Friday, 23 August 2013

Do you have to have done something first to train others?

Ok, let's get a controversial one out there and please feel free to shoot me down! I'm prepared to be challenged on this one as I am on all my blogs. And remember, this is my personal opinion rather than that of my employer!

There are lots and lots of consultants and trainers out there in our sector who have set themselves up as experts. My question is, have they ever achieved personal mastery in the subject in which they claim expertise, or have they simply learnt it through researching the subject? Or maybe a bit of both? And does this matter?

Some will argue that if they are a great presenter, an inspirational speaker, an effective facilitator, have plenty of case studies and anecdotes, bring out the best in their students, does it really matter if they have never done it or been very good at it?  I think there are some real exceptions to the rule, and it is certainly possible to study mastery and describe that to others, and perhaps that is what some do.

There's an old saying along the lines of 'those who can't do it teach it.' Well I have always thought that this was a load of rubbish, and I would like to think that in the majority of cases, in a sector full of highly intelligent people, you would get found out very quickly. In my opinion the best trainers and consultants are the ones who are 'doing the do' as well as 'talking the talk'!

For me it's a bit like asking people for money. How can you authentically do this if you are not already giving to the cause yourself? Yet lots of people do, especially professional fundraisers but also trustees. I always make sure I give to a cause before I ask for money on their behalf.

Similarly I can't see how you can train someone on something you have never done your self, or have not got a great deal of experience in. For me it's all about credibility. What happens if one of your students asks 'Can you tell me how you have personally ....' What do you do if you don't have that experience? Lie? Therefore I personally would not be happy to teach something I have never done.

So what would I do if I wanted to hire a trainer or consultant for my organisation? I would want to see their CV to ensure that they had the experience they claim to have had. If they say they are an expert in major donor fundraising, how much have they personally raised? If they say they are an expert in direct marketing, what type of campaigns have they managed and delivered and what size. If they say they are an expert in leadership, what leadership roles have they held? In addition I would ask for a free demonstration session to make sure I was happy with the standard of their training. Any trainer worth their salt would do this as it would pretty much guarantee new business if they are as good as they say they are. It's also good to see them in action first; just because someone is a subject matter expert, that does not make them a great trainer! This is certainly how we hire our trainers at the Institute of Fundraising.

I think there are some exceptions to the rule. These are the teaching of qualifications, where I think the most important thing is knowledge of the subject. Of courses it helps if this knowledge is combined with practical experience and skills. The other area is coaching, where it is the skills of the coach rather than their subject matter expertise that counts.

So what do you think? Let me know!


  1. I do wonder why there are so many consultants and trainers specifically offering their services to charities. Is the impression that charities are less discerning when it comes to taking on external trainers, consultants and facilitators.

    I have heard a number of charity staff raving about how good a particular trainer or consultant or facilitator was, when in my considered view they were awful, lacking in inspiration, humanity and communication skills, scabbling around with little or no understanding of the organisation or what it really needs.

    Certainly there are some truly inspirational presenters out there, who deliver an excellent training input using highly tuned communication and facilitation skills. I am proud to know some of them. However, many charities do not see the value of their skills and some now work outside the charity world, justifiably commanding high fees.

    In addition, I am not convinced that charities truly value the often huge experience and skill that they have within their own staff, a number of whom have previously operated outside the sector in senior positions and both 'read the book and got the tee-shirt' as far as good training and management practice is concerned. Yet the departments where 'people development' sits, are often blind to this resource, preferring to plough their own field, reinventing the wheel and arrogantly believing that they are the experts with all the solutions?!

    Credibility is essential, as is experience in the field, being an authority and in authority, understanding that being in a position to educate, coach or train is both an honour and responsibility. That in doing so you are imparting information and wisdom in equal measure and above all, enabling all those whose lives you touch, to reach their fullest potential and to be better than you!

  2. Ian, I could not agree more with a lot of what you say. There are a lot of what I would call 'showboaters' and so called gurus who seem to deliver the same thing wherever they speak. People who hear then for the first time think they are fantastic, and maybe even for a second or third time. They are amusing, inspirational even but you come out of the session thinking 'what did I actually learn?'. I can understand why they are so well respected, and as you say there are some that we all respect. I also agree, however, that organisations and individuals often do not look at their own resources. This is why coaching often succeeds where consultancy cannot; if you start from the premise that there are often the resources you need on your doorstep, it makes for far more sustainable solutions.
    Thanks for stopping by. I really value your comments.