes the assumption probable that with any considerable number of repetitions a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.” (Ebbinghaus, Hermann. Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. University of Berlin 1885, English translation Martino Publishing 2011.) What does that mean? “If we space learning over a span of time, with spaces in between, the learner has time to process and internalize the information and is more likely to remember it over the long term,” according to a TD.org article (Meacham, Margie. “Don’t Forget the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.” Insights, 17 January 2016. Accessed 12 August 2019.)

In what other ways can we “cultivate” knowledge to interrupt the forgetting curve? Here are a few ideas:

Problem-solving activities. Encouraging learners to brainstorm solutions to a problem is one way to cement learning by contextualizing it. In a recent project completed by EnVision for manufacturing operations leaders, learners took a specific manufacturing practice and considered the question, “how can I mistake-proof it?” This enabled them to directly apply what they just learned in a creative way.

Push reminders. Text, images, audio, video or a combination can be sent to learners in a planned approach, providing reminders to learners who are working on their knowledge accumulation and retention. This spacing effect approach has the additional advantage of enabling learners to “remember” or to build on their knowledge whether they are at their desks or on the go.

Management support. By checking in periodically and providing ongoing feedback, managers discuss the new material with their employees. The managers’ involvement guides employees in using their knowledge appropriately and effectively. Think about those “nurturing words” we give to growing plants. As instructional designers, we can provide guidance to the managers to best support their employees.

So, when you plant your seeds, don’t leave them to the elements and expect that they will grow robustly and healthfully; cultivate them. Do the same with your learners as you plan your learning programs, and throughout the season, you’ll find that your learners continue to bloom and grow.

Plant and Cultivate Your Garden (and Your Learning Solutions!) this Spring

I’m willing to bet at least some of my readers love gardening, especially this time of year when the emergence of warm sunshine, sweet-smelling blossoms, and busy bees fill hopes for our gardens! Or, if you don’t garden, perhaps you have someone to help you with the yardwork and maintenance. But what happens when you are ready for a larger project to make over your entire yard?

Do you hire a renowned landscape architect to create a plan? Perhaps she completely reseeds the grass then plants flowers, strategically chosen to bloom throughout the season, adding rich, green bushes and artfully putting down cedar chips. Constructing a rock wall and adding a koi pond complete the vision.

Perhaps, though, that design includes more than what is truly needed or what is within your means. You may not have enough money for a landscape architect, never mind a koi pond, or the time or patience to construct a rock wall, or enough space for a lavish garden. Instead of hiring a landscape architect, you could buy a book written by a knowledgeable author to inspire a do-it-yourself project. You may be able to achieve a great look for your property simply by cutting the lawn, treating existing flowers, and adding some bulbs to sprout next spring.

Or, you could try something in-between. You could ask a knowledgeable friend to review your garden and recommend changes that you can make yourself. He might suggest a particular blend of grass seeds, share a resource to purchase an easy-to-install small koi pond, and give you a list of flowers that bloom throughout the season. This still requires your time and some yard space, yet it is more budget-friendly than hiring a professional. Sometimes, advice to take you from vision to reality is really all you need.

So, why not apply that same concept to your learning & development program? Sometimes you want, and need, a full-service solution provider who can give you the garden — I mean, learning solution — to meet your exact needs and wants. You may need someone who can analyze the audience needs, the organizational culture, and current learning offerings, then develop and implement a suite of learning experiences to enhance employee performance.

Sometimes you just need a little help and you can do the rest yourself. You might ask an expert in the field to review what you have and recommend enhancements to a learning experience that you can make yourself, perhaps with a little guidance. This is why we added our suite of services to build self-reliance to our full-service offerings.

Or, for a new learning experience, where your subject matter expert is tasked with developing the training, you might need someone to guide him through the process while checking in with him periodically. We call this our BRIDGE (Build Rapid Instructional Design Guided by EnVision’s experts) Solution®. With this service offering, EnVision’s consultants guide the skills of your subject matter expert, potentially shortening the project’s timeframe and minimizing its budget.

Perhaps someone has already developed training and you’d like to have it reviewed to receive recommended changes that you can make yourself. This is where our Course Audit service fits in.

So, don’t just toss seeds into the ground and expect them to flourish, or content into your organization and expect employees to learn and grow! Get help with planning and resources (or with trimming or cultivating) so that you can create a stronger, even more vibrant garden of learning.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Getting the Best Out of It!

4. What do you want out of the relationship?

In our previous posts we shared client and vendor insights about scoping out a project, defining success, and choosing a vendor. Today, we examine what we each want out of the relationship – being aligned on this is an important factor in a fruitful project and an ongoing relationship.

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

Trust is important for any good working relationship. As the client, I start to gauge trust during the vendor selection process – I listen carefully to their responses for things such as:

  • Examples they provide that demonstrate instructional soundness and alignment with best practices
  • Confidence describing their successes and issues they had to address – every project has a problem/challenge requiring clarification

I like to have another internal resource in the meeting when possible, either an SME or another L&D professional, to provide another perspective. And I also listen to my gut.

If I’ve already worked with a vendor, I also consider our past working relationship. Did it include good communication disciplines and consistency delivering quality products? I look for reliability, too—that they did what they said they would do. The biggest benefit of working with a previous vendor is a quicker start up time.

