Senior Strategist

7 Learning Partner Red Flags to Never Ignore

How’s your relationship with your partner in learning? Learning companies are often viewed as transactional vendors or production houses for L&D and HR groups. Right away, that mindset lowers the bar for what you should expect from your partners in learning.

But in the current landscape, a quality learning partner has never been more important. L&D teams are being asked to do more with less—they’re tasked with helping close the skills gap, retain top talent, and support growth tracks. Now’s not the time to settle for a mediocre learning partner.

There are great partners in learning out there, and you should expect more from yours. Some red flags are easier to spot than others, but all of them can derail your learning efforts. It’s a good time to check in with how your learning partnership is really going—here’s a roundup of seven red flags worth paying attention to.

7 red flags that your current learning partner isn’t a fit

1. They’re often vague or confusing.

Does your vendor often talk in circles and use confusing jargon? Buzzwords, trends, and fluffy solutions are often a cover for lack of knowledge, substance, and strategy. Here’s an easy test you can try—confirm their credibility by asking for case studies or examples of how they’ve solved similar problems with other clients. You’ll learn pretty quickly whether it’s a game of smoke and mirrors.

2. They’re too focused on engagement.

The easiest metrics to measure are often the least important. For example, learner completion rates or satisfaction scores are only one small piece of the measurement puzzle. If your partner in learning is overly focused on engagement metrics, they might slip into the habit of chasing flashy experiences over outcome-driven solutions. There are more important areas to focus on beyond learner engagement. Is the new knowledge being applied on the job? Is there data that indicates behavior change has occurred? How has the learning experience impacted business goals?

An eLearning company that becomes too focused on providing “cool” experiences may overlook solutions that would prove more effective—and they might deliver engagement metrics that tell a false story of success.

3. You’re experiencing operational messiness.

There are few things more frustrating than a learning partner that’s disorganized, inflexible, or doesn’t communicate well. But operational excellence doesn’t come easily, and many vendors struggle to run a tight ship. A learning partner should help expand your bandwidth and capabilities, not create more work for you. You deserve better—if your partner is unreliable, unresponsive, and/or production is messy, it might be time to reevaluate the relationship.

Great partners in learning set and manage clear expectations. There should be clarity and few surprises when it comes to process, timeframes, deliverables, and costs—it should all be understood up front and stay consistent as the project progresses.

Bumps in the road are normal and things change, but you should always understand the plan for how challenges and changes will be addressed. If you’re often left wondering what happens next, you might be dealing with an unreliable learning partner that’s not a fit.

4. They’re satisfied being a “Yes-man.”

Do you have a partner in learning who’s quick to jump into execution mode, without understanding the objective or strategy? No question asked isn’t always a good thing. You might be dealing with an order-taker—the kind of partner that cares more about checking a box than working with you to find the best solution.

This is often the difference between vendors and partners in learning. A vendor can execute your predetermined ideas, but a strategic partner is in lockstep with you to drive impact. If your vendor isn’t respectfully asking why, offering their thoughts, and coming to you with new ideas, you could be missing out on the best solution for your learners. Learning partners should be an extension of your business, know it well, and seek to collaborate with you to understand the problem and define the solution.

5. They don’t know your business.

Has your vendor done their research? Partners in learning should invest time and energy into getting to know your business, your needs and challenges, and your learners. With our own clients, we’re committed to coming prepared to meetings with deep product and business knowledge, every time. This approach informs the best solutions, so don’t settle for a learning partner who doesn’t understand the unique qualities and needs of your business.

6. They’re constantly throwing you change orders.

Did yet another change order just hit your inbox? That’s a sign of a vendor mindset, and one that may not have your best interest in mind. Are they seeing the project as a one-off assignment or a long-term partnership? Partners in learning will always prioritize efficient and effective use of your budget. They also understand that a change order is not just another administrative task—it could affect the internal perception of the project, the vendor, or even you.

Significant projects or scope shifts do warrant a change order, but overall, every minor change or adjustment shouldn’t result in a change order. There are times when change orders are warranted, but overall, every minor change or adjustment shouldn’t result in a change order.

7. The vibe is off.

Call it vibes, call it values alignment—you need to click with your partners in learning. It’s not as mysterious as it may sound: good partners are collaborative, willing to lend their expertise, and serve as an extension of your team. Can you call them up to get their opinion when something comes up? Do they treat your problems as their own? If they’re not willing to show up for you as a partner in learning, that’s something to watch out for.

Set yourself up for success

If you can feel the passion behind this article, you’re not wrong—this is a topic we really care about. We’ve been in the learning industry for a long time, and since the beginning, we’ve taken the stance that learning is a positive force for change. We take our role as partners in learning seriously because we know that amazing outcomes come from collaborative, trusting, and innovative relationships. We even developed a set of Learning Principles that codify our approach so that every experience is as high-quality as it is effective.

Ultimately, your learning-partner selection comes down to you. Set yourself, your learners, and your business up for success by heeding any red flags and looking for a high-quality partner in learning.

Work with a partner with no red flags.

We’re all about collaboration, innovation, and making change happen. Talk with a Maestro strategist to learn how we check all your boxes.

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