How to manage external trainers effectively:selection of the fittest

Anyone confident enough to talk to a roomful of people can set themselves up as a trainer, which means there are plenty of duff ones out there. That is why training managers must ensure that the trainers they hire can do the job and that the relationship is managed effectively.

The obvious solution is to not hire a duff one in the first place.Check the qualifications and credentials of any prospective trainers. Find out what training they have delivered before, how long they have been in business, what size and type of companies they have worked with and the results they achieved.

Even if you do all this, there’s still a risk of using a duffer.

“I needed someone to run a time management course some years ago,” says publishing house training manager Steve Johnson, “which our regular trainer couldn’t do. He recommended someone else who could cover at short notice.

“I met this guy, checked his background and references and talked to a couple of previous customers. All seemed well until after the course when several delegates complained about his performance, especially his lack of interest in their issues. Also the course – time management mind you – finished far earlier than it should.

Thorough checks

Looking back, I should have checked his course material for us before the event. Of course, I never used him again – nor the trainer who recommended him.”

This illustrates a key lesson: for training to be successful, those delivering it must understand the values, business imperatives, culture and goals of the people and organisation they are working with.

Martyn Sloman, adviser on learning, training and development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says this is crucial. “Alignment is key. The trainer has to know and understand the client’s business drivers. The training must reinforce those drivers and make them more effective.”

He recommends holding briefing sessions from time to time with external partners to explain the client organisation’s main business models and keep them updated with any changes.

Sloman says when he was UK director at an international consultancy firm, he used to ask training providers to submit a short statement detailing how their training programme would reflect his organisation’s business models and approaches.

Training managers often have a list of preferred suppliers. BT, for example, has a list of about 35 such organisations, according to Peter Butler, head of BT’s Learning Academy. He says BT tries to put as much training through that list as possible because they are tried and tested relationships. Having an ongoing partnership with an organisation should mean it has a thorough understanding of the needs of the business, thereby achieving greater business alignment.

Know what is expected

With these large contracts BT has ser­vice level agreements in place so that everyone knows exactly what is expected. This minimises the risk of disappointing performance.

However, don’t let long-term partners become complacent. It is good practice to issue and renew contracts every year or two to ensure any long-term partnerships are still effective and relevant, and to keep training providers on their toes.

Butler says he expects any training provider, particularly those with a continuing relationship with BT, to work hard at understanding what BT is trying to achieve, how the business works and the context in which the training needs to take place.

Just as important is that the internal training team know why they are delivering a particular piece of training, what the desired outcomes are and how best to achieve them. If they aren’t clear on this, it’s unlikely that external trainers will be.

“Training managers need to set out exactly what they want,” says Peter Davison, chief executive of training organisation Arian Associates. “They need to put down a clear set of objectives about what they expect from the outset. And once the training has been done they should sit down with the trainer to discuss whether those objectives have been met and if not, why not.”

If a particular programme isn’t hitting the mark it tends to get back to the training department fairly quickly. Have all the formal processes in place, such as feedback sheets, to ensure problems are highlighted early on. If there is a negative response from delegates, find out what the problem is. Don’t automatically assume the fault lies with the trainer. Speak to the trainer and training organisation as well because they will probably be just as eager to resolve any issues.

Warning signs of a poor trainer or training programme

  • Negative feedback from course delegates.

  • High drop-out rate from the course.

  • A drop in the return on investment and attendance of a course that has previously been successful.

  • The trainer shows little interest in your organisation’s culture, values and business drivers.

  • The trainer doesn’t understand or seek to understand the context of the training or desired outcomes for the business.

  • Trainer or training organisation doesn’t have a proven track record.

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