When You are Not a Good Trainer


I define a trainer as someone who know how to help another person learn how to do something they know how to do.  All of us know how to do stuff, but not everyone is capable of enabling others to learn.

Some people are born trainers.  The have a natural instinct that I believe comes from a natural desire to help other people.  So they can explain and show and enable others to learn how to perform a task.  I have often referred to these people as having a trainer’s heart.  And yet most subject matter experts can develop a trainer’s heart by learning how adults learn best and following the rules.

But what do you do if you find a trainer that is not any good?  I was asked this question recently and nearly opened my mouth with a solution that sounded a bit customized to the role of a trainer, when in fact we were discussing performance.  So is there any difference between a trainer not performing their job and any other employee not performing to standards and what a manager needs to do?

Most good trainers follow a set of facilitation rules we learned as “Adult Learning Principles” and found success in learning transfer when we followed the playbook.  We have also struggled with success when we leave the playbook behind and start talking too much, or cutting the experiential components out of the learning process.  In other words we stopped being a good trainer.

In my book and process of assessing the training function (The Training Physical) I talk about the need to train and routinely monitor your trainers.  Observing trainers on a regular basis, and debriefing them on your observations allow you to reinforce good behaviors and reduce bad behaviors.  When behaviors don’t change, and standards are not being met, managers must treat this as a performance issue.

When I observe trainers that I manage, and I note behaviors that I don’t want to see, I begin with a very clear debrief and a written feedback sheet to document our conversation.  I also follow-up rather quickly with another observation to see if the behaviors have changed.  If they have not, than learning for a number of participants has been affected and it must stop and be turned around quickly.

When you discover that you have a person who is not a good trainer, and refuses to change behaviors to become a good trainer, then you have found an employee that needs to be removed from this role.  Do it correctly by your HR policies, but do it quickly to minimize the negative learning environment.

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