We asked Nik Kinley, Director & Head of Talent Strategy, YSC, to provide some feedback on the what questions you should be asking before hiring a training company, based on his experience. Below are his thoughts.

Selecting the right vendor to deliver your training can make all the difference between having a big impact and having next to none. With budgets under scrutiny, ensuring they are well-spent is more important than ever. So here are seven key questions to ask any provider before you hire them to run your training.

1. What will they deliver and how will it deliver your objectives?

Sounds obvious, but possibly the most critical question is how will the content proposed will help you deliver your objectives for the training – be that stronger sales revenues, or better management skills. Look for simple, user-friendly models with specific behavioral suggestions, and beware overly dumbed down content or models full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ but little practical advice. For more information on learning methods, the CIPD has a fact sheet at this link: https://tinyurl.com/lwj28ch.

2. Who will deliver it?

Again, this may sound like an obvious question, but there is a twist to this. What most providers do is to ensure that that they have a strong lead trainer. In our experience, though, the real test of quality is bench-strength – the quality of the backup or support trainers. That is where you can really tell how good a provider’s people are.

3. How will they ensure transfer of training?

A recent authoritative overview of research into the effectiveness of training found that even most optimistic studies suggest that only about 34% of training is transferred into real behavior change back in the workplace, and the average figure is closer to 20%. The training market alone was estimated to be worth over $135 billion in 2013. Even if we take the most optimistic success rates of 34 percent, that still means $88 billion invested with not much to show for it – every year. So a key question is how will the provider help ensure the transfer of training. Be sure to not just accept technical sounding jargon that sounds impressive, but says little: if a provider cites a particular methodology, make sure they explain how and why that methodology will work.

4. What type of scaffolding do they recommend?

Scaffolding is a term from educational psychology and refers to the processes put around training to help ensure a stronger transfer of training. Things like managerial involvement, tracking of people’s progress, and incentives. Research shows that these kind of supporting processes are even more important than the quality of the trainer and the training content in ensuring that the training results into real performance improvement back in the workplace. So even if some of these processes will need to be run you rather than the training provider, it is important to get their input on what they recommend and how they can help create this scaffolding. And for more information on what scaffolding is and how it supports development, the latest research and resources can be found at this website: http://www.changingemployeebehavior.com

5. What will they do to adapt their approach to your business?

For training to work, it has to fit your business and its prevailing culture and ways of working. So ask what the provider understands your business and what they will do to adapt their approach and training content to suit it. If they are new to your business, look for evidence of what they have done with other firms.

6. Why does it take that long to design?

Always check their budgets and determine why there are suggesting the design time that they do. Providers are also sometimes almost forced to inflate their design estimates in order to protect themselves from your internal stakeholder insisting on multiple design revisions. So help the provider give you a cheaper budget by agreeing a set number of design iterations up front.

7. What evidence of impact do they have and how will they measure it for you?

Finally, ask the provider for both evidence of how they have had a successful impact in other firms and how they will measure the impact of their work in your business. Remember that the key to effective evaluation is setting clear and measurable goals at the outset, so the best firms will include an objective-setting session at the beginning of the design process. For moe information on how to evaluate training, check out either this CIPD factsheet (https://tinyurl.com/n7a4ntf), or this useful article (https://tinyurl.com/84tyy3c).

This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the key issues you need to check before engaging a training provider. And in the process of listening to provider’s answers it will also help you gauge the answer to one final critical question: If and when things go wrong, which provider would you most want standing by your side? It is always best to assume that something will go wrong at some point, and in asking the seven questions above, you should be able to get a feel of which provider you feel you can most trust.

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Nik Kinley

Nik is the Director & Head of Talent Strategy at YSC. He has specialized in the fields of leadership assessment and development for nearly thirty years. His prior roles include Global Head of Learning for Barclays RBBF and Global Head of Assessment for the BP Group.