5 tips for hiring outside trainers

Guidelines to use as a screen in the selection process

It would be simplistic to promise just five criteria are all that’s needed to choose the best outside supplier of training programs. So think of these five criteria as a screen to be used at some point in the selection process.

1. Do they think the same way senior executives think?
Evidence is mounting that the best training programs — the ones that produce behaviour change — must have the visible, real support of senior management, ideally starting with the chief executive officer. If a training supplier’s program is going to attain that stature, it, and the internal sponsor of the program, must think and speak in a language the C-suite values.

The C-suite reacts favourably to concepts articulated in “execu-think.” They respond to proposals that answer the question, “What do I get that is important to me if I give you the money you are asking for to do what’s important to you?” And, of course, they think in metrics such as earnings, productivity, turnover, revenue growth and cost reduction. Furthermore, they turn right off when the supplier or sponsor focuses on concepts ingrained in training orthodoxy — terms like learning outcomes, interventions or adult learning principles.

So, when evaluating a proposal, read it through the lens the reader in the C-suite will also be looking through. Make sure the supplier being considered understands commerce and speaks the language.

2. Do they care about your culture?
The C-suite has its own culture and values. These must be addressed in order to get its buy-in. But the entire organization has its own culture, which acts either as a barricade to new ideas or as a catalyst for them.

Too many trainers and training organizations are simply selling what they own and believe in. Visit the Canadian Society for Training and Development’s trade show — or the American Society of Training and Development. There will invariably be a lot of people peddling their proprietary “brick in the wall.”

But it’s so much better to provide a flexible, almost chameleon-like application of principles and techniques that can be made to look very different when required but never lose their essence.

The best suppliers will want to spend time and even invest at the outset to learn the “code” that differentiates this prospective client from all others and isolate the behaviours they, as a training supplier, must adopt in order not to be rejected as foreign.

3. Do they offer real customization?
Given the above requirements, it follows inevitably that the core concepts in the training program must be customized, not just repackaged. This is a tough job for the supplier and will often mean more expense for the client relative to a slick pre-packaged program.

The end game of any legitimate training program is sustained behaviour change on the job that in turn leads to C-suite metrics that show positive return. Spending time and money on the foundation enhances the chances of that happening and is money and time well spent.

The big problem is that suppliers are usually tying to work within a known or assumed budget and the temptation to cut corners at this early stage in order to sign the client can be very powerful. But the savings here will often diminish the metrics the C-suite values highly.

4. Will their program fit with the performance management system?
As performance management and measurement systems are driving human capital management, it follows that training programs must conform to them. Some suppliers will be limited in their ability to make this happen. This is because all training programs exist within a complicated, inter-related organizational context involving much more than the specific focus of any program.

5. Do they think in terms of training events or training outcomes?
The language in proposals and presentations will tell you whether suppliers thinks in terms of features or benefits. Do they grasp that it may be their grass seed they are talking about but, in the final analysis, it is the organization’s lawn? How the proposal reads is a dead giveaway to their commitment to behaviour change and business results.

Could HR confidently and proudly give the proposal to the CEO and expect her to read it with interest and enthusiasm? Could it expect the proposal to excite the CEO enough to become personally involved in opening sessions, attending dinners, making cameo appearances and wanting regular status reports?

At the end of the day, the best external suppliers must be willing to be measured by the behaviour change they produce. The above criteria ought to help the buyer of external training assess who is most likely to do just that.

John Eckmire is vice-president of public programs and education at the Canadian Management Centre in Toronto. For more information visit www.cmctraining.org.

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