The Anatomy of a Great RFP Requirement

When I’m not giving demos or travelling to tradeshows to meet potential and existing clients, I spend the majority of each day evaluating client RFPs and RFP requirements to determine if our product and solution provide a good fit for your various business needs.

 

After doing this for a decade, I estimate I have evaluated almost 100,000 written requirements from clients across approximately 750 proposals.

 

Accordingly, I can speak with professional expertise that there are generally three types of RFP requirements… the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

The Good—A good requirement is a single question or statement clearly organized into the context of the surrounding requirements placed in a clearly defined section of the RFP.  Good requirements are easy to respond to, clear and concise, and are logically presented in the context of the surrounding requirements. For example, reporting requirements are presented with other reporting requirements, for instance.  Good requirements allow your potential vendors to best present their solution while still giving you an apples-to-apples comparison.

 

  1. Example: Do you support classroom course scheduling?  Please describe these tools with brief narrative and screen captures where applicable. 

This requirement is clear, concise, and provides detailed instructions on the preferred response format. 

 

The Bad—A bad requirement is often multiple, non-related questions laced into a single requirement.  Some of the questions might apply to the context of the surrounding requirements but outliers often tend to sneak in and muddy the waters.  Two part and even three part questions are okay and even expected.  However, LMS buyers should be aware that increasing the complexity of requirements can often lead to responses that may address all elements of the requirement in a compliant manner, but are ultimately non-responsive in nature.  It is tough to answer reporting, hosting, and customer support questions in a single response with clarity.   Instead of the details you were hoping for, you will instead receive generalizations and high-level information.

 

  1. Example: Please describe your reporting tools, company mission statement, compliance capabilities, and provide a disaster recovery plan. 

This requirement goes in four different directions and is vague.  Instead of getting the details you seek in this type of requirement, you will get four general statements on the various aspects of the requirement without any real detail or compelling information. 

 

The Ugly—Ugly requirements generally fall into one of three categories.

 

  1. The first type of Ugly requirement is one that is not clear and does not make sense or one is that repeated multiple times throughout the RFP. Typos are forgivable and understandable.  I often see client requirements repeated multiple times throughout the document.  These force respondents to either be redundant or to ask the RFP evaluator to jump back to previous responses in the proposal. Keep in mind that redundant requirements make a proposal more difficult to evaluate.
  • Example 1: We want to use reporting to drive eCommerce and tie into classroom courses.  This requirement does not make sense and would force respondents to seek clarification.

 

  1. The second are requirements from industries like manufacturing that sneak their way into software RFPs from existing company templates. These requirements are just not relevant to a software purchase and should be removed from your RFP template prior to distribution to potential vendors.
  • Example 2: Please describe your warehouse security. This is not relevant to software vendors as they do not warehouse physical products.  

 

  1. The third type of ugly requirement is one that is best demonstrated in a live presentation of the software. Vendors understand that often an RFP is unavoidable, we also understand that the best place for our product to shine is in the demos.
  • Example 3: Please show us the procedure for an end user to access the LMS, register for a course, and check their compliance. This seems like an innocuous requirement but screen captures can be edited and selectively chosen to make processes and elements of the system seem easier than they really are.  Workflows, uses cases, user scenarios, etc. are all best left to the demonstration phase of the procurement. 

 

At this point, careful readers have noted that I have promised the anatomy of a great RFP requirement, yet we have only discussed the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  So, what makes a Great RFP requirement?

 

The answer is, one that eliminates all but the most capable vendors in a manner that keeps the process efficient and illuminating for the evaluators.

 

Most RFPs contain 3-5 minimum and critical requirements that will disqualify any vendor that cannot meet them. These are often referred to as “must haves” or “minimum requirements” and allow vendors to make easy go/no-go decisions while also ensuring the client is not flooded with bids from unqualified vendors.  These requirements are your critical ones, the requirements that determine if you will move forward or not.  They are often hot button issues driven from either your client base of employees or customers or from a lack of features with the incumbent vendor solution.

