Components of the Learning Model Canvas: Key Partners

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In last week’s Saltbox Savvy, I discussed the Key Resources L&D will need to deliver learning experiences, from people, to tools, to systems. But not all assets are so tangible; influence, and the relationships to build that influence are important to keep a learning unit running, too. We’ve already looked at the demand side of the equation in Customer Relationships, and now we come to the supply: Key Partners.

L&D shouldn’t have to do it all alone. It may be tempting to keep all facets of the training process in house, but few have that kind of budget. Even then, there are advantages to outsourcing some of the work. The right partner can produce results faster and more efficiently than anyone you could hire, and saves you a lengthy interviewing/onboarding process.

Partnerships are applicable throughout all sections of the Learning Model Canvas. During Design, it may not be feasible to directly hire someone just to create computer-generated animations for an immersive simulation; working with a specialized vendor may be the most expedient option. In Business Outcomes, you will need data to measure success. Cultivating a relationship with an in-company resource with access to that information may save you slogging through miles of red tape. Not only shouldn’t L&D do it all alone, but realistically, it can’t.

Are you In or Out

An important distinction to make with Key Partners is whether they are internal or external. Internal partners are those working in your company, but not exclusively for L&D. External partners are those outside the company, working with you in the capacity as a vendor or consultant. Internal and external partners need to be planned for separately and treated differently to get the most out of each type of relationship.

Internal partnerships have the advantage of both parties ostensibly working towards the same overall goal: the company’s success. At the same time, other business units aren’t necessarily answerable to L&D and may compete with the learning apparatus over the same budget, so such partnerships can be delicate. Examples of internal partners include project sponsors/champions, IT contacts, in-house analytics, communications specialists, and SMEs.

External partners generally have a financial incentive to be responsive to L&D’s wishes, and as outsiders, may be able to navigate internal company politics more freely. That said, they are also unaccountable to the company’s hierarchy and may need additional attention to ensure they deliver on their promises, which includes sticking to agreed-upon fees. Examples of external partners include eLearning programming vendors, consultants, third-party content developers (like MOOCs or, and other technical vendors (such as app developers or LMS providers).

Practically speaking, you can look at partnerships as a type of contingent workforce. Some relationships may be permanent and consistent (at which point you may eventually consider hiring them into L&D), but others may be on an as-needed basis, which will allow you to be much more flexible in growing or shrinking your operation from project to project.

Connection to the Learning Models

Taking inventory of the relationships you have inside and outside your company can reveal what learning model you’ve been operating in, and what partnerships you still need to reach your goal. A highly evolved Performance Support model, for instance, requires strong ties with the IT department to build and maintain the technology-assisted automation inherent to the process. This would be opposed to a Mass Distribution model, which largely relies on pre-existing delivery systems (email, online browsers, etc.) requiring less IT attention. In this case, the content is the key variable, which may mean closer partnerships with your SMEs. Like Customer Relationships, sustaining Key Partnerships can entail frequent, open contact and communication. But their strength may mean the difference between an overworked, underperforming L&D unit, and a model of operational efficiency. Next week’s Saltbox Savvy will cover the final piece of the LMC puzzle, Cost Structure, which will help you start making a case for L&D’s budget. If you have questions about Key Partners or are ready to start drafting an LMC, drop me a line at Saltbox or leave a comment below.


When building a working relationship with the IT department, you typically have two options: Get your training initiatives on IT’s “top projects” list, or be forced to beg, borrow, and steal whatever technical resources you can. The former is usually preferable, particularly for time-dependent learning experiences that would otherwise languish without timely IT support. In the long run, getting on the top projects list requires positioning L&D as a consultant in the Customer Relationship. If you work at the strategic level and are recognized as a department that can solve big problems for the business, you’ll have more leeway to put the pressure on when you need technical help fast.