Today, learning and development programs are vital to ensuring you have the best and the brightest talent in house. LinkedIn’s 2018 workplace learning report states that the most critical skills employees need to learn are leadership abilities, and the most crucial area for talent development is how to train soft skills. Up-leveling the soft and leadership skills of your employees and leaders is crucial to creating strong teams, motivating individuals and sustaining a high-performing workforce.

Getting the content right, whether you develop it internally or outsource it, is one thing. And most companies focus extensively on that task. However, selecting the right training provider – that is, the right facilitators of the content – is even more important, especially when you are teaching soft skills.

There are so many trainers and facilitators in the market. How do you know who’s qualified to teach your people the skills they need to succeed? And what’s the benchmark? It can be daunting.

With more than 20 years of experience training, teaching and facilitating for some of the top companies in the world, and having selected trainers myself for large-scale projects, I have learned some valuable lessons. Here are some guiding principles for choosing the best of the best.

1. Be Clear on Your Goals.

For what purpose are you developing or selecting content? What impact do you want it to have? Is it informational? Are you trying to change behavior? Are you undergoing a transformation? What type of person and delivery style do you want? Would you prefer a presenter, a teacher or a facilitator? Should the training be participant-centered, interactive, or more structured and content-based?

2. Apply the 10×10 Rule.

The facilitators I work with have 10 years’ worth of content knowledge and 10 years’ experience facilitating. They know diverse industries, and they know how to deal with difficult situations. It’s usually the case, too, that they know how to successfully pull individuals and a group through a steep learning curve to the other side. I prefer trainers who have facilitation experience and not just presenting experience; knowledge is helpful, but practice creates changes in behavior.

3. Trainers Should Be Anthropologists.

Are the trainers you are considering observing and listening to you and your team? Do they understand and mirror back your company culture? Are their examples relevant to your organization or staff? If they don’t have experience in your industry, have they asked for examples to which they can refer?

Trainers should be able to leverage the whole group. The art of excellent facilitation is being able to reach the talkative and quieter participants at the same time, or the more experienced and less experienced at the same time. A good trainer can do just that. Asking the right questions and being confident about throwing them back to the group to discuss is a sign of an excellent facilitator. Trainers shouldn’t have all the solutions, but they should be able to mine the answers from the group.

4. Trainers Should Be Able to Handle Difficult People.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to turn around a difficult situation, resolve a conflict or convince a skeptical engineer. A good trainer knows what works and isn’t afraid to pay individual attention to a participant who might need support. Additionally, it’s good to have a training partner who can influence stakeholders. If you need a budget or more visibility, your training partner should be able to craft your business case with you.

5. Trainers Should Be Able to Help Design Content.

The benefit of using external trainers is that they can benchmark against what worked or didn’t work at other companies. They’ve seen how it works in your or a similar industry. Even if you have the most sophisticated program in house, let the trainer take some liberties with content and especially with training methodologies. They should know what will land well with participants.

6. Trainers Should Have an Understanding of the Market.

If you feel the trainer’s price is too low or too high, something might be wrong. A good training partner knows what their worth and is aware of what the market dictates. Saving cost isn’t the only factor; you don’t want to compromise quality. What is it worth to you to have your team meeting customer demand more accurately, solving problems more quickly and working 20 percent more efficiently? If you think about, it’s priceless. However, your training partner shouldn’t offer you an outrageous price.

7. Trainers Should Leave Their Egos at the Door.

You don’t want an egomaniac, but it’s entirely reasonable for an excellent training partner to ask you for a testimonial or recommendation. Also, it’s normal to promote programs and sessions over social media. If you’re allowed to, find a mutually beneficial way to promote your efforts with your training partner.

If all else fails, trust your instinct in selecting a training partner. You know your company, your people, and what they want or need.