 

Forgive me for trotting out this old cliché, but time is money and evaluating and responding to RFPs takes a lot of both. The more upfront you are about your mission critical requirements, the easier you will be able to identify the right vendor for your business. Smart unqualified vendors will disqualify themselves before you must if they are given the information they need in the RFP to make an educated decision.

 

Example:  We must have single sign on with SAML 2.0 or other industry standard authentication scheme.  Our current solution does not support this and it is critical to our future eLearning initiatives.  Vendors who cannot meet this requirement will be disqualified from the bid process and their RFP will not be considered for evaluation.

 

Example:  We use WebEx to deliver virtual classroom training.  Please describe your support for this tool.  Vendors with a built in WebEx integration will receive preference during evaluation.

 

A Great RFP requirement then meets all the characteristics of a “good” requirement as it is clear, concise, and easy to respond to while also giving vendors the information they need on which requirements are your most critical.

 

Get off to a great start in your search for a learning management system with Meridian’s best practice LMS RFP template.

Download Meridian’s best practice RFP template now.

3 Takeaways from ATD 2016

The ATD International Conference and Exposition is undoubtedly one of the best shows for learning and development pros to attend, and this year was no exception. Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Denver and attend 26 sessions at ATD. From the opening keynote to the individual sessions this is a great show offering many broad choices and opportunities for everyone to learn something. Reflecting on the overall experience, there are three major themes repeated throughout the event that anyone can apply today and see immediate results.

 

1. Make it Easy

Your success depends on making it easy for your customers, whether they are learners, executives, team members, your staff or your supervisor. Here’s how you can make it easier:

 

  • When communicating get to the point quickly and be succinct. Apply this at every level, whether it’s presentation and approval for a major project, content development, a blog entry, or an email to a colleague.
  • Learn to speak the language of your audience, rather than asking them to translate what is familiar to you. Besides making it easy, meeting them on their turf in this way builds good will and respect.
  • Make is easy for stakeholders to say yes when seeking approval of projects and initiatives. Provide supporting data, anticipate objections, and address skepticism up front. Success metrics make it easier for stakeholders to understand the need and impact of your proposal because they’re in their language, not yours.
  • Learning content must be easy to find, easy to consume, and easy to apply. This is huge for end-users! On the content curation side, sharpen your marketing skills and optimize discovery of your content. People don’t have a lot of time on their hands, so think about developing micro content wherever it’s possible, or break large courses into smaller chunks.
  • Identify your allies and champions and make it easy for them help you. Going beyond providing tools and resources that help managers diagnose skills gaps by offering recommend training that predicts what the team needs to learn based on their profiles. This will strategically build your team’s skills, making success easier for everyone involved.

 

2. Leverage Resources You Already Have

Budget dollars are at a higher premium than ever, so don’t underestimate the power of your creativity and allies to kick start a virtuous cycle of success that pays off with access to the financial resources you need. Here’s a few tips on how to leverage the resources you already have:

 

  • Extend your project influence and success with stakeholder allies. By speaking their language, asking what success looks like to them, and understanding their concerns up front you can make it easy for them to support you.
  • Extend your learning engagement through early adopter allies. The secret to successful engagement is to find champions who believe in your goals and are willing to help, and then winning them over and keeping them engaged by making it easy for them to assist.
  • Extend your content development resources by harnessing subject matter experts and user generated content. Timely content of minimum quality beats high quality content delivered too late. Define a tiered quality structure based on urgency, audience and legal or regulatory needs. Develop tools, resources and review processes appropriate to each tier.
  • Stay focused on one goal to help limit complexity and resource consumption.

