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Trainer’s tip: Weeding out the lemons


How do you ensure that you're not stuck with a 'lemon' as a trainer? Do you get what you pay for? Can you see the trainer in action first? Is the way ahead performance bonds? Read the responses to George Edwards question here.

Rus Slater advises:

It takes the tree, the soil, the sun, the water and the farmer to make a lemon... similarly if your training event turns sour you really need to do a bit of cause and effect Analysis before reaching the conclusion that the trainer is the lemon;

  • it could be the venue ("too dark, no air, too small, too large, too tatty, too grand")

  • it could be the expectation of the delegates (this is too Mickey Mouse, I've done this before, it's too long to be away from my desk)

  • it could be the technology (the projector didn't work so we all had to try to see a laptop screen)

  • it could be the material (death By PowerPoint!)

  • it could be number of delegates (exercise designed for 12 and five (or 25) turned up)

  • it could be initiative fatigue within the client (this is the same 'change programme' as we did in 1999, 2002, 2005 and last year)

  • it could be a cultural misalignment between the messages in the training room and the style of management in the workplace (yeah, we say that here but my boss would laugh me out of the room if I did that back at the office)

  • it could be the admin leading up to the event (I only found out I was supposed to be here yesterday)

  • it could be an influential delegate (excuse me, but wouldn't the company be better off to just pay us more, rather than sending us on a training event to an expensive hotel, paying you a shedload of money and stopping us from doing our jobs for x days... especially when we all know, don't we, that all the problems in this organisation are down to incompetent senior managers!)

  • or you might have a lemon trainer, in which case... if you can seriously say that you did all your selection homework... deus vult

I know this doesn't answer your question but beware shooting the messenger... if the problem is somewhere else you get through a lot of messengers and still don't solve the problem.

Nick Hindley comments:

I can explain my own experiences from the associate side.
I worked for four very enjoyable years as a consultant focusing almost entirely on associate work. This focus meant that I was serious about the work I undertook for each company and was careful not to commit to anything beyond my scope or realistic schedule.

I believe that if you are looking for an associate then their focus is one of the criteria that might help avoid the lemons. If they are trying to build their own clients their mind may drift? Around 99% of my business was from my associated partner companies so it was just as critical for me to get the training right and exceed expectations as it was for them. When I turned up I was part of that company.
Another thing which I found to be consistent with the companies I worked for was the approach to recruitment. They all took their time with the shortest taking about five months and the longest about a year. This gave them time to really get to know me well and me to know them.

Typically the stages of recruitment included:

  • Interviews

  • Demonstration of training

  • Staff training for the partner company

  • Creative input to proposals

  • Co-training with their trainers (some paid some unpaid)

  • Joint visits to clients

  • A two–way probationary period
  • In addition they also offered, insisted or responded to my own requests to know about their business goals and aspirations including the long term role of associates within their set up.

    Hope this gives you a few more harvesting ideas?

    Barbara Maidment adds:

    In addition, I try to ascertain whether the trainer has done any training outside the metropolitan area, if my audience is rural. I'm in Australia and that makes a huge difference. I also look to see whether the trainer has given the program I'm wanting to any similar audiences... in gender, in number, in other demographics. What works for an executive, white, male audience, often does not work for young female sub-managers.

    Many years ago, I made a pact with myself that I would never hire a trainer that I had not personally witnessed in action. There have been rare occasions when I've had to set that aside, but mostly it's the rule, and whenever I have broken it, I have regretted it.

    Jooli Atkins points out:

    It is not always viable as an associate to invite along a potential client to another company's course, for obvious reasons.

    To overcome this, Trainerbase has recently launched its Certified Learning Practitioner accreditation which incorporates a delivered session, assessed against very stringent criteria.

    This is, I believe, as near as you are likely to get to the next best thing in terms of not being able to see a session yourself.

    My own experience on both ends of the relationship is that the better we understand each other, the better matched we are and the better we are able to meet the needs of the client together.

    Peter Mayes, chief executive of Trainerbase says:

    This is the very reason why up until now, TrainerBase has not recommended any of its members to the purchasers who come knocking on our door looking for assurance. And it is the reason why we have devised the Certified Learning Practitioner accreditation - to give us (as best we can test) the assurance that our members 'do what they say on the tin'.

    At our recent conference, I asked the question "what would you (members) like us (the association) to provide?" PI insurance was mentioned and is in hand, but also Performance Bonds - a new one to me. I have done some investigations and it would seem that some clients are getting a little cautious about who they are hiring and are requiring 'assurance' that objectives will be delivered.

    At TrainerBase, we have considered this as part of the CLP accreditation; we will 'assure' clients that if they use a CLP, they won't get a 'lemon', they will get a competent learning practitioner who will meet the agreed objectives.
    At first I thought one quoted premium of £2,000 for a £50,000 cover was steep; perhaps it is. However what it does mean is that someone is prepared to put their money where their mouth is. And could a performance bond be seen as a 'lemon squeezer'!

    Yes, TrainerBase is now negotiating with brokers to offer an automatic 'performance bond' (value to be decided) for CLPs. That is how confident we are that the accreditation will stack up as an identifier of competence and capability.

    It would be good to see clients set and agree objectives for a learning project and providers stand by their word; perhaps some of the negative comments about the unprofessionalism of jobbing and hobby trainers will whither and die with the said lemons that sour the marketplace.

    Simon Parker has the last word:

    Whilst it's sometimes difficult to pin point what makes the training course itself a 'lemon' (although with well designed feedback processes this may be analysed and rectified), you know with a good degree of certainty and fairly rapidly if it's the trainer.

    In my experience if the room is too hot/no natural daylight/bad brief etc. but if the instructor is not a 'lemon', the delegates will go out of their way to point this out. They will say that whilst the course was badly staged, the instructor was in no way to blame, was excellent, please come back under different circumstances etc.

    Again in my experience a quality instructor will make a badly staged course good, or at least save it from being poor (as can occur when conducted on client premises).
    Obviously a well staged/briefed/relevant/expectations/good content/materials/setting event run by the same good quality instructor will make for an excellent session.

    In terms of an answer to the question, it is a multitude of 'bases to cover' the ex-associates answer was fantastic and certainly going to see the instructor in action is very wise if possible (but not always possible) and I would add asking for unedited video footage gives you a good feel that a CV/references cannot.

    Price is always quite fundamental and a great indicator, if an instructors fees are well above market price it suggests they will also be above average and this hasn't let me down yet!

    View the original posting:

    Weeding out the lemons

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