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Does natural selection apply to L&D?


The role of a trainer is unusual in the normal commercial world; most people get an appraisal from their boss once or twice a year, wereas every trainer, every day he or she stands up in a classroom, gets evaluated.  By every trainee. Some people may disparagingly call these “happy sheets”, but the fact remains that they are read, and usually acted upon, by the people who make the decisions about who will be allowed to train others.

The ‘output’ of most trainers is also evaluated by some sort of retention of knowledge test.....have the ‘students’ actually learned what they were supposed to learn in the training.  Again, if there is a significant number of students who appear to have simply had a day out then, someone with work/no work decision-making authority will make career changing decisions about the trainer.

These are Kirkpatrick levels one and two.  Fail to do well at these and a trainer is out.

Of course, if the management of the organisation doesn’t engage in levels three and four it is usually outside the trainer’s control or remit.....but a failure in level four evaluation (either low scores or a failure to engage in it at all) is what makes a training budget/department vulnerable to being seen as an overhead or cost rather than an investment.  Low level four success means that it isn’t just the classroom trainer that gets the chop, the whole training department suffers.

So every trainer gets the same sort of feedback about his or her behaviours and effectiveness as an airline pilot; every action is analysed.  In contrast, for most employees, an annual or twice-yearly, mandated appraisal is all they get (and that is not infrequently seen as an HR induced form-filling exercise in tedium and embarrassment.  For instance, I recently met a manager in a large corporation who claimed to have not had an annual appraisal for eight years, because his bosses were always too busy.)

So if you meet a trainer who has been designing and delivering face-to-face training for several years and is still doing it, the chances are that that person is pretty competent at their job.  They will have learned and adapted to their environment and they have survived.  Darwin’s theory is alive and well and working in the world of L&D.

Imagine how powerful it would be if trainers got references from their clients or bosses and those references were posted in one place; then you’d really be able to see which trainers stood out from their peers such as on sites like  Those people would really be the crème de la crème; the apex trainers.  Their adaptation and skill would shine through, allowing them to win more work and more challenging work.  These trainers would be at the top of the food chain! 

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