Employee EngagementLearning & Development

Getting Ready for Learning BPO

Executive support is pivotal in learning process transformation. Understanding current and future states helps to build a roadmap for execution.

by Bruce Walton

The global Learning Business Process Outsourcing (LBPO) market is expected to post double-digit annual growth during the next few years and to double its size by 2011, according to the TPI Prevalence Database. Nevertheless, corporate interest is weaker for LBPO than for other outsourced HR functions such as recruitment processing, payroll, and benefit administration.

For several reasons, making the LBPO decision has lagged behind initiatives to outsource other company operations. One factor is the lack of centralized leadership in the learning function. A second is that corporations often lack enterprise-wide learning models and strategies that have wide buy-in throughout the organizations. A third consideration is that the LBPO function includes more components than those merely repetitive, administrative tasks that can be quickly handed over to others.


Learning leadership is often very local and close to where the learning takes place. In other words, it often lacks centralization, including one key decision-maker responsible for the “vision” and for assuming budgetary and organizational authority to implement it across the enterprise.

In the absence of a chief learning officer, several vital initiatives that translate the vision into a corporate reality are never started or, if launched, remain incomplete. These include internal alignments and commitments among crucial stakeholders; developing and executing a sensible business case and governance model; focusing on people and process issues (not just technology); and communicating and managing the need for change.

Without executive leadership, the business units within a company may not view a proposed enterprise-wide solution to be in their best interests. The local business unit might have the final word on how it develops its employees, choosing to spend most money for skills and technical training and engaging providers for only limited learning outsourcing contracts. In a decentralized learning model, there may be no top-down mandate to provide consistent, company-wide programs. Wasted effort and redundancies can result, often unknown to even those administering learning programs. Without a clear idea on overall spend, potential service providers have difficulty understanding where they have opportunities to make an impact. They may opt for a piecemeal approach to introducing and then expanding their learning services—a strategy for leveraging outsourcing that can prove to be inefficient.

Companies that lack an enterprise-wide learning model and strategy, whose HR functions are often in silos (learning, performance management, compensation), also tend to be unprepared to support the outsourcing service provider. Comprehensive support is best provided by embedded structures and processes that target learning goals under a culture that encourages its people to actively embody the behaviors of a learning organization.


Organizations should understand the journey they must take to address their learning challenges, beginning with the all-important first step: evaluating the current state of company-wide learning and the role that a third-party provider can play. Companies should complete an assessment of their people, processes, and technology strategies and identify their current spend so that they can determine which existing elements should be retained.

To build the vision of a future state on a solid, well-researched foundation, they should survey the marketplace to understand industry standards and study competitors to determine training staff ratios and spend comparisons. Once the gap between the two states is understood, a detailed plan to close it needs to be developed.

A successful plan requires crucial enterprise-wide buy in. Sponsorship and stakeholder support should be part of a comprehensive effort to build a case for change and enable a corporation to decide how to source the various components and help assess a service provider’s offerings. Developing a learning function governance and decision-making apparatus helps keep a good “people plan” in place and guides the day-to-day emphasis on the value of continuous learning.

Bruce Walton advises TPI’s clients on aspects of their service alternatives including project management, HR transformation, service delivery, shared services, and others. 

Tags: Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Learning

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