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Ask the Expert: Trainer Assessment


How do you assess trainers in a way that's fair, balanced and constructive? Our experts have some ideas.

Question: I want to build a development path for my trainers in order to improve their effectiveness. First of all I need some way to assess their current strengths/weaknesses so that we can concentrate development in the most appropriate areas. Is there any model or framework which already exists that I can use to do this?

This is really more about the personality of the trainers and their individual style of delivery rather than content but anything that incorporated both would be equally useful.

Mike Ditchburn responds: Although there is much material available for evaluating the effectiveness of the course, there seems to be little published work on the effectiveness of trainers.

There are a couple of good publications that cover this area:

  • Trainer Assessment: A Guide to Measuring the Performance of Trainers and Facilitators (Leslie Rae)
  • Managing the Training Process (Gower)

    Also, Gower publishes a useful reference guide called The Handbook of Training and Development. This historically has a very useful ‘Effective Trainer Checklist’ which gives a practical guide to trainer competencies and assessment. However, the current versions of the publication have different content and exclude this part! If you contact me directly at I can give you more information.


    Graham O'Connell responds: The place to start is their current role – the skills they need will depend upon whether they are designers, presenters, facilitators, consultants or all those things and more. You could refer to the old National Standards in T&D, or some other established framework, but I am not sure that would be half as useful as devising your own. (See Skills & Qualities for Trainers in Modern Organisations below for a one page synopsis of key skills if you do want to do a quick benchmark.)

    Being a collaborative person by nature, I’d suggest you engage with your trainers in coming up with a simple checklist, and maybe get them involved in the assessment too. As this is for development purposes I’d also suggest that you don’t have a tick/cross or pass/fail system. I’d work on the assumption that everybody has some skill and some development need. Your feedback to them (or to each other) could and should be developmental in its own right.

    Using an observational checklist to take notes while they deliver is an art in its own right. People do behave differently when being observed – sometimes raising performance anxiety, sometimes putting people on best behaviour - so whatever you see may not be typical. You can also affect group behaviour, especially around how they participate. And, as you are only human, you may focus on some things more than others or make subjective judgements based on your values rather than on true best practice. In short, if you are not careful you can undermine all your best intentions. However, if you are aware of these things, come over as relaxed, non-judgemental and quietly supportive, I think it should be a valuable exercise for all concerned.

    If the trainers have been through, or will go through, the Certificate in Training Practice or a similar qualification, they will probably have a checklist with feedback from their tutor. That might be an alternative place to start as you can work to a recognised standard and help them see progression. In any event, a baseline qualification should be high on your list of possible development options (but do make sure you choose a good quality provider).

    I’d just like to add a comment about personality and personal style. Firstly, I tend to take a relaxed view over what constitutes a skill, a competence and a quality – the importance is that some one has got it, not what it is labelled. But I do draw the line at personality. It is possible to address personality issues (as those of you who have watched The Apprentice will testify!) but giving feedback on personality in this context may not be appropriate.

    As to personal style, I think it is helpful to build up basic competence first and then to make your style of delivery your own. Modelling other, experienced trainers is a great way to learn but if all you do is copy, it will never work.As to a ‘development path’, it should reflect their likely future role. It should not just be about moving from competence to excellence in delivery, it should also be about broadening and deepening the capability of the L&D function for the years ahead.

    Skills & Qualities for Trainers in Modern Organisations

    Role Skills:
    Presentation - structuring and communicating ideas, using visual aids
    Facilitation - managing activities, eliciting contributions and learning
    One-to-one - coaching, counselling, mentoring, advising, assessing
    Consultancy - investigating, diagnosing, advising, evaluating, partnering
    Trouble-shooter - insightful, innovative, dogged, a skilful rebel
    Design - designing courses, materials, activities, opportunities; e-literate

    Personal Skills & Qualities:
    Communication - listening, questioning, explaining, giving feedback
    Interpersonal - building relationships, sensitivity, handling conflict
    Assertiveness - confidence, challenging and supporting,negotiating
    Flexibility - responsive, creative, adaptable, manage change
    Expertise - knowledgeable, experienced, insightful, up to date

    Organisational Skills:
    Team working - egalitarian, supportive, dependable, collaborative
    Self-management - managing stress, time and work, self starting, a learner
    Influencing - instigating and driving change, winning support
    Strategic - co-ordinating, planning, leadership, linking, thinking
    Problem solving - creative, working with operational difficulties, a doer
    Business - financial, marketing, customer care, managing info.

    About our experts:
    Graham O'Connell MA Chartered FCIPD FITOL FInstCPD ACIM: Graham is head of organisational learning and standards at the National School for Government. He has particular responsibility for developing and promoting best practices in learning and development. A regular feature writer for professional magazines, he has had numerous articles published on topics such as organisational learning, training strategy, coaching and facilitation. You have probably seen Graham presenting at conferences too.

    As a consultant Graham has 25 years experience in technical, management, trainer training and as an adviser to organisations on the strategic aspects of L&D. He has extensive overseas experience including working in countries as diverse as Russia and Bermuda, China and Kosovo. Graham still does some occasional tutoring on CIPD and University of Cambridge qualification programmes and runs occasional Masterclasses. He also runs a number of networks including the Strategic L&D Network (for Heads of L&D in the Civil Service), the Henley Public Sector Knowledge Management Forum and the Leadership Alliance Exchange.

    Mike Ditchburn, MD of Bourne Training: Mike has worked for Bourne Training (part of the Redtray Group) since 1998, He has worked as a training and development professional for 15 years and held senior training management positions in the financial services sector and pharmaceutical industry. Mike is highly experienced in the delivery of learning to support change initiatives, and has been fundamental in developing strategy and implementing solutions to support e-Learning projects across a range of industry sectors.

    Mike is an associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and has a Diploma in Management Studies. He is currently a member of the British Learning Association Quality Forum whose purpose is to direct the operation of the BLAÕs Quality Mark Scheme. He has extensive experience of speaking about e-learning development and implementation, including speaking at the On-line Educa Berlin and World of Learning conferences. He has also had editorial articles published in E-Learning Age, The Grocer, IT Training and Training Journal.

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