How to Choose A Trainer?
A perspective of a practitioner.
Recently, I have gone through an intense period of mentoring trainers from various level of experience. Many of the newer ones have one thing in common, which is the curiosity on how to position themselves and what game to play in the L&D eco-system.
These curiosities, for me, point to the desire to know what it takes for clients to choose them over another. The simple question that needs to be asked is “How do people choose trainers?” This question was a fundamental question Yasmin & I asked ourselves at the inception of neOOne. It is also a topic that I have always wanted to share.
This question of “How to choose a trainer?” was pivotal for us because the answer will lead us to know how to design ourselves so that we become the best choice for our learners. We came up with these criteria based on our own experience, understanding of the landscape and feedbacks from stakeholders. Albeit all these inputs were rather limited at that time because we were new, yet we knew we had to start somewhere. The criteria were rather short and over the year has been edited it as we grow in the industry as providers as well as a consumer.
The latest criteria we came up with has grown over the years. One of the main input to the criteria was our own experience as learners attending various training and workshops. We become a good consumer of our own industry for a couple of reasons namely:
- Practicing integrity – how can our conscience be clear if we promote people to learn and preach people to learn and benefit from people learning when we ourselves are not?
- Staying ahead of the curve – with the fast pace of L&D, staying relevant what more staying at the tip of the spear, a passion for life-long learning for us to acquire more knowledge, new insight and competencies.
- To be a server of value to our learners – how can we serve left-over learnings? Just like food, should we be serving fresh and healthy food? In L&D to truly be in service of learning, we need to constantly learn and innovate our offerings. Our mentor, Gail Heidenhain, is fond to remind all of us, Accelerated Learning practitioner, that we are running the same content 2 years in a row, we are not doing justice to our learners. This trend we also see in many of our idols such as David Sibbett, Kelvy Bird, Capt. Dr. Shan etc.
- To support our peers – we feel as a collective, the best way to support one another in this industry is to be the best learner for our peers. As the saying goes, treat others as you would like to be treated.
- To benchmarking ourselves – being scrutinized is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are not outlets we can utilise to scrutinize our very own training. That is why it is important to have a community of practice that can do this for us. Another easier way is to attend other training & workshop to self-benchmark ourselves in terms of content, design, delivery and engagement.
In addition to our own experience as learners of our industry, a few months back, I made a small survey among my peers in L&D to find out their criteria in choosing a trainer to learn from. The finding validates what we have suspected and at the same time game a delightful surprise that many practitioners out that also share most of our view.
Below are the criteria for choosing a trainer and we have abbreviated them to 6Ps. Mind you, these 6Ps are not arranged in any particular order of importance. In fact, to us, all the 6Ps weigh the same; they have to be considered in choosing process.
6Ps in Choosing a Trainer
- Pedigree of Learning – This goes beyond just the qualification of the trainer. It also involves the origin of their learning. As a personal choice, I would want to learn from the authority or the original source of the learning. For example, in the subject of presencing, The Presencing Institute or Otto Sharma is recognised as an authority. I would want to learn from him or from someone who has leant it from him. If I can’t get to the source, I would learn from a person that is as near to the authority as possible. For me the purity of the learning is important; how genuine is it. In my bucket list, there are a few more people I want to learn from such as David Kolb for Experiential Learning, Peter Senge for Organizational Learning & Systems Thinking, Otto Sharma/The Presencing Institute for Presencing etc.
- Practitioner – I would draw the line and not attend training that is not conducted by a practitioner. I want to learn from people who have practised what they preach. There are two types of practitioners; a past practitioner and a present practitioner. A lot of us put emphasis on past experience but thinking slightly more, a present practitioner is a better candidate, especially if the past practitioner has left practice for some time. Learning leadership from someone who has not lead is a big NO NO. Given the choice learning leadership from someone who used to be a leader is far different from learning from someone who is currently leading a team. Therefore, my preference is for a current practitioner.
