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How to Evaluate Trainers

In-house, tailored cross-training can make it possible for workers to do more with less.  Offering training outside the narrow confines of an employee’s current job can open up the option of a transfer rather than elimination and allay fears of personal ruin should a layoff be ultimately necessary.  Businesses can get big impact for a relatively small amount of money by partnering with a good trainer. But how do you know if the person asking for your training business is a good one or a bad one?  Here are 10 questions you need to ask and the answers you need to hear!

  1. What makes your training unique? Listen for a clear, concise articulation of some uniqueness. If a trainer cannot easily state what makes them different from the myriad of other trainers and training companies, run!  What you want is the right “fit” for your employees on your particular subject at this particular time.  Trainers have different styles and strong points. Not every trainer is right for every topic, for every audience, or every timeframe.  Good trainers understand this truth and are comfortable self-identifying.
  2. What three words would participants use to describe your training style? This question forces the trainer to focus on others’ perception of them. The answer gives you three descriptive words which you can later check through calls to former clients and which you can compare to the training style you believe is the most appropriate for your current need.  If the three words the trainer states wind up being identical to those his or her references use, it is a good bet that the trainer cares about follow-up with clients and knows the three words because he or she has heard them many times.
  3. How do you prepare curriculum? Y need to know from whence the substance of the training is coming. Many good trainers pull from a variety of sources, and that is fine, as long as they can list for you credible sources.  Listen for mentions of well-respected professional organizations, websites, journals, and continuing education programs.  If the trainer has written his or her own material, you will want to know if it is compatible and consistent with the basic philosophy underpinning well-known, credible training systems such as Achieve Global, DDI, CRM, SHRM Learning System, and the like.
  4. To what extent do you tailor your curriculum to a client’s specific business goals and employees? Adults are notorious for paying attention only to that training they perceive as specifically and immediately relevant to their current jobs. Adult learners generally do not like learning for its own sake, but rather only want to learn what and when it is necessary—”just in time” learning.  Thus, effective training is extremely tailored. The more that examples, skill practices, role-plays, and case studies are modeled on real-life situations familiar to the participants, the more interested the participants will be and the more effective the training will be because they will get to practice theory applied to their own work lives.  If the trainer is asking YOU questions about how you hope this training will assist in obtaining your bottom-line strategic goals, you have a winner!
  1. How do you customize your training? Listen for common-sense ways of obtaining different perspectives on the information he or she needs in order to write specific, tailored scenarios. Examples could include one-on-one conversations with supervisors and HR personnel and a survey of employees regarding their needs and hopes for the training.  A trainer’s sensitivity is evident if she suggests the option of anonymity provided by allowing participants to contact her directly and if she asks if there are specific policies or unique methods that she needs to incorporate into a general topic.
  2. How do you recommend engaging the participants before the training? A good trainer knows that preparing the mindset is a key to effective retention and implementation of learning. Listen for common-sense recommendations about some kind of “internal marketing” campaign preceding training.  Ideas could include a series of intriguing e-mails to participants piquing their curiosity and answering that all-important question: WIIFM (what’s in it for me?), the creation of posters, interesting and not tedious pre-work including questions to ponder, requests for specific scenarios, or what employees hope will be covered, and even a brief appearance by the trainer at a staff meeting or other function to get acquainted prior to the training.
  3. Do you incorporate different learning methodologies? People are primarily one of three types of learners: visual (these types like slides, Powerpoint presentations, manuals, charts, graphs, a demonstrations), auditory (they learn mostly by hearing things repeatedly) or tactile (hands-on, skills-practice, role-play, discussion). Listen for a specific description of how the trainer will incorporate all learning styles throughout the entirety of the training.  You do not want one part taught in one style and another taught in another style; all parts must be taught utilizing tools amenable to all participants’ learning style.
  4. What logistical steps do you recommend we take to ensure an optimal learning environment?  Little things mean a lot.  Listen for the trainer’s sensitivity to details such as the placement of furniture and the use of tent cards or name badges to encourage participation, quick and easy methods for dividing people into break-out groups (ex: colored chips make it easy to separate people into pairs, small groups or larger groups by calling out colors or a combination of colors), what format or software version you will need his or her presentation, and the approximate number and timing of breaks.  When reviewing a proposed training outline, look for activities that will change the pace every 20 minutes or so.   Believe it or not, one sign of experienced trainers is if they ask about their ability to adjust the thermostat, particularly if the training will be done after-hours when the usual support staff of the organization may not be available.
  1. What contingencies could have a negative impact on the learning environment and how would you handle them? Listen for a solution-oriented attitude of “making it work.” Common contingencies include technology failures, an inordinately low or unexpectedly high turnout of participants, extreme lateness on the part of a large percentage of the group, disruptive and/or hostile participants, groups which, as a whole, refuse to participate in interactive exercises, trust issues, and the presence of management who might have a freezing influence on discussion.
  2. How should we measure the effectiveness of this training and will you help us develop a tool? That which gets measured, gets done. A good trainer’s recommended metrics will be tied as closely as possible to seeing a change in the participants’ on-the-job, post-training behavior. Although you will probably still want participants to complete the traditional reaction-level survey and possibly even a pre– and post-training knowledge quiz, what you really want is a behavior-level evaluation tool.  The easiest way of creating one is for the trainer to list specific behaviors that managers can expect to see either performed or stopped because of the training.  A trainer’s answer to this question gives insight into whether he or she really cares about the long-term value of the training being provided.  If the trainer is satisfied and perhaps even appears relieved with only a reaction-level  measurement of his training, it probably means he is only interested in making a good enough immediate impression to make it to the bank to cash your check!

J Lenora BreslerJ. Lenora Bresler, JD, SPHR, ASC graduated at age 20 from law school, J. Lenora Bresler is an attorney, SPHR, and leadership and engagement speaker, author, trainer, and coach.  She is the owner of Bresler Training, LLC. dedicated to assisting organizations to create the best leaders, teams, and relationships on earth.  An in-demand keynote speaker and consultant and a favorite with HR Florida audiences for years, J. Lenora specializes in bringing strategies that can immediately be applied. Her most recent book is Instant Insight: 15 Questions to Great Relationships. J. Lenora also teaches all modules of the certification review courses for two separate universities.

J. Lenora is Immediate Past President for Mid Florida SHRM, and currently serves as Editor for the HR Florida Review Magazine.


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