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Using Internal Versus External Trainers

by Administrator 20. October 2011 18:03


One question many organizations face in rolling out training is whether the training should be done by external or internal trainers. The typical discussion often hinges on resources. An organization will pay significantly less to have training done by internal trainers because once trainers are certified, the organization only pays for the training materials. The flip side of this argument is that an internal trainer will have to dedicate part of their time and attention to doing the effort. Thus, the cost differential is not as large when the cost for paying their salary is taken into consideration. 


While this is an important factor, we believe the more important factor is the long-term effectiveness of creating behavior change through training. 


Our research has shown that while external trainers get better scores and people are happier or better served at the end of the training class, the aura of the class fades once people get back to their desks to real work. VitalSmarts conducted an experiment that compared the effectiveness of external trainers and internal leaders. The survey measured the Intention to use the skills, and then the actual use of the skills taught in the course thirty days and six months later. As was expected, intention to use the skills was significantly higher when an external trainer taught the course. The actual use of the skills dropped off sharply after 6 months. Internal trainers had the exact opposite effect, as shown in the graph below.


Note: in the graph below, the 3 groups of graphs represent external trainers, skilled internal leaders and unskilled internal leaders. 




In this study, 2 groups of leaders were studied: 1) leaders who were pretty good at training, and 2) leaders who were not good at training at all. 


Joseph Grenny of VitalSmarts conducted a web seminar for Training Magazine about applying Influencer principles to successful training initiatives. The purpose of this seminar is to show the strategies that need to surround a training initiative to create genuine and sustainable change. The link to this seminar is shown below. 




The discussion of the research study on external trainers versus leaders training is found over one hour into the web seminar, starting approximately at the 1:02:50 mark. Note that the first hour of this seminar talks about the influencer model to create change; the last 10 minutes discusses how to apply the Influencer methodology to rolling out training initiatives. 


The reasons that internal training is more effective include the following: 

External trainers leave the organization after the training is completed so that participants unknowingly fall into the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind "syndrome.

Internal trainers intentionally or unintentionally tailor the application of the training to real life situations that exist in their organization so that the course is more real and more applicable to participants. 

Because internal trainers must learn the skills to teach them, they better understand the nuances and complexities of dialogue within their organizations. Thus, attendees have internal resources who can coach, provide feedback and answer questions about the content and how to deal with the content. 

Internal trainers provide encouragement  to try and use the skills by using stories and modeling that they have applied the skills. 

Attendees are reminded of the training whenever they see someone in their organization who has conducted the training. This cannot be stressed enough - not only will they be reminded when they meet with someone who trained them, but whenever their name is brought up they are once again taken back to the importance of using the skills. 

External trainers underestimate the impact of the subtleties of an organization's culture because they have not had to do work within that culture. Internal trainers truly see the enormity of creating an honest and open culture that is currently not that way. 


External training efforts can overcome many of these hurdles through intensive follow up, application and coaching. These are required because there are no shortcuts in using training to create genuine change.  


NOTE: This LeadershipSmarts White Paper was written by Murray Low in June 2011



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