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Trainer versus knowledge expert


A colleague of mine is frequently undermined because he does not have experience in his field. He does however have great training skills and is always one of the top two trainers regarding delegate feedback.

He works in the transport industry and there is a feeling amongst operational staff (including his delegates) and managers that unless you have actually experienced it then you cant have credibility when training it. Many of his training colleagues have come from a background of operations experience in the transport industry but are pretty poor trainers.

Aside from going out and doing the operational role how can he overcome this oft heard complaint of trainer versus operational expert?
Juliet LeFevre

6 Responses

  1. Don’t train then… facilitate instead!
    Hi Juliet

    One solution is for your friend not to do training in this subject…

    But to facilitate learning instead.

    Being the ‘sage on the stage’ can sometimes be the appropriate thing to do – if you happen to be ‘a sage’ – which it seems your friend isn’t!

    So, assuming your friend doesn’t want to change jobs, then a change in strategy & tactics is needed.

    And that is, to be ‘the guide on the side’. There will be plenty of expertise in the room and on the course, so tap in to that using facilitation skills and an accelerated and brain friendly learning approach.

    Dave Meiers’ excellent book “the accelerated learning handbook” is a great place to start finding out about and practicing accelerated learning. There are a number of providers of facilitation skills training and also accelerated or brain friendly learning for trainers. There aren’t so many that do facilitation training in a brain friendly way, though Kaizen Training ( is one provider that does this – and I must declare an interest here. I’m sure other commentators will be able to provide details of other providers?

    Best wishes,


  2. oh yes….
    I can’t agree with Martin enough….
    My method, for what it’s worth, is to start the day by asking each delegate to introduce themselves and tell the group how many years they have been in the business. I add these years up, declare them, and then point out that my experience is 0 years….so they can learn from each other, I’m here to help, nothing more.
    Seems simple but it has helped me no end.

    Seperate to this is the potential boredom created by the knowledge expert…I once had a boss whose belief was that the way to produce a training session was to “braindump” all your knowledge onto powerpoint and go from there. He was proud of the 248 animated slides he produced for a two day problem solving event.
    I’ll leave you to judge my reaction

  3. When “top” is too high
    Hi Juliet

    I was intrigued by this sentence in your enquiry:

    “He does however have great training skills and is always one of the top two trainers regarding delegate feedback.”

    This may, in fact, be a clue to the problem.

    Research by IBM, some years ago, showed that trainers who rank very highly in delegate feedback (as compared to, say, managerial assessment 3, 6 or 9 minths post training), are often not so effective at training as their scores might seem to indicate.

    In brief, it seems that trainers who get “happy sheet” ratings of 81% and above are often being marked on their social skills rather than on the quality of the training they have delivered.

    It is trainers who are maked in the 61-80% range who tend to be the better trainers in practical terms – as measured by post-course assessments of the delegates’ improved performance. These people are likely to be more focused on training for results than on winning high approval ratings.

    (Having said that, it is unfortunately true that there still seem to be plenty of training managers who don’t understand the situation and assume that “the higher the rating the better the training”. And rate their trainers’ competence accordingly!)

    In your particular case it may be that someone needs to do the necessary investigation to show that this trainer’s practical post course results are up to the same standard as those of his “experienced” colleagues.

    If they are then you have “the proof of the pudding ….”

    If they aren’t, then as the previous respondents have suggested, maybe he should reconsider his situation.

    Hope this helps

    Andy Bradbury

  4. Thanks ever so
    Thanks for the comments. I should have added the same is happening to another female colleague of his recruited at the same time as him.
    They both say its cultural and not individual. The companies answer is to turn them into facilitator and have a knowledge expert in the room to aid knowledge gaps. However this reinforces the credibility gap.

    As I see it this is a credibility gap, the knowledge they are required to train is in manuals however the delegates and operating managers seem to think that knowledge=experience and this should extend beyond that within a manual.

    Any ideas on the culture problem?

  5. Training Design: an issue?
    Dear Juliet

    Your trainer colleague’s problems may well be compounded by training design related challenges. In other words elements underpinning the training interventions that your colleague is charged with delivering may simply be unrealistic or at least not well aligned with the workplace issues that they are theoretically supposed to address. This means that some components may need to be glossed over, contextualised, adapted or ‘sold’ to learners by someone that is native to the operational environment.

    Someone from an operational background will instinctively know when to lay stress on an element that is really insightful and adds value or quietly pass over an unrealistic element with a nudge and a wink to the audience. “In an ideal world you should really also do this wherever you can. But of course we both know what life is really like… Unlike the people at head office who design this stuff!” By contrast it is possible that your trainer colleague is slavishly following the “party line” and destroying his credibility as a result.

    Of course a qualified and really competent training designer/developer will produce content and trainer resources which are carefully tailored for the target audience, their culture and any workplace issues, if necessary by working hand in glove with an operational expert. The trainer notes should be detailed enough to minimise the need to contextualise content off-the-cuff in order to make it relevant. This is probably the area that your colleague finds challenging.

    I suggest you ask your knowledge expert colleagues to have a full (and frank!) review of your course content and designs with a view to making them better aligned with the world as it really is at the sharp end, rather than the world as management would like it to be. This will make them feel important and valued and will at the same time make life so much easier for your trainer colleague when the revised and better aligned course materials come on-stream.

    Hope this helps.

    Yours sincerely

  6. Culture change?
    Hi Juliet

    If this is indeed a culture problem then the situation needs a properly customised response, not an off-the-shelf generalisation.

    For example, having a high level champion is sometimes the appropriate response. But this depends on basically positive management-employee relations, and a champion who is appropriately placed, has the respect of the people he/she will be dealing with, and has the time and patience to give this matter sufficient attention for “as long as it takes”.
    (Anything less could quite easily make things worse.)

    You say this is a transport industry matter – in which case I’m guessing that one or more unions may be involved?
    If so, they, too, need to be brought onside.

    I’m also wondering whether your colleagues took up their positions when something else was happening in the company which had an influence on the situation.

    In short, it may take a far more detailed review of the current situation and its roots than is practical in the form of a few e-mails.

    Best wishes

    Andy Bradbury


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