Signs of a Poor Trainer


If you are a subject matter expert in anything, many believe you are going to make a great trainer.  Although knowing something about your content is a vital part of being a great trainer, it is only half the battle.  Learning how to facilitate and create a learning environment is what helps adult learners actually learn.  Failure to understand these principles is what makes a poor trainer.

Here are my quick tips for evaluating your trainers and determine if they have the right skills.  Start off by observing the trainer from the back of the room.  Keep your mouth closed, and just take notes.  Look for these things during your observation time:

  • How long does your trainer talk before getting participants involved?  If the sound of their voice is more important than getting participants involved and engaged, then you have a presenter, not a trainer.
  • Watch the reaction and next steps taken when a participant asks a question.  Do they actually answer the question, or do they dance around it?  If it appears they don’t know the answer, do they admit it to the participant and promise to get the answer, or do they fake it?  Lastly, do they ask the person if the answer they gave was what they were looking for, like “did that answer your question?”
  • After participants finish an exercise (group discussion, role plays, teach backs) does the trainer debrief the exercise, or just say great and move on?  The real learning comes from debriefing what was just experienced, and yet a poor trainer either doesn’t know how to conduct a debrief, or does not see the benefit.
  • Does the trainer know how to set up an exercise?  Before having participants begin any exercise, a good trainer will explain what is going to happen, why they are doing the exercise and asks questions before they let people begin.
  • Does the trainer know their content, or are they just a really good reader of their PowerPoint slides?

For the most part, if your trainers can pass this quick assessment, then they have been trained well.  If not, it is time to get them into training for trainers.

While everyone is capable of being a good trainer, no one is born with trainer skills.  I’ve always said that a poor trainer can blow a really well designed program, and a really good trainer can save a poorly designed program.  In the end, the better the trainer, the better the learning!

Oh, and if your training manager happens to be a poor trainer, they are in a leadership role they cannot do well at.  Fix this issue ASAP!

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Facade Training


Most articles like to paint a pretty picture about the state of training development in Corporate America.  And for those companies that are doing right by their employees with a solid learning function these articles endorse their hard work and efforts.  I, however, created The Training Physical and wrote a book to identify those companies that are living behind a façade.  Their internal training functions do little more than appear to be doing their job and land up deceiving management that they are providing a service to employees.

When a training function is being led by someone who doesn’t have the necessary competencies, they do the best they can and build what appears to be a real training department.  In other words, in place of a learning environment, they create a façade to hide what is really going on.

When a Corporate Training Manager is hired directly from the ranks of a training facilitator, with no instructional design experience, management experience, strategic experience or organizational development background, we are setting this person up to fail.  Sure this person wants the promotion, and they gladly accept the job, but most will not succeed in doing a great job in the end.

It doesn’t help when senior management fails to understand the purpose of training, and therefore holds the training function accountable.  It doesn’t help when management one step above the training function is into fiefdom building and counts the number of people going through training, not what is being learned.

I recently reviewed four course descriptions of workshops with the very common “at the end of this workshop participants will be able to do” line followed by what should be learning objectives.  Oddly, each course had six learning objectives stated, but only 2 of the 6 on all fours workshops were actually learning objectives!  The other sentences where fluff or restated the same thing.  On top of this, the workshops did not account for the audience and spent 90% of the day training skills that were already in place.

In this past example, time and money was wasted in creating training materials that are simple a façade of a real learning event.  Management is so happy with their four new courses, and yet very little will come out of the learning events.  Oh, a couple hundred people will spend a day or two out of the office, getting paid to be a participant, but very little skill building will occur.

When I evaluate a training function (The Training Physical ), it is usually because management has gone years with a poorly run training department, and they are just not sure why.  Nearly all the time it is a lack of competency by the training team that is the cause.  However, why did it go this long before the problem was uncovered?  Because the façade was acceptable.  Because management didn’t take the time to learn what training should be like and although they audit every other function annually, they never thought to evaluate the soundness of the training department.

Are you certain your training function is doing right by your company?  Are they returning on the investment, or just building a beautiful façade for you to look at?

Training on a Diet


no trainingAlthough I am no connoisseur of beer, I do like a Lite Beer.  I prefer Diet Soda over regular and black coffee over the fancy coffees.  I even like skim milk over whole milk when I drink a glass.  But when it comes to other lite version of food favorites I draw a line.  Lite mayonnaise as an example is no substitute for the real thing.

In many organization today, training is on a diet.  Either the company is fasting and has eliminated training completely, or they are choosing lite versions and passing them off as the real thing.  Learning is not the focus, but rather training is applied in ways that yield little skill building in the end.

I’m a cook, and I also have battled a weight problem since 2nd grade.  I have always made food decisions on what I can live with and still have flavor.  I’ve learned to fry chicken with a couple of tablespoons of oil, instead of 3 inches like Grandma did.  The taste is close, and worth the tradeoff of healthier eating.  However, when I make potato salad, I must have real whole egg mayonnaise or I don’t bother making potato salad.

Training is about skill building and there are often many choices that can be applied to reduce costs and/or time commitments.  But when I see companies fasting, or going cheap by cutting the learning process, I wonder if they understand that the cost savings does not outweigh the lower learning levels.

In too many companies there is little to no training happening.  Employees take more sick days in a year than they spend learning.  HR Managers and Training Managers hide behind the lack of executive support for training.  Hello?  Who is the advocate here?  So very few organizations have a CEO that is the champion of the training function.  Which means that the role falls to another leader in the company or it falls to the side of the road instead.

I am far from endorsing that training should be the most expensive unit in your company.  I am endorsing that for most companies the lack of training for so many years means that their training function should not be on a diet.  It is time to gain competencies.  It is time to put the training lite programs away and train in-depth skills.  In most cases, if you continue on your training diet, you’re going to die sooner than you expect.