Having a Managed Learning Services (MLS) partnership has become a popular solution for companies that look to be cost-effective and time-efficient while delivering superior learning opportunities to their employees. MLS partners have access to the best tools and learning infrastructure needed for enhanced training delivery, which means employees are more engaged and likely to retain the information you need them to.
Partnering with an MLS provider will give you confidence in your operations while bringing a level of efficiency that allows you to expand your investment in learning solutions. With that being said, having a successful relationship with your MLS partner requires work and attention.
How to Maintain a Great Relationship with Your MLS Partner
From my experience, the magic ingredients for a successful MLS partnership are commitment and great communication, which manifest in five key ways:
1. Prioritize Executive Sponsorship
When MLS partnerships fail, it’s often due to a lack of sponsorship. And when sponsorships do exist, they’re often the weakest link in the operation. An executive sponsor of an MLS partnership is someone who has the authority and ability to navigate the politics of your organization and ensure leadership is aligned with your goals and action plan. These individuals are the influencers of success; they typically meet monthly with the MLS provider, have the executive power to promote change at a high level, and are deeply involved in the relationship from the beginning.
For global organizations, it’s important to have sponsors for each region the organization is involved in because, unsurprisingly, the strength of the sponsorship diminishes as it moves from the center of the engagement.
2. Set Clear Expectations
When you partner with an MLS provider, it’s important to realize that you are both working for the same team. If the partnership is successful, both organizations flourish, so both parties must be on the same page.
Creating clear goals and guidelines for performance, measurement, and client satisfaction beyond service levels is imperative for a good working relationship. This is the only way to hold yourself, your team, and your provider accountable for the success both parties want. Revisiting those expectations regularly and collaborating on solutions to potential issues are also critical activities.
3. Have Fearless Conversations about Your Action Plan
Providers are often tentative about raising issues due to the natural fear of being perceived as failing. The problem is, though, that the client in an MLS partnership usually won’t engage on a given topic until a problem exists. This isn’t exactly a healthy environment for a good working relationship—you want to get in front of potential issues before they begin affecting learning delivery.
Rather than bottle things up, set regular meetings every month with your MLS provider to discuss recent successes and to create action plans for any upcoming challenges. This gives everyone the opportunity to assess the problem, the solution, and the outcome before a disruption occurs. Even though the MLS provider will be the party taking action, action plans serve both the client and the provider, so clients should be engaged in this process too.
This meeting also serves as a regular touchpoint to discuss learner satisfaction scores and any other feedback learners may provide. When you have these discussions regularly, you develop action plans for issues that may affect the partnership and training delivery in the immediate future, and you also begin building the foundation for solving problems in the distant future. When you get into the flow of these regular touch-base meetings, the trust in your relationship will grow, and you can continue to ensure that your learning approach is aligned with business needs.
4. Take Change Management Seriously
Change management is the art and science of helping organizations transition from their current mode of operation to a desired future state. The fundamental objectives of change management are to facilitate the implementation of new technologies or ways of working and to promote a shift in mindsets to create positive, successful transformations in an organization—which undoubtedly include changes in learning needs and learning delivery.
Continuous efforts in this area should happen throughout the life of your partnership. The amount of change and necessary change management is dependent on the size and scope of a given project, but change will always be occurring. If we aren’t thinking about the best ways to implement change, we will inevitably fall short in our communications and cause confusion. You and your MLS partner should strive to implement changes and communicate those changes to your learners in the best way possible.
5. Celebrate Success
We should always encourage our teams to promote their wins among themselves and across our organizations. To do this in the context of your MLS partnership, let your business partners, stakeholders, and employees know when things are going well.
Don’t hesitate to promote the success of your partnership with the outside world either. Uniting with your MLS partner for presentations, award submissions, and case studies helps to build the reputation of both organizations. Be loud about your successes—both teams will be delighted and encouraged by the recognition!
Building a Great MLS Partnership Is Just the Beginning
If you don’t yet have an MLS provider, check out our recent article, How to Choose a Learning Outsourcing Partner, to learn not just how to choose the right partner for your learning needs, but also how doing so can facilitate more cost-effective and impactful employee development.