Snake Oil Salesmen Dressed as Trainers


Nothing gets under my skin faster than the trainer that promises the world once participants complete their one day miracle workshop. Well, except maybe the idiot manager that writes a check for this workshop and actually believes the sales pitch.

Training should always be about outcomes. You must be able to answer the question of “What will the participant be able to do after the training ends” or you have no idea or assurances of what the training will accomplish.

My favorite oversold workshop is management training in a day. Lordy, there is no way to prepare people to manage a team of people in a single day, yet there is no shortage of workshops and gullible people paying money to attend. You may walk away with an “understanding” (a low level objective) but you will never be capable of communicating well after a day of lecture.

I once was losing the argument of hiring a trainer that was over promising on a workshop for her team that she desperately felt would help her group. I had looked at the materials, activities and talked with the trainer pitching the program and saw nothing that assured me learning was going to occur. I began by asking the trainer for a money back guarantee and was laughed at. I then gathered up a jar and counted out $5000 in play money and put it in the jar. This represented the cost of the one day workshop that was purchased.

A day after the training I approached the manager and asked how she felt the workshop went and did it meet the stated expectations. She said it was a good seminar, but she was a bit underwhelmed. I asked her if the $5000 fee was worth it, and she said it should have been a maximum of $4000. So I opened the jar and counted out $1000 and handed it to her and asked her to go shred it. In other words, I wanted her to feel the pain of wasting $1000.

We went through this same drill 30 days later and she shredded another $1000. So inside a month it was clear that ROI was not good. But since learning is supposed to stick longer than a month I approached her with my jar 60 days later. She had been dealing with fallout from things that shouldn’t have happened if skills had been learned. She took by jar and dumped the entire $3000 into the shredder and said, “Next time I will listen to you.” We then created a learning program that helped her team.

As training professionals you will find that not everyone in our field is as professional as they should be and are focused on making money, not on learners learning. I do recommend that you keep a little black book of these folks and make it public for your management team to see. Block in advance the outsiders that will do harm to your employees, financials and your real efforts to improve employee performance.

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