Modern, global business practices and interactions between employees and employers, as well as customers and the organizations that serve them, demand a concentrated focus on collaboration and cost-efficiency. The learning and development industry found a viable solution to the latter in outsourcing. Yet, collaboration remains an issue, one that can guarantee the success or failure of outsourced initiatives and consume any cost savings that an organization might have enjoyed otherwise.
Michael Balanoff, Global Collaboration Partners LLC senior partner, said when people think about outsourcing learning, they frequently look at other countries as a place to provide cheap labor, a solution to get a job done while taking advantage of economies of scale, etc. But as companies develop partnerships throughout the world, it’s important to remember there also is a tremendous amount of learning taking place internationally.
“We looked at our partnerships overseas and how the information was being generated and said, ‘You know, it makes a lot more sense here. Instead of taking U.S. intellectual property and training and going overseas and then bringing it back to the U.S., it makes more sense to bring that information back here in the first place,’” Balanoff said. “That exchange of information opens up the global dialogue within companies that we serve and certainly within the industry as a whole — how do we have more of a cross-cultural, global dialogue as it relates to training and learning and development, and how do we really have a successful conduit to bring in best practices not just from the United States outward but from outside the U.S. back in?”
The CLO can do quite a few things to facilitate that type of global dialogue and collaboration, while simultaneously boosting the chances that an outsourced learning endeavor will be successful and cost-effective. Balanoff said the simplest solution probably is “to get your butt on an airplane and go there.”
“We use technology, video conferencing, conference calls, all sorts of Internet connections and collaborative tools and everything else, but I think, at the end of the day, the only way to really get this moving properly is to have established relationships,” Balanoff explained. “The way to establish a relationship that truly has value is to meet with someone face to face. The reason why these types of relationships fail overwhelmingly is because everything is being done remotely — it’s being done with e-mail, instant messenger and video conferencing. We know people who have had relationships have literally invested millions of dollars in technology, but they refused to invest the five days it takes to fly to another country to have those face-to-face meetings to start the basis of a relationship.”
After the CLO has made that worthwhile, if time-intensive, investment to initiate and build outsourcing relationships face to face, those relationships must be maintained.
“What are you going to do as a part of your daily business schedule to incorporate the office or facility that is eight or nine time zones away from where you’re at?” Balanoff said. “Are you willing to have a daily conference call even though the time zones are not right? If you’re able to do that on a consistent basis and continue to align the goals between where you’re located and where these other offices are located, then you’ll have a better than average shot of making it happen.
“We’ve also found out that you need to have follow-up, face-to-face conversations every six months. As you continue to build rapport and address the new folks who are coming on staff, continue to build your relationship with the existing folks — you have a better-than-average shot of making a lot of positive things happen.”
Balanoff referenced an outsourcing study done by the Gartner Group in 2006 that discussed what outsourcing vendors promised compared with what results were actually delivered. According to the study, at the outset of the average project, people were looking at about 50 percent savings by outsourcing learning outside their home country. When the project was finally completed, the actual savings realized were less than 4 percent.
“That’s huge,” Balanoff said. “‘Oh, outsourcing is the way to go,’ and ‘I’m going to save so much money by having my training course done in India,’ or ‘I’m going to have my translations done in Russia’ or whatever the case may be. People say, ‘Wow, they saved 60 percent and had it done so much faster and better, this is going to be great.’ At the end of the day, savings are less than 4 percent. It lets you know there’s something very scary going on there.
“We’ve discovered it’s not that the initial estimate was so wrong or anyone was lying to you — the 50 percent that you had in your project that you were going to save, you waste all that on bad communication, nonrealistic project goals and project management. In order to realize savings and to get what you paid for it comes down to really discussing business goals, having a clear understanding of that, having a well-defined project scope and very, very active communication. It takes a lot of work in order to save money.”