Higher expectations of L&D vendors

In a LinkedIn post yesterday, Sheridan Webb wrote an article about her perceptions of how “L&D” have unhelpful attitudes towards “trainers”. It’s a good thinking piece. I value good writing about what we do as a profession and oftentimes we don’t challenge ourselves enough.

Sheridan lays out several myths of the fallacy of “training” and I agree on them all. They are myths. I also don’t think anyone with actual skin in the game believes these myths. It’s more a recognised reality that the L&D spread is far more diverse than it ever has been before. L&D departments need and require a completely different set of things from their vendors and suppliers. If you’re a one-person in-house L&Der you have to be skilled at a range of things from training to collating learning needs to designing content to curating content to using an LMS and so on. If you’re part of a team often those roles will be split out and you’ll be able to focus on your role more specifically.

I’ve said it before that good L&D is about good OD practice by thinking of the system in which learning needs to take place and what changes to the system need to be made for the learning to be applied, observed and practised.

To take Sheridan’s piece further, I think from an L&D perspective it’s less that training isn’t valued and more that more than training is needed from our vendors and suppliers.

If we’ve arrived at the decision a vendor or supplier is needed, it’s normally for a good reason. For them to be involved with the organisation opens up a whole set of potential discussions and expectations. I don’t want a trainer to just train.

Trainer Insight

When a trainer is with a group of people, and they meet people repeatedly from the organisation, they gain valuable insight. That insight is often about actual lived experience of being in the organisation and they may be hearing things which internal teams are oblivious to. The training environment isn’t a confidential one where things can’t be repeated back. We ask people to respect conversations and not to repeat them, but that doesn’t mean the same thing as their conversations being confidential by default. I often ask trainers to share back their insights so that I’m not missing valuable information.

Beyond the training

By gaining that level of information I’m also much better positioned to understand what’s required to sustain the training. We’ve just invested in those individuals and want to ensure they can put their skills into practise after. What kind of everyday situations are these folks working in which require a different solution and allow them to perform better? As Adam Harwood and David James often say, where’s the friction (between not knowing and not being able to perform) and what do these people need for performance improvement?

That sustained aspect can be different things: shared knowledge from others, a document already in existence, a template others have used, someone else’s experience, a report someone’s already created, and many other things. Those are the things people are typically doing.

Versatility of approach

When I’ve not worked with vendors or suppliers it tends to be because their proposals are about one model or approach. It’s what they got trained in so they’re looking to implement that approach for pretty much everything. Or they’ve developed their own model or theory and want that to be the leader for everything they design.

Except what we need in L&D is vendors and suppliers who are skilled at using multiple approaches, understand them well enough to adapt as needed, and lead with distinct lines of thinking without contamination from other models.

Virtual and digital delivery

I have experienced some fantastic virtual training. Quite frankly if a vendor isn’t skilled at or has the associate network to support them in delivering their content digitally then that works more against them than it does in their favour. Through Twitter, I’ve experienced people using tools like Periscope to visually walk people through simple art techniques, so I’m not restricted in thinking it has to be a high-tech product. More companies are moving to enabling flexible working. The more that happens, the more people at home will be expecting to receive training digitally. If you can’t offer that because of restricted belief about impact of digital training, then you need to go and get properly schooled in how to deliver high quality digital and virtual training.

I hope this offers additional thinking to what Sheridan wrote. As always I’m interested to know what resonates for you and what more you’d like to add.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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