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Weeding out the lemons


OK, so you take recommendations from people who know them, or read the testemonials, interview them by phone or visit, you get their CVs, you send them the brief, discuss interactivity and style with them, you brief them on the client, the programme, the participants...... and on the day, 8000 miles away, with 20 managers inthe room, you have a lemon.

How do YOU avoid a lemon?

george edwards

9 Responses

  1. being a bit glib…
    Hi George

    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, con’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…

    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.


  2. Looking for star fruit
    Hi George, good question.

    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?

    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 get to really get to know me well and me to know them.

    Typically the stages of recruitment included:

    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?


  3. a couple more considerations
    The two comments already given are quit valid, especially the one from Rus. 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 triner that I had not personally witnessed in action. There have been rare occassions when I’ve had to set that aside, but mostly it’s the rule, and whenever I have broken it, I have regretted it.

    Barb Maidment

  4. You can’t beat a preview
    I agree with Barbara on everything that’s been said here: really useful checklists to follow have come from the postings. The only item that didn’t appear on your original recruitment process seems to be seeing them in action. It’s not always feasible, especially for a short contract, but it is so valuable to have at least a demo session and at best to sit in with the potential contractor and evaluate their performance. It needn’t be a whole session -even half an hour or so can be useful. Don’t just be a witness, either. Make sure you go armed with a set of criteria and set yourself to evaluate behaviours against those criteria. A simple count of each positive or negative behaviour divided by a total of all interactions can give you quite a sound impression. If you can also go beyond the 5-bar gate and score each intervention you’ll have even better grounds for judgement.

  5. Use a reputable lemon farmer
    Although I agree with all that has been said below, particularly in terms of seeing them in action, 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.

  6. Performance bonds
    Hi all

    Vested interest declared as Chief Executive of TrainerBase, the Association for Learning Practitioners.

    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 accrediation; 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 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 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.

    Soap box moment over:)

    Chief Executive
    The Association for Leaning Practitioners.

  7. You get what you pay for…
    I’m not sure the guy down the bottom’s point is valid to this question. What he says is, of course, factually correct but I don’t think relevant to the question at hand.

    The question is ‘How do I avoid selecting poor quality instructors?’ He is not asking ‘why is the overall feedback for my training course poor/below average’

    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 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 Grahams 8000 Miles away comment suggests this is 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 !

  8. Relevance…
    OK, Simon,
    I take your point: the question clearly refers to the trainer rather than all the other things I mention…which I think I made fairly clear in my reponse.

    My point however, I still think is relevant: if you “fix” the wrong problem, your solution is actually no solution at all.
    It is also a trueism (in my 20 years of experience) that few failures (in training and other areas of business) have a single cause, hence “fixing” a single cause, seldom fixes the problem.

    I have seen really good trainers really struggle with problems that are clearly not of of their making, and I have seen those same folks’ careers being damaged as a “quick fix” solution and them being used as scapegoats by people who I would have hoped had known better.

    I think you would accept that if you, as an “employer”, have done as George has listed in his question, you would have to ask carefully,
    1. Do I have a lemon?
    2. Am I, 8000 miles away and a non-witness, actually in a position to judge?
    3. Am I accepting the word of a delegate (who may not have any expertise in training) as an unbiased and professional judge?
    4. Was MY judgement, as a professional employer of trainers, really that totally wrong(but let’s not be precious)
    5. Am I just joining/supporting/condoning/giving credence to a lynch mob?

    Just a thought!


  9. You should know your trainers, and your clients
    I have to agree with Simon that Rus is off the mark. These points seem to imply an arms length relationship with both the trainer and the client. One should know the trainer well enough to be confident in their abilities and able to discuss feedback properly, and one should hopefully know one’s client well enough to deal with these issues too.

    Nick has given a great summary of how good working relationships can be established, and I have to say this appeals more than a “certificate” – our future relationship with the client is the bond. A probationary period, with buddying up, give and take, and lots of feedback is the way we do it, and I hope I am right in saying it generates long lasting commitment from the trainers we use.

    Bottom line – if there is a risk of lemons, there will be lemons. A client has the right to expect there is no risk.


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