Trainers: How to prevent expectation mismatch

This article is for trainers in general and Office trainers in particular. If you are not careful, there can be expectation mismatch after delivering a training program. This leads to disputes, customer dissatisfaction, loss of credibility and may even affect your fees. Here are some important ways in which you can prevent expectation mismatch and deliver world class training outcomes.

Common reasons for expectation mismatch

  1. The person arranging the training and the actual audience are different and have not discussed the exact requirements internally
  2. Customer requirements are ambiguous or are misunderstood by the trainer
  3. Feedback form does not capture key parameters of success / failure
  4. The vendor contract was signed without understanding all clauses
  5. The audience did not have the prerequisite skill set for attending the training program
  6. Infrastructure was inadequate, faulty or non-functional
  7. Participants did attended the program partially
  8. There was a wide variation in the skill level, grasping power and expectations amongst the attendees
  9. The participants were not selected appropriately
  10. Participants did not know the exact objectives of the program before attending
  11. Language mismatches

Of course the list can go on and on. But let us handle these common issues and be more proactive. Your feedback and comments are most welcome.

How to prevent expectation mismatch

Read the vendor agreement carefully.

If require involve a lawyer in high-value deals. There may be clauses which you have not even read before signing which can cost you later.

For example, there could be a clause that in case you cannot conduct the training program you must provide another trainer on that day at your cost. This can land you in trouble in case you fall sick on the day of the training.

Always talk to the actual participants in the planning stage

Don’t just send the standard content and assume it will be adequate. Talk to the participants and find out what they want. In many cases – they don’t want anything! They are attending just because someone nominated them.

In some cases, you may get specific inputs from participants which will help you customize the content and increase the effectiveness of the program. In my experience, standard content NEVER works.

Also mention that you will have the liberty and discretion of adding more topics on-the-fly depending upon the interaction during the training program. Often a pre-requisite topic is not known to the audience. And you are forced to cover it. That eats into the available time and will force you to skip some other topics due to lack of time.

Clarify ambiguity and document it

As an example, you are asked to conduct an Intermediate or Advanced Excel program. This means NOTHING. Please read my concept of how futile the Basic / Advanced categorization is: Basic vs. Advanced – the psychological deterrent to efficient Office usage!

Topic coverage depends upon existing knowledge (and ignorance) of the participants as well as the end result expected. Create a customized topic list after assessing what people know and don’t know. Get is approved from the participants.

Define Exact Success Criteria

Often you are told that after the training program the participants must be PROFICIENT in that topic. Fine. But exactly what does that mean? Define the actual skills which the audience will learn. As an example, if the requirement is “Proficiency in data analytics”, expand it to something like:

  1. Ability to gather / import data from CSV files, SQL Server, Facebook
  2. Ability to clean unwanted rows, columns and blank cells
  3. Ability to create and use Tables
  4. Ability to create a Pivot Table
  5. Understanding the difference between Calculated Fields and Calculated Items
  6. Ability to utilize Power Pivot Data Model to eliminate the use of VLOOKUP for decoding codes to descriptions
  7. Ability to create multiple pie charts for visualizing seasonality of data using Power View
  8. and so on…

This also proves that you are a thorough professional and you have the desired depth of knowledge as well as practical insights.

Differentiate between awareness and capability

Even after many hands-on training programs, people do NOT end up using the newly learnt features. Why? Because they are just AWARE of the features as a result of the training. They are still not CONFIDENT of using the features in their business context.

That confidence comes from trying it out yourself and repeating it as often as required. You may not have so much time during the training program to deliver that level of confidence.

The best way to handle this situation is to mention AWARENESS as the deliverable immediately after the training and Utilization as a deliverable after requisite practice. You can provide a list of practice exercises to complete this scenario. This way you are protecting your interests and not claiming to deliver something which is impossible to deliver.

Keep buffer time

Things will go wrong. New topics will crop up. People will ask you to repeat some topics. They will do the hands-on exercises very slowly. Therefore, don’t cram all topics into available time. Keep at least 5% time as a buffer for delays and contingencies. Formally you can call it “Q&A or Interaction Time”.

Feedback forms

Many customers use their own feedback forms or online surveys. Most of these are generic. They do not include any fields to capture information about the success criteria of your specific training program. Insist on modifying the default survey to add these fields. Otherwise you will suffer due to the ambiguous results of the generic survey.

If possible, have a short form of your own, filled additionally by the audience. This form should only capture program specific feedback.

Remember to get the tabulated feedback and study it. This is the place where you can learn from and grow in your field.

Prerequisites knowledge missing

This will be known to you only when you start delivering the training. But as soon as you detect it, call the coordinator and explicitly mention that the prerequisite knowledge is missing. Negotiate the modified training content and success criteria based upon the additional time you will need to cover the prerequisites.

If you skip this step, it almost guarantees poor feedback and disputes at the end of the training.

Poor infrastructure

Ideally send a checklist of what exactly is needed to the coordinator well before the actual training. Review the checklist few days before the program. If it requires software installation, networking, internet access, firewall changes, etc. lot of internal approvals may be required. Start the preparation well in advance.

Often the audio and projection equipment is missing or poor quality. Try to get a photo of the room as well as the audio and projection equipment. Check the model number of the projector and find out its brightness value from internet. If it is too dim arrange for a brighter one.

If you are conducting webinars, many participants need practice. Have a test session on the previous day. Start the webinar 1 hour in advance for people to log in early and check their AV setup.

Participant level issues

Partial attendance, variation in skill level or interest levels, over-smart people, uninterested people, … whatever the issues are – bring those to the notice of the coordinator immediately (or in the next upcoming break). Document them and inform the about the potential impact on the training program.

Ideally you should also submit feedback about infrastructure and participants at the end of the session. This makes the whole process of feedback evaluation more balanced and fair.

Language Mismatch

This could be a serious problem if you work for international audiences. In some countries an interpreter is required. Your accent may not be understood clearly by participants (and vice versa). You may need to speak slowly, ask for feedback more frequently, rely on more detailed demos, and perform various adjustments.

Also note that many audiences who do not understand English are still familiar with English User Interface. Therefore, if you use ZOOM effectively during demos, you can still convey the desired meaning effectively.

Learn how to use ZOOM effectively. Read these articles:
Knowledge Pack: High Impact Demos and Presentations using ZOOM (6 articles)

Your feedback is most welcome

I am sure I have missed many issues. Why don’t you add your own experience as comments. This will help all the readers deliver better quality training for their customers.

5 thoughts on “Trainers: How to prevent expectation mismatch”

  1. An excellent checklist, doc – thanks very much for sharing!

    I have one question and one suggestion:

    Question: Do you have a feedback form of your own that you use? If so, can you please share it?

    Suggestion: I make it a point to mention in writing (in my proposal) that the training will be conducted in “standard business English”. Clients have often asked me if I can cater to the requirements of people more fluent in other languages. I make it clear that I may be able to understand and even respond to some questions in Hindi / Marathi / Gujarati, but delivery of content will be in English and many of the fundamental training concepts simply cannot be translated into any other language.

  2. I saw buttons for sharing via Facebook and Twitter, but is there a way I can share this article on LinkedIn? There are many relevant groups there focused on training, for whom this article would be very useful.

Comments? Suggestions? Wish list?