Most companies rely on a variety of training programs to enhance employee performance and increase employee satisfaction. Sometimes, this takes the form of relatively informal training delivered by experienced peers. Of course, many organizations also have a formal training department with internal trainers across a wide range of topics. But what happens when a company has a knowledge gap but no in-house expertise? They must seek external solutions.
A Fresh Pair of Eyes for the Organization
When a company is faced with a lack of in-house expertise, they can hire an external company to train their people. Of course, there are notable differences between externally and internally sourced training. In-house training brings company culture and organizational preferences into the picture by its very nature. When you work at the same company as your training participants, there will often be unspoken codes, behaviors and a mutual understanding of the organization’s mission, vision and goals.
When it comes to external trainers, that isn’t always the case. But this doesn’t mean that external trainers are lesser or that they serve as a “second-choice” approach. In fact, the very opposite can be true. Experienced trainers with the right approach and insight can bring a variety of important advantages to the company that hires them. After all, they will have an external viewpoint that offers a fresh pair of eyes in terms of the organization and its employees. Let’s take a look at best practices for a learning and development (L&D) partnership.
Before the Sales Call: Connect With Company Culture
The first thing a trainer should do is familiarize themselves with the culture of the organization they’re approaching — before the sales call. If a company representative sees that a trainer has done their homework, and that they have a deep understanding of the business, they will be much more likely to hire them. So, a trainer should devour the company’s website, making sure they understand what the company does, what’s important to them, and what’s important to their clients. Sure, this can start with the typical mission statement and vision pages — but this preparation should also include a deep dive into the services and products the organization offers, the customer needs they are fulfilling, and customer testimonials that reflect the value they bring to the marketplace.
Before the Training: Tailor the Material to the Company
This provides the perfect jumping-off point for discussions with the company’s contact person and can also help tailor the material to the company’s specific needs.
External trainers should never walk into a training session blind. They should work with their company rep to determine exactly who will be attending the training and what their individual goals will be. These discussions should also include the company rep’s ideas about how the participants’ new skills and abilities will help the company as a whole achieve its objectives. This will ensure an impact-based approach on all levels, including whether the best result can be achieved through remote, on-site or blended learning.
During the Training: Incorporate Company Materials
The best external trainers incorporate what they have learned about the company during the preparation phase. Sure, they could simply trot out their standard cut-and-paste training modules. But including company-based examples and exercises will bring new and unfamiliar material to life for participants. These can also be discussed with your contact person during the intake.
Let’s take a business writing workshop, for example. Why not include some examples from the organization’s own material (e.g., website text, brochures, blogs) as a starting point? And instead of giving participants generic exercises, why not insist that participants work on their own company texts such as a report, presentation or even an email? This will ensure that each participant learns new skills while improving company texts they will actually use. Or, let’s imagine a presenting workshop. Instead of the standard public speaking exercises, why not have participants practice with their own slides?
This approach helps external trainers achieve important objectives for themselves and the company that hired them. First, it makes direct links between the external training approach, the participants’ individual needs and the company’s overall objectives. Second, it ensures that participants immediately recognize that the new skills they are learning have clear relevance to their daily working lives. And third, it removes any possible objections that the external trainer doesn’t understand the company or where the participants are coming from.
After the Training: Evaluate Together With the Company
To create real impact, the training must deliver skills that participants will actually use moving forward. These new tools and abilities must also directly and measurably help the company achieve its objectives.
External trainers must therefore proactively engage in training evaluations. Most trainers have standard evaluation forms, but the trick here is to collaborate closely with the company rep to adapt this form to their specific needs. For instance, most companies want to know from the participants themselves whether the training has given them the new skills promised by the external trainer in the first place. Typical Likert-scale type evaluation form questions for this include, “How likely are you to use these new skills in your daily working life?” and, “How likely are you to recommend this training to colleagues?” Of course, your company representative may also have company-specific questions they want to ask, such as, “Will your new skills help Company X achieve objective Y?”
Some clients ask the trainer to collect evaluation forms from participants at the end of the training because they don’t want to be bothered with the administrative burden. This can be problematic — some participants may try to please the trainer by complimenting them, while others may be wary of giving bad feedback that can be tied to them personally.
Other clients prefer to wait a few days, then distribute the evaluation form themselves after the trainer has left the location. This not only removes the issues described above, but also ensures that participants have had a chance to apply their new skills in the workplace for a fairer evaluation. Of course, the important thing is to agree on an evaluation approach with the client before the training session and meet their preferences.
Moving Forward: Create Long-lasting Client Relationships
Once the training is over and the evaluations are in, it is vital that the external trainer follow up with the client. First and foremost, this gives the client contact a chance to provide feedback of their own, which the trainer can then use to solidify their approach or modify it where needed. It can be a valuable learning experience. Second, it allows for a frank discussion about whether the training achieved its objectives for participants and the company. And third — assuming all went well —it’s a perfect opportunity to discuss future training within a given department or, ideally, across the entire organization.
Throughout the Process: Offer a Unique, Win-win Proposition
Aside from the content and approach of the training itself, external trainers often bring an unexpected and valuable payoff to the company. This payoff is due to the fresh perspective they bring in terms of company blind spots that the organization may not be aware of itself. For instance, the trainer might be able to point out that a company’s way of working may be slightly outdated, or that some of the organization’s objectives might be somewhat misaligned with employees’ on the ground working life. Of course, this should be done diplomatically, and in the spirit of positive feedback for long-term company success. The other upside? Once a client knows that you understand them and their vision for the future, you’ll move from simply being an external trainer to serving as a valuable partner for their organization.
And that’s a win-win proposition.