Tony Wright, Training Director from First Friday outlines the benefits and potential pitfalls of using in-house trainers to support business change.

Tony WrightTaking practitioners from within your business and seconding them to train colleagues as part of a change programme seems like a positive move, one, if handled with care, can yield results for everyone. But the obvious benefits of this approach need to be balanced against the issues you may encounter.

There are many reasons why businesses choose to second individuals to become trainers for a change programme:

  • They already know the job so will be more supportive and understanding as trainers.
  • The business can easily find the people its needs from an internal pool of resources.
  • They know their colleagues so training will be easier for them.
  • It’s cheaper than going using external trainers.

In many cases these reasons may hold true, but only if you start on this path with your eyes open.

I won’t recite the old argument that given the opportunity to ‘offload’ poorer performers onto a project, line managers will grab the chance with both hands. This is no longer the case. In the past, companies have suffered the pain of having poor quality trainers deliver training for a project that is meant to lead to improved performance - and then not realising the benefits.

But there are a number of areas that need to be explored to make sure you get the best from your internal trainer and a number of issues to be considered.

Who are they?

It is important to consider who the trainers are, if their backgrounds are fitted to the role, whether they are already skilled as trainers or if they need development.

Also, you need to think about whether they will be able to deliver training not just to their peers, but also their managers. This can be a stumbling block for people, managers and the wider company. Remember managers often go into the training programme with a limited awareness of the detail of their teams’ work and so being ‘taught’ by one of their team can be fraught with difficulties.

You also need to consider the implications of backfilling roles, which can be a costly aspect of the programme. A subset of this potential issue is whether the person you put into the secondee’s position is as competent, commercial and motivated as the individual they are covering? This can have a significant impact on the ongoing performance of a business unit.

A surprising issue that we have encountered is the question of what happens to the trainer at the end of their secondment. Many will have had their eyes opened to a potential new opportunity and may not want to return to their previous role.

If your business cannot fulfil their new aspirations, then you may lose them and their experience completely. In more than one case, we have seen businesses lose some or all of their seconded trainers, as they do not want to go back to being, for example, deputy store managers - they want to continue doing the role they have been seconded to.

Developing their skills

There are two training roles that will need to be completed: training material development and delivery. The skills required for each role are very different and experience shows that, whilst a business can develop the delivery skills of the secondee, it takes more time and management to develop their materials creation skills.

Businesses recognise that engaging a professional training business to create materials is a better solution as the results are delivered more quickly, in a more professional manner and are more focused on learning than ‘briefing’, so are likely to be more useable for future training.

Developing the delivery capability of the secondee needs to be approached seriously to be successful. Our experience is that it is often more effective to buddy the secondee with a professional training resource; so that each can assist the other (the internal resource with insider knowledge, the external with proven training capability).

There are a few simple steps organisations can take to assist secondees in developing the confidence and skills they need:

  • Give them professional training materials to work with - detailed scripts with clear exercises and activities to complete.
  • Provide trainer skills training and make sure secondees are able to practice both during and after training.
  • Provide support when they train initially - a three step approach works well, in which they support an experienced trainer first, then co-train and finally they lead. Make sure the person supporting them can, and is prepared to, give honest, clear feedback.
  • Make sure that throughout the programme the trainers are given the chance to swap stories and experiences amongst themselves. This will enable them to share best practice and help them to confirm their capability and growing skills.
  • Provide ongoing feedback - regularly sitting in on their training, reviewing feedback forms and checking competence of delegates once back in their jobs will help with this.

It’s cheaper

Developing in-house trainers can be cheaper, but you have to balance this against:

  • the opportunity costs of seconding them from their roles;
  • the cost of their training;
  • the cost of their ongoing management;
  • the time before they are fully competent.

And, most importantly, the fact that you only have one chance to get the implementation right.

So what to do?

Hopefully we have covered the key areas organisations should address, but our top five tips are:

  • Select people with the right experience and personality.
  • Make sure they and their manner will be ‘acceptable’ when training their colleagues and managers.
  • Be prepared to invest into their skills development, ongoing performance improvement and management of their delivery.
  • Make sure you have thought about what the incentives are for them in the role and what will happen to them afterwards.
  • Make sure you get them on board early enough in the change programme; they will need to know as much about the objectives as how to train colleagues.

Finally, consider the best mix of internal and external, experienced and seconded resources for your business and the deliverables you are looking for from the programme.