7 Keys to Selecting the Right Corporate Training Consultant
Today's corporate L&D departments are faced with many challenges. The greatest among them in fact, is how to create an effective and scalable team when training budgets and resource counts fluctuate year over year. Many learning leaders have outsourced large parts of their departments while others have a full-time, retained staff. In between those two extremes are training teams that are a hybrid of full time and consulting/temporary training consultants.
Adding the right mix of corporate training consultants can give the agile learning leader a competitive edge and ability to "flex" up and down as the workload and demand for L&D resources changes over time.
Therein lies the challenge! - Let’s explore seven simple, yet key elements to getting the right consultants or team of consultants on board
1 - Plan, assess and analyze your workload and team structure
That's right! The journey starts within. Your corporate training consultant does not have to perform all the tasks and meet all that your full time staff is required to meet. A good consultant should fill the gap and can do so for a specified amount of time until the task, project or program is completed. So start the search for your consultant by analyzing your own team structure and pipeline of work for the next 6-12 months. What is on the horizon? Begin thinking about specific needs on upcoming projects. Do you see a move to mobile learning? Will your team be asked to do more training plan development, analysis and instructional design? OR is it looking like your future is in completing key projects where you need a team of people with strong execution skills? Build a quick portfolio of roles vs. projects to understand how many and what type of resources you need.
2 - Look for skill and personality gaps in your team
Once you have a forecast of the upcoming work, understand the roles you will need and when you will need them, you will start to get more clear ideas of the skills you will need i.e. mobile learning developer vs. eLearning specialist, project manager vs. instructional designer, or even content developers that are comfortable only in authoring tools versus having deeper technical programing expertise. Look across your team and determine who has the skills you need and identify gaps where they are missing.
Finally, consider the personality profile of your team. You want to fill in not just skill gaps but personality/behavior gaps as well. Here is an example...I once witnessed a customer bring on an LMS expert that was excellent technically, with a great and vibrant personality- a real team player. These are wonderful traits, but as it turned -out, the existing full time staff already had that set of skills and behaviors. What that team really needed was more of a leader profile, someone to take charge and run with tasks and get things done.
3 - Test for Quality – You’re spending crucial budget, so get the most for your training dollar!
Big one here! You, your manager, your internal clients, and your team will all look carefully at your consultants’ work. They will all expect an element of perfection and high quality. Indeed, we expect this from all of our colleagues, but the test of time has always shown the consultant for hire receives more scrutiny. Consider their resume formatting and accuracy along with their experience. How do they communicate via email?Do they provide timely responses? Is their communication style formal or informal in both tone and language? If you find yourself unsure of their ability to communicate with effectiveness and quality during the pre-hire process, don’t expect it to get better when they onboard to your team!
4 - Select a 'Specialist' OR 'Jack/Jill-of- all-Trades'
We could place this one under point #2, but in the learning field it’s all too common a trade-off for hiring managers. It again requires a look at your forecast and the existing team’s skills and behaviors, but then take into account the degree of variability in your forecast. This would be the measure of uncertainty in your planning. If the future is clear and well-defined, then go ahead and specialize on the role(s) you staff with you training consultants. On the other hand, should the future be less clear and not as well defined, perhaps you need to consider a corporate training consultant with a variety of skills and abilities. It’s often better to switch gears with a known quantity than change out the person entirely!
5 - Look for engagement
You are probably asking yourself, “Why would I need to be pre-occupied with the engagement of my consultant/ non-full time staff need?” Simple - they are human just like the rest of us. True, they may have different motivations than full time employees, but at the end of the day, every individual wants to feel like they are adding value and enjoying their work. Just check out this blog post.
Some Instructional designers really enjoy developing soft skills training, while others simply loathe it and want to develop more concrete skills and competency based training programs. No consultant expects to be with a client forever but while they are there they do want to enjoy the work!
6 - Seek "Performers" vs. "Actors"
Perhaps this is generic advice for hiring, but worth mentioning here. You can pick up on Actors easily during the search and interview process. They often speak in terms of how they were part of the team that was successful, but rarely, if ever -initiate a new idea, process or project and then see it through. Often speaking in terms of "we"or "in my last role my team and I...". Look for signs that they were handed a task in previous roles and then just willingly carried it out.
Performers on the other hand are more likely to describe how they uncovered a problem, generated a - solution, whom they engaged to fix it, and what they learned in the process. It may be harder to find this in more junior staff, but even less experienced performers have solved some problem along the way.
7 - Get big thinkers - Even if their tasks are small
So there you are in your office or conference room meeting with your new, hybrid team of consultants and internal staff. You are facing a particularly onerous problem, challenge or deadline that is tough to see beyond. Everybody has been contributing with the arsenal of skills and behaviors that you so diligently selected and cultivated. Things are great when the going is good, work gets done, deadlines are met, but who steps up to the challenge? Hopefully your internal staff; they should be your next group of leaders. You should be hearing from your consulting team too. These team members have diverse experiences and you want individuals who are willing to challenge your team, your clients and yourself with their ideas on how to overcome obstacles and do the impossible. Look for (and encourage) your consultants to share their ideas and experiences. Listen carefully and know that you as the leader may need to connect the dots and give their idea relevance and context for your organization.
Now go back and take a look at these seven characteristics. Consider them against the consulting hires you or your department have made. Did they hit some, all or none of the criteria? How successful were they on the job? What do you think you’ll do differently the next time?
As the working world continues to morph into a contractor economy, you are more likely going to face the challenge of running a hybrid Learning and Development team. Choosing your corporate training consultants carefully can be a key success factor for today’s L&D leadership.
Consider these key points and ask yourself which have been successful for you? What would you add to this list? What would you remove?