 

A little creativity goes a long way when you’re trying to squeeze more money out of your budget, justify costs and achieve success! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

 

3. Begin With The End in Mind

Addressing big organizational challenges is hard, and many of the largest and well attended sessions had teams sharing the keys to success. The number one key to success they all had in common was know your end goal and stay focused on it. Some examples of how this was successfully applied are:

 

  • One popular session shared the experiences of a large retail franchise reinvigorating an existing learning management system (LMS) to stream video training sessions. They initially started the project to replace their existing LMS, and along the way they discovered their existing LMS had the capability to meet their goals. However when the software was implemented years earlier their goal of streaming video didn’t exist. With the goal of prominently displaying video based content at the forefront of their minds, they relaunched their LMS and grew engagement providing a much better return on investment.
  • Another organization shared their experience with implementing an LMS for the first time. They founded the project by measuring how profit was correlated to learning. Building on this revenue metric, as well as the importance of engagement, they minimized implemented features and maximized internal marketing. By continuing to measure their profit to learning metric and sharing out results broadly, they created a cycle of gaining more allies, stronger internal marketing, more resource availability and expanded features.
  • Achieving Kirkpatrick level four isn’t easy, but I attended multiple sessions where organization’s shared their success in achieving level four. The common theme among those who achieved level four is that they started by figuring out what success at level four looks like to them, then defined success at each lower level before implementing the improvement program. They made it easy for their customer by using the customer’s definition of success and existing success metrics, then correlating learning to those measures.

 

Rolling out major learning initiatives can be an overwhelming task, but if you focus on making it easy, leveraging the resources you already have and begin with the end in mind, you’ll be in a better position to achieve success.

 

What did you think of ATD 2016 this year? Leave a comment below!

Why Employees Aren’t Wasting Time on Learning

In a dream world, we’d all devote countless hours to our professional development. Who doesn’t want to brush up on old skills and learn something new? It would only make us better contributors, right?

 

Here’s the rub: the modern learner only has about 1% of their day they can devote to learning and development activities.¹ On top of this, resources are often stretched thin and managers aren’t necessarily thrilled at the idea of their teams taking time away from their day-to-day responsibilities to participate in training.

 

It sounds harsh, but it’s the reality of the situation.

 

We sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and founder of Fistful of Talent, and Ginger Knighton, talent specialist at Kinetix during the Learning and Development Hangout with Fistful of Talent to discuss ways to diffuse the stigma that employees are wasting time when spending it on learning and development. Check out the recording for some amazing tips on how to encourage your managers to support learning.

 

 

¹”Meet the Modern Learner,” Bersin by Deloitte

How to Become a Learning Leader in 2016

Resolutions for Your Learning and Development Function

In order to be successful and stay competitive, organizations need to re-invest in their learning strategies in 2016.

 

We sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO at Kinetix and Founder of Fistful of Talent, to get his insight into the top 5 areas that Learning and Development organizations need to focus on this year.

 

Getting Organized and Understanding the Trends

Being organized is a no brainer, but what trends should you be focusing on for 2016?

  • Leadership development becoming a growing part of L&D and now claims on average 35% of training budgets
  • Increasing efforts to expand training offerings beyond onboarding and creating a culture of continuous learning
  • Just-in-time learning is a must, but most training and development activities aren’t small enough to be effective

 

Becoming a Better Marketer of Your L&D Offerings

Building engaging learning content that no one knows about will get you nowhere. A big part of marketing is making sure that you are sending the right message to the right audience. To the business unit, make sure you are describing how the training will solve their need for increased performance and engagement. To the individual employee, make sure you let them know how your training offerings can help them progress in their career.

 

Need more tips? Check out the “Why Learning and Marketing Should Be BFFs” whitepaper for additional insight.

 

Learning and Development with an Eye on Retaining Top Performers

Most good to great performers leave at the 1-3 year mark of tenure. For learning, this means it is time to stop investing in under-performers and make sure that the right learning and development opportunities are being offered to the at-risk, high performers. This can mean anything from a learning path of internal content to help them progress in their career, or opportunities for broader professional development with third parties.

 

Investing in Managers of People

There is no question that managers who are perceived by employees as overly “bad” or “good” can have a dramatic impact on performance, workplace stress and overall retention. But what should organizations be training managers on? Delivering feedback and coaching, goal setting and performance management are a good place start.

 

Reinforcing the Culture of Your Company with L&D

This resolution can be misleading – it is less about focusing on “culture” as a set of values and behaviors that you want to reinforce, and more about operationalizing learning to ensure alignment with the groups or areas that are of high importance and focus for the organization as a whole. A good place to start? Focus on the people and functional areas that deliver results and contribute directly to revenue.

