In the recently published book, Lies About Learning (ASTD Press.
2006), editor Larry Israelite offers up essays from a batch of
learning executives. The dozen essays touch on everything from
e-learning, to leadership programs, learning management, research,
and the value of consultants. The book examines the myths of
workplace learning and provides some balance between expectations
From Chapter 6, written by Charlene J. Zeiberg, we get a useful
rundown of some of the most prevalent lies a learning executive
hears from vendors - and one big example of client prevarication.
It is almost a classic "What they say vs. what they mean" gag, and
includes a chart (at the end of this article).
"(These) are standard complaints that I have heard as a client or
that my clients have shared with me," writes Zeiberg. "These lies
are generalized statements or proclamations that have been made by
some vendors. I hope that these revelations will lead to more
productive vendor alliances and partnerships."
Two of our favorites are:
This team of experienced consultants will be engaged on
"While engaging a vendor for an important project, you meet with
several of the vendor's consultants who are part of the proposed
project team," describes Zeiberg. "After awarding the business to
this vendor and launching the project, the faces suddenly change,
some you've never seen before."
She explains that this all-too-common scenario is not something the
vendor intends to do - often referred to as "bait and switch" - but
that changes in a team are bound to occur. When a vendor,
especially one that is in demand, gets stretched too thin, an
unavoidable shift in resources is going to happen.
"The best you can do to avoid this scenario is express your
concern, ask pointed questions, and let the vendor's
representatives know that although you are potentially engaging
their company, you are really selecting the team of consultants who
have the expertise you require," Zeiberg writes. She suggests that
you ask some very important questions:
- Will this be the team dedicated to my project from start to
- Is there anyone on the team that may have a conflicting client
project and is potentially not available?
- What can you do to guarantee the availability of the team you
- If you need to substitute team members, whom would you
consider? Can you share their rsums?
- Will I have the opportunity to approve the new team members you
select? (This shouldn't really be a question, but, rather, a
Zeiberg adds: "Maybe you won't get all the answers you want, but at
the very least you have put your vendors on notice that casual
resource swapping is something that you won't tolerate."
The training materials will be custom-built for
Zeiberg notes that the more notable training vendors who provide
content have "an arsenal of generic content sitting on a shelf
waiting to be called into battle. "In many cases, this content was
derived from best-practice research the vendor conducted. In other
cases, it was residual content that remained from previous client
"Many times when a client requests a customized program from the
vendor, generic content is manipulated, massaged, repackaged, or
updated, but very little custom content is actually created," she
writes. "The customized part of the program is often nothing more
than a replacement of terms." Zeiberg says this might be something
as simple as "employee" instead of "staff member" or "motivational
feedback" instead of "positive feedback."
It is important to understand the distinction between custom materials and tailored materials, Zeiberg notes. "A custom program should be built from the ground up," she explains. "A tailored program builds upon generic or previously used program content and modifies it in some fashion, as in the examples above. Many training vendors will charge you a fortune to perform these simple replacements they have labeled as 'custom.' "
She suggests that to determine if your programs require tailoring
or customization, consider asking:
- Will you be designing this program and writing all new content
or will you leverage your existing content?
- May I review your generic training materials on this topic?
- What will you do to tailor the content? How does this affect
our ownership or licensing arrangement?