10 L&D Staff Hiring Best Practices for IT Vendors
(as published in CEDMA newlsetter)
By William Vanderbilt
Avondale Search International
Senior Industry Consultant
One of the common complaints about the Learning and Development (L&D) function in any organization is that the group can lack relevancy to the overall business. This is particularly true in the IT vendor world where there is a constant struggle to provide relevant training on constantly changing products to three major constituents: employees, customers and partners. Providing relevant training in such a dynamic environment begins with hiring the right staff.
To understand how the L&D group in IT vendors are handling this issue, I talked to a few industry veterans who are currently managing L&D teams inside of IT hardware and/or software manufacturers. I asked them this question,
“There is clearly a need for training organizations to be aligned with the business units, so in your experience, have you had more success taking people out of the business and placing them in the training function (usually requiring them to learn about training) or getting training professionals (often from outside the organization) and teaching them to understand, appreciate and support the business of the company?”
Their responses led to the 10 best practices listed below.
1.) Define the narrowness of the role. It is important to consider whether the person you are hiring will be narrowly focused on tasks or be assigned a broad set of tasks. An Instructional Designer (ID) typically has a narrowly defined set of tasks, so for ID work, a learning professional from outside the organization is usually best. However, a Trainer, depending on what he or she is training may have a broad set of tasks to perform. For instance, if the Trainer is going to be asked to deliver training on a broad set of organization-specific practices, technologies or processes, an insider to the organization may be the best starting place. Also consider the complexity of the learning. If a mixture of learning tools such as podcasting, eLearning, mobile learning, etc. are used, it may be important it is to get outsiders with specialization in the learning area.
2.) Hire outsiders that are interested in and able to investigate the business. He or she must get interested in the company itself. When outsiders join the learning group they bring a fresh infusion of ideas and practices. However, there is a danger that they rely entirely on the way they have seen things done elsewhere. That may or may not work exactly the same in your environment. In one instance, a Certification Manager brought some much needed experience in developing certification content, tracks and strategy. But because that person wasn’t eager to learn about the company’s mission, the well crafted certification plans never reached their potential.
3.) Balance! Every learning leader emphasized the importance of balance. No one was able to provide the exact percentage on insiders versus outsiders, but all said that it is important to have a mixture of L&D folks with experience in the company (insiders) as well as people from the learning industry (outsiders).
4.) Learn from other industries. Similar problems are faced by most business units. For instance, software design groups need staff from outside the organization that can infuse best practices and new methods of thinking about how software is designed into the organization. Yet, it’s equally important to have software designers that can provide continuity to the company’s products. Ask your organizational peers what they do and about what successes or failures they have had with outsiders and insiders. One “gotcha” to watch is that it is often easier and more expedient to hire from within. Sometimes, that’s great. Just be careful to infuse some new blood into the group.
5.) Be clear about how you define success in L&D hiring. If success is defined as longevity, hire business people as people from inside the organization seem to stick around longer. At least one report said that outsiders only work out 50% of the time. It’s hard to know the full background of an outsider before he or she is hired. On the other hand, insiders can stick around too long. L&D can be a “safe haven”. One way to address this is to “contract” insiders for 2-3 year stints. Depending on the role, you may have to pay a stipend to cover the difference in pay that someone like a commissioned sales person would normally earn versus what an operational L&D person may be capable of earning.
6.) It starts with you! Ensure that the culture of the L&D group centers around the fact that you work in an organization that is in the business of selling technology products. Your team must be credible with the sales teams if it is going to be successful overall. That means that when you hire insiders, you may look for people that have a significant amount of credibility already with the people and groups in your company you are serving. Be careful, though. If you have not built that culture in the L&D group, insiders may struggle in your department. L&D is often a “cost center”. Insiders join L&D with familiarity working in a revenue generating organization. Too thick of a “cost center mentality” may frustrate and drive away those good people.
7.) Determine what “level” training is needed. Although I know of no formal studies on this topic, it was the opinion of some interviewees that insiders as Trainers do better connecting with students. As a result, their Level 1 (reactions) class scores tend to be high. Insiders can relate to what the student is thinking and experiencing. Students are certainly react well to that. The challenge, though, is that insiders can easily fall in the trap of simply doing “brain dumps”. Because they have been doing that job or something similar themselves, they may want to talk about everything they ever experienced in that role whether or not it is valuable in helping students do their job. As a result, it may be that outsiders, that is professional Trainers, do better when it comes to Level 2 (learning), Level 3 (transfer) and Level 4 (results) scores.
8.) Identify roles that are unique to the training industry. Some L&D functions can be nicely filled by insiders. Technical writers, project managers and graphic designers are examples of jobs often found in L&D groups that may not be unique to the training industry. Some roles that may clearly require outsiders are Instructional Designer, Performance Consultant and Certification Specialist. But even roles you may not think require outsiders may be best filled by an outsider. For instance, training marketing may require someone from the outside. Marketing of an IT vendor’s training involves reaching existing customers to promote a service. However, your organization’s marketing group is probably focused primarily on selling products to new customers. So taking a marketing insider can be challenging.
9.) Outside vendors can fill voids. One way to rely less on outsiders entering the L&D group is to rely more heavily on learning vendors. As an example, if the majority of your curriculum is developed by third parties that have extensive training industry experience and reach, you may find that you have ample access to outside support without having to hire very many outsiders. Of course, you will have to decide how much trust you are willing to place in your vendors for that infusion of training industry capability versus hiring that talent in yourself.
10.) Consider the student. Whether an insider or an outsider is needed, particularly as a Trainer, may depend mostly on who the student is. Sales people may reject anyone who has not previously been in sales. Earlier, it was suggested that professional Trainers may be better at Level 2 through 4 results in the classroom. However, if Level 1 scores are abysmal, students may entirely shut down. One interviewee put it this way, “My head says get professional trainers that can motivate and manage a classroom. My heart says true learning comes from the ‘war stories’, so get business people.” How do you get both?
If you are interested in learning more or hiring L&D professionals, make sure you contact Avondale Search International (http://www.avondalesearch.com). Or call us at (904) 253-7695.
Since 1996, Avondale Search International has been placing top talent in Software, Human Capital Management Solutions (HCMS), Talent Management Solutions (TMS), Training, E-Learning, Higher Education. Call us for the top Sales, Marketing, Information Technology, Learning, Training Professionals. We know them, they trust us, we can make a match.
As a Senior Industry Consultant at Avondale, William helps corporate and IT education groups identify and fill top talent needs. William can be reached at WilliamVanderbilt@avondalesearch.com or via phone at (630) 343-6261.