- Process of Learning – This is pertaining to the design of the workshop or training course. If the training is to provide certification yet there is no robust assessment process, this is to me is highly dubious. I am also rather suspicious of training that promises loads of content in the shortest time possible. Again this will reflect what type of learning design is being used which might lead to the notion that it is not effective due to maybe too much downloading and too little wisdom & practicum. A training course that offers multiple certifications in a short period of time is another example of a process of learning that warrants a further investigation on the quality of the training. Mind you, learning is not just base on the content delivered but also equally important is the mechanism or process of learning that infused the content within the learner.
- Perceived Value – Common convention will dictate that we look at pricing as one of the criteria. I must admit that pricing was a criterion that we looked at, in the beginning of our journey. However, along the years as well as through the survey that I did, it is actually not pricing that people look for but the perceived value of what you are offering. Perceived Value is defined as the customers’ evaluation of the merits of a product or service, and its ability to meet their needs and expectations, especially in comparison with its peers. This is actually what matters. Don’t just automatically go for a cheaper option and dismiss the more expensive offering. Ask yourself why is the price low? Choosing the cheaper one over the more expensive one will only work with the assumption that what is offered is of equal standing. However, we know very well that it seldom happens. I find asking what is missing such that the cheaper one is cheaper help my decision making. This is a better way of thinking versus the assumption that the cheap and the expensive have the same offering. There must be a reason why they are priced differently. Could it be because the trainer is not familiar with the topic, not enough experience and wisdom in training or subject, dated content, not a practitioner, the learning process is outdated, no customization of training design etc?
- Performance – In this case, a track record of training is important and I am not even eluding to just the number of training they have done but also who and how many their clientele. Again in terms of clientele, more doesn’t necessarily be better. This is an age-old argument of quantity vs quality. Let take an example of a trainer that has been engaged by a few clients multiple times for over 3 years versus a trainer that has trained a lot of clients but only once? Which might indicate quality? Well, some might argue this is not possible for all subject matter because of certain subject matter is just impossible to have repeat roll-out. Granted. This is the precise reason why just looking at clientele as a gauge of performance is not the best approach. References are a great way to overcome this. Scrutinizing the trainer’s track record is also another excellent way. One other way that I would caution about is the trainers rating based on feedback as an indication of performance. This is because it all depends on the feedback matrix used. If the rating is based on feelings – we call it a smiley sheet (Kirkpatrick Level 1) – then it is a poor indicator of performance.
- Personality – This might be trivial to some but not to me. The trainer’s values and demeanour are also important to assess. Is he someone respected by his peers, does he contribute back to the learning community, is he easy to work with, how is he conducts himself etc. all this indicates if I can work with the trainer or not. Doing some research in social media can provide you with some indication of his personality such as his activities in the social space, his point of view of current affairs, his philosophy about learning etc. Increasingly, I find clients mined social media such as Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram to understand the trainer better. I personally find my learning is better and deeper when I have a trainer that has similar values as I do. The spirit of the subject is easier to be understood and examples give sync with me.
These criteria of course will only kick in once we are clear we want to learn a particular subject. That is why I did not include the subject as one of the criteria because this condition is a prerequisite. If we are not out the learn something, then this criteria is irrelevant.
For some of us that read this article might find the criteria rather daunting and I must admit it is because the seriousness of growth warrants it. These criteria can be seen as a barrier or as a challenge to aspiring us. Even at this level itself, we already can distinguish a serious practitioner that is committed to his craft or otherwise. Are there ways to hack these criteria? There is and that will be the topic of a future article J. Regardless of whether we are applying a hack or not, the game is still a marathon, not a sprint.
It is my wish to be able to write more in-depth on each of the criteria to give us L&D practitioner more distinction in designing ourselves to be the best nurturer of people’s growth. Maybe the day will come when we are truly seen to be an unconditional nurturer of learners where we put them at the front and centre of our being.