If I am working with a new vendor, I spend a little more time upfront to orient them to our communication process. While I hope for smooth sailing, check-in conversations are an opportunity for feedback and seeing where I could be of help. I want to remove internal roadblocks for the vendor if needed. I request status updates regularly and expect to receive reasonable and knowledgeable responses.

I don’t expect perfection; we are all human. I value dependability and keeping commitments, which build mutual respect. The vendor should be able to expect the same from me.

 

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

As the vendor, I want a lot of the same things out of this relationship. Trust and open communications are important because they provide the basis for all our work together. If there are difficult issues that arise, trust and open communications help both the client and I to manage the issues most effectively. I usually ask a lot of questions before and at the beginning of a project to clarify that we are on the same page. A process is also important to me and I am sometimes concerned when my client doesn’t seek a discipline around communications and project management. In those cases, I try to set up a plan they can work with. It’s important for me as a vendor to be willing and able to flex with the client’s needs.

Every client relationship is different. I want my team to be able to positively impact the client and not just do busy work for them. A recent example comes to mind in which we were invited to bid on a large, interesting and complex project for a government agency. In the agency’s question-and-answer period, they often responded to questions vaguely and with very little context. Without knowing the client, their needs, and how they operate, we didn’t feel we could reliably address their needs. There was no opportunity to sit down and have a real conversation with them. And, honestly, it made us question the challenges that could arise during the project, should we be awarded the bid. We decided not to proceed further in the bidding process.

In the end, I believe that building trust is a mutual endeavor and one in which I will take the lead. As David Maister, et. al., write in The Trusted Advisor, “…trust must be earned and deserved. You must do something to give the other people the evidence on which they can base their decision on whether to trust you. You must be willing to give in order to get.”

Keys to success

CLIENT: Start gauging trust during the interview process, spend time at the start of a project agreeing with the vendor on a communications approach, and keep an open line of communication throughout the project.

VENDOR: I mirror Veronica’s summary of the client’s keys to success: Start building and assessing trust during the interview process, take time to agree on a communications approach from the start, and keep an open line of communication throughout the project.

 

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.

The Client/Vendor Relationship: Selecting the Right Vendor for Your Project

3. How do you identify and select the best vendor for your project?

In our last two posts we shared client and vendor insights about scoping out a project. In this month’s installment, we offer suggestions for selecting the best vendor for a project.

Veronica Clements, Client perspective

I begin my search for a vendor by checking with peers and colleagues, both in my company and with professional organizations to which I belong. I might also check our corporate-approved vendor list. Vendors referred to me by my peers and colleagues are usually my first choice.

Usually I identify three of the highest recommended vendors and contact them to set up a time to discuss availability for the project, pricing, and the services they offer.

If possible, I like to meet with the prospective vendors in person. If that’s not possible, a video conference is the next best thing. During the meeting, I share with them the project scope, measures for success, and our timeline. Some typical things I request are:

  • A demonstration of a course or walkthrough of sample training materials (for example, a leader’s guide or an elearning storyboard/prototype).
  • Work samples and CVs from the consultants who would be assigned to the project.
  • Confirmation that those consultants are available to work within the project deadlines.
  • References I can call.

Here are some interview questions I like to ask:

  • Tell me about a project that went well. What do you attribute that to?
  • What project did you learn the most from and why?
  • Tell me about a project that was behind due to a client’s issue. What happened?
  • Do you have concrete examples of effective communication strategies with clients in a challenging situation?

I listen for specific responses that illustrate how they execute their processes, work with clients, and manage conflict. I take notes to refer back to and also ask probing questions for more details as needed. Based on their responses, I hope to confirm their know-how along with the value they can bring to my project.

 

Irene Stern Frielich, Vendor perspective

As a vendor, it is important to have relationships with a large number of individuals, companies, and organizations so that you are “on the list” as a potential vendor. The most effective way I’ve done that is through networking and staying in touch with prospects as well as past and current clients, reminding them about the scope of services we offer and updating them about our newer, innovative services. Other potential avenues are through procurement databases, leveraging our certified woman-owned business status, and through speaking and writing opportunities. I also ask clients to share with their colleagues how they like working with EnVision. We uncover many opportunities through word of mouth.

For clients newer to the world of engaging vendors, I’ll also offer guidance for selecting a vendor. For example, I’ll suggest they check references, with specific questions about ease of working relationship, scope of capability, and other things that are important to this client. And, I suggest keeping in mind that just because one vendor was great for a particular type of project, it doesn’t mean they’ll be great for this particular project. So, interviewing the vendor and talking to people who worked with them is really important.

I prepare well for the interview. I have work samples ready to show that are related to the type of work the client is seeking. And, based on previous conversations with the client, I anticipate the types of questions they might ask and prepare stories about our recent successes as well as challenges, and how we handled them.

Keys to success

CLIENT: Ask behavioral questions and review work samples and examples the vendor provides to support their proven success with similar projects. Find out about the communication methods they use for projects.

VENDOR: Network, offer guidance to clients navigating the vendor engagement process, and be prepared for whatever might come up during an interview.

Next time: Considering what else you want out of the client/vendor relationship.

Veronica Clements, formerly a Learning and Development leader, with 25 years’ experience engaging vendors.

Irene Stern Frielich, President of EnVision Performance Solutions, with 20 years as a vendor providing solutions to clients.