 

View the webinar replay for all of Kris’ great advice on how your L&D department can be a leader in learning this year!

 

 

#ICYMI: Why Organizations Don’t Learn and How They’re Wasting Money in the Process

Learning and development isn’t a lofty goal organizations are hoping to achieve; it’s a vital component of business. It didn’t take a lot of digging this week to back up that argument. In case you missed it (ICYMI), here’s why organizations struggle with learning and how they’re wasting money in the process.

 

Why organizations don’t learn

It’s no secret that continuous learning is essential to career growth and organizational success. Learning opportunities, in theory, are abundant and accessible. Yet, despite the demand and desire for ongoing development, learning often fails. Using a decade of research, Harvard Business Review contributors, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, boiled the issue down to four main reasons why organizations (and their employees) can’t learn.

 

  1. We focus too heavily on success
  2. We are too quick to act
  3. We try too hard to fit in, and
  4. We rely too much on experts

 

Each bias, backed by research, has its own set of challenges and solutions. For example, those hung up on success often develop an unreasonable fear of failure. The result? They’re less likely to take risks and focus on past performance, rather than potential. What do managers need to do? Recognize accomplishments and treat mistakes as learning opportunities.

 

That’s just a sliver of insight from the HBR report. Check out the full article for some fantastic advice on how to battle the biases that hinder learning opportunities and growth.

 

Are you wasting money on learning and development?

Millions of dollars are spent each year on learning and development, yet business leadership is struggling with realizing tangible results. A study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group examines the disconnect between leadership training intentions and results. Here are the four major areas of concerns cited in the article.

 

  1. Learning doesn’t match business opportunities. Business leaders identify areas where they want their talent developed, toss it over to HR to deal with, and then never look back. In order for training programs to work, they need to stay involved.
  2. Learning events are perceived as one and done. Learning activities end up being a one-night-stand. Rather than rolling out learning events to continuously build on each other, they become a one off intervention or check-the-box workshop. Little follow up is done to ensure the competency is engrained in the learner.
  3. Look at the impact of learning. There’s too much focus in injecting sex appeal into learning programs and too little focus on examining the success of the course. Leaders need to keep the question of “How did the training program change _________?” at the forefront of their minds.
  4. Identify the right programs and capabilities from the start. The difference between engaging learning programs and neglected programs is the approach to how the people, processes and systems reinforce the new capabilities. If learning isn’t connected to rewards and recognition, no one will be interested in learning.

 

Check out the full article on Chief Learning Officer for some more insight on how to tackle your top learning challenges.

 

Changing your perspective on learning and development

Great learning and development programs aren’t created overnight. You have to roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work. Depending on where you’re at with your training efforts, we have a lot of great resources to help you turn learners into leaders.

 

 

And, if you really want to transform your learning strategy, drop us a line or give us a call!

Compliance = Organizational Cat Herding

Here’s how to get your team on-board!

You know the drill. You’ve got a compliance-based training event that has to be completed by a certain date to satisfy the powers that be (and avoid some serious fines or really bad PR). Whether it’s involving harassment, regulatory mandates (Sarbanes-Oxley, anyone?!?) or general safety training – you need to make sure your people complete the required training courses and actions in a timely manner.

 

Getting people to take those online trainings and achieve 100% compliance is no walk in the park. Because, to quote John Whitaker, “compliance isn’t a matter of ‘will you please’ it’s a matter of ‘you must or…’”

 

Unless you have an advanced degree in psychology or an arsenal of Jedi Mind Tricks, it’s impossible to get everyone to complete a required course on time.

 

Or is it?

 

We recently sat down with Kris Dunn, CHRO of Kinetix and founder of Fistful of Talent and John Whitaker, Senior Human Resources Consultant and Fistful of Talent contributor to shared their best ideas on how heard everybody through those pesky compliance training mandates.

 

Watch the video and follow along with the conversation on Twitter with #LDHangout!