There’s much talk about the ‘extended enterprise’ today. Folks are recognizing that links with suppliers, partners, customers, and more, means that relationships extend beyond the boundaries of the organization. Consequently, so do responsibilities for capability. For example, Japanese automobile manufacturers famously helped their suppliers be more effective. The question then becomes, what are the implications for learning in the extended enterprise?
To start, let’s be clear on just what the ‘extended enterprise’ entails. As suggested, it’s about the full suite of relationships that are pulled together to deliver customer satisfaction. TechTarget’s definition suggests, the extended enterprise “is the concept that a company does not operate in isolation because its success is dependent upon a network of partner relationships.” The stronger the partners, and the relationship, the stronger the enterprise.
What the Japanese did was not just have the typical hands-off relationship, but instead helped their suppliers be more effective. The automakers shared their approaches to success, and collaborated with their suppliers about how to make better products and cars. It was about learning together.
This provides a clear roadmap for other organizations and therefore a clear path for Learning & Development (L&D).
Sharing Knowledge within the Extended Enterprise
So, one of the clear implications is sharing learning. These Japanese companies were sharing the way they did things. The broader picture is about helping everyone understand each other’s perspectives.
This isn’t unusual. For many products and/or services, organizations provide learning about them. It’s a marketing investment in some cases, in others it is its own business. The extremes range from free product training to for-fee certification training. Other solutions are in-between. One organization I’ve worked with offered a suite of tutorials online for free, but that was backed up with paid certifications and on-site support as part of a learning plan.
One useful perspective is the ‘total customer experience’. Here, the focus is on customer success; the product helps them achieve the goals they want. Taking that to a new level, Kathy Sierra in her book Badass, advocates that what matters is making customers awesome and that includes developing their ability to succeed.
As a related aside, when I heard about learning objects, I’d thought that manufacturers of components would provide objects,which integrators of those components, could use in their resulting product materials. So, the glass manufacturer would provide cleaning instructions that the window manufacturer could leverage in providing window maintenance information (and arguably aggregating up to houses or buildings). Is there a way you can think like this?
The flip side could well be hosting the other stakeholders’ content, or serving as a channel for it, so that engineers can see the product material from the supplier, and the supplier can see the product information about the product they contributed to.
The implication is to figure out what elements of the organizational learning can and should be shared, and how. This might go beyond just product or service-related information, but if there are areas of excellence in any of the stakeholders that the others do not have or not as well, that could be shared to improve the overall extended enterprise.
In the traditional relationship, proprietary information isn’t shared. One of the ways that the Japanese innovated was gradually integrating partners into their thinking. With small projects, they build comfort and moved to a preferred provider basis. In conjunction with more tailored contracts, was deeper sharing. There were fewer, but better, suppliers.
Understanding your partner’s strength and weaknesses could be seen as an intrusion, but the alternative is more powerful. By assisting partners to learn to be better, the overall enterprise and the overall offering is improved. This is good business!
There’s more than just sharing fixed knowledge, however. From the perspective of organizational survival in the new environment, innovation is key. Given that innovation is fostered by constructive interaction (aka creative friction), this suggests that the stakeholders in the extended enterprise not only share learnings, but learn together.
If we can’t take collaboration skills for granted, this means that such collaborations should be facilitated. And again, this is a role for L&D. Having developed collaboration skills internally, sharing those with enterprise partners makes sense. A strategic focus could be through facilitating specific projects where improvements stand to generate ‘smart’ returns.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean that everything gets shared. The Toyota mantra was ‘share intensively, but selectively’. Learning that involves ways products “aren’t” quite right, can be the basis of supplier component improvement. Thus, if this is the best bolt available, but a better bolt is possible, that’s an opportunity to engage. Further, if there’s a challenge in the product itself, there might be a benefit to engaging with a supplier to innovate collaboratively. This approach allows drawing on the diverse knowledge and skills of a broader perspective.
Overall, collaboratively developing the necessary innovation skills (creativity, communication, and collaboration itself), and then applying those to collaborative projects, provides a good basis for augmenting the extended enterprise’s collective capability.
Getting Started with an Extended Enterprise Training Strategy
Pragmatically, to get started requires several concrete steps. First, the scope of the extended enterprise should be defined. It may not be one enterprise, but a set of levels of contribution. For each, the scope of what’s involved and at stake makes sense.
From there, an inventory of what’s available – what already exists – is a first step. What specific skills have been developed and what knowledge about the contribution to the enterprise has been documented? Also, what exists in the partners’ library, specifically what would be a valuable contribution? This should be done internally and in conjunction with the partners in the extended enterprise.
From there, a second inventory of what would be valuable but doesn’t exist would be helpful. Again, this should be conducted both internally and in collaboration.
From there, a collaborative approach should be taken about both what’s to be shared, and how. What platform or platforms can be used? How will permissions be handled? How will schedules and messaging be coordinated?
A major consideration is the business basis. Is this an investment, or are there revenue opportunities? Are there credentialing or certification opportunities? Who pays for what? What is the business case in terms of savings and revenue?
While there is considerable effort in this exercise, the upside is significant. The benefits to the enterprise, as a whole, are both more effectiveness and efficiency, as well as agility. There are potential revenue streams, cost savings, and new lines of business. This is not just for products, but services as well.
The new world of business includes the perspective of the extended enterprise. The impacts reach L&D, as well as operations and more. The opportunities to contribute to this direction are incumbent on an L&D unit that wants to be relevant in a strategic role.
Do L&D departments know about what’s proprietary, adds value to the organization and is part of the consideration of what remains central to the organization and what gets outsourced? Understanding this aspect of the business, is part of the role of contributing to organizational success. That’s a valuable understanding for L&D to offer.
And you can offer that business value from your training department today with Litmos Training Ops. Before being acquired by Litmos, ViewCentral was the best kept secret in our industry for supporting the extended enterprise. ViewCentral is now Litmos Training Ops. The combined enterprise strength of Litmos LMS and ViewCentral is an unmatched extended enterprise solution in the industry. Check out this webinar with the creator of Litmos Training Ops. You can also download this datasheet explaining how you can grow revenue and lower costs with automated training management solutions.