Last month’s article shared some introductory thoughts about starting a training company. At the end of that article, veteran trainer Jim Glennon gave us some of his thoughts about what makes a good instructor. Let’s continue in that vein. As the owner of a training company, you will have a lot to do: You may be the president, instructor, secretary and grunt worker all in one. But if you’re fortunate, at some point you might realize that you need help. That means bringing in other folks to assist in getting the message across. Even if you’re not thinking about starting your own training company, a lot of these same principles apply to running an effective training division within an organization. There’s something in this month’s column for everyone.
Test Their Mettle
When considering potential assistant instructors, their credibility should rank up there with your own. Typically, they’ve been training for awhile and have some instructor-level courses on their resume.
You might also consider giving a trainer with less experience an opportunity to prove themselves. Regardless of their skill level, consider two things. First, the folks who are going to represent your company should have completed a generic instructor development course. This is a nuts-and-bolts class that gives them the tools and knowledge to train others, regardless of the particular topics they’ll teach. There’s both science and art involved in teaching, and that’s especially true when dealing with cops. In California, for example, anyone who wants to teach at the basic recruit academy level is required to have successfully completed such a class. It doesn’t matter if their topic will be firearms, legal updates, report writing or tactical basket weaving—to train recruit officers, this course is required.
Second, everyone teaching for the company must know and follow the company line. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. One is to require each trainer to go through your classes as a student first. This ensures they see the full program while backed up with coaching from you on the philosophy behind the presentation. The prospective instructor should also be expected to meet all the requirements of the course. These may include such steps as qualifying with a weapon, preparing a lesson plan and even doing student “teach backs” in front of the class.
Another way to ensure prospective instructors know the rules of the road is to have a training day for just you and the staff. The goal here is to review the material for accuracy and relevance, while also reaffirming that their grasp of the material is consistent. Eventually, the new instructor should be given the opportunity to fly solo in front of a class. The criteria: How well he or she sells the topic and themselves to the students.
In front of the students, a trainer’s lips may be moving but it’s the company—meaning you—that’s talking. Remember: A trainer working for you represents you. But not all trainers will see it that way. Some years back, I worked with a law enforcement instructor who put his own opinions ahead of our employer’s curriculum. He at times ignored the provided materials and taught his own firearms doctrine and drills. This was confusing for the students: The manual said one thing while he said another. It also caused problems for other instructors. It was finally resolved—with his dismissal from the staff.
A proactive approach with defined trainer parameters may help your company avoid similar issues. Make it clear that everyone will follow the agreed upon lesson plans. Example: Several times a year, I work two weeks straight with a group of solid instructors at the Golden West College SWAT Academy. One component is the 20-plus hours we spend on the range with the students. This is demanding work that requires a collective focus on course content and safety.
We accomplish this in part through a lesson plan that details the curriculum. It ensures that we’re all in instructional lock-step while training new SWAT officers. Copies are provided to each instructor well before the range days start. In addition, the staff meets yearly to review the lesson plan for refresher training and updating. Your instructors must understand above all that the company mission is to get safe, quality training out to every student.
(Note: From a business standpoint, it may be best to bring trainers on board with an agreement that they’re independent contractors rather than company employees. There are financial and legal reasons for this that an attorney can explain more accurately than I can. But in my experience the contractor option is often better for you and the company. Remember: You must track the company payroll. This is necessary for reporting to the appropriate tax entities, with an IRS 1099 or other forms, completing the yearly notification to the Federal Grim Reaper.)
Some Strings Attached
While we’re talking about company philosophy, here’s another common thought Mr. Glennon and I share. If you’ve been reading these columns for a while, you’ve picked up on the fact that training cops is both a “calling” and an honor. That’s why we agree on the importance of a “give back” component. My approach is to address this with the student as well as their agency. During our instructor courses, we share with the students a number of electronic files. This is intended to make it easier for them to teach the course material back at their agency. These files include relevant videos, a PowerPoint derived from the course and in the case of firearms training, a detailed lesson plan.
In addition, if a student graduates from one of my company’s instructor-level classes, they’re welcome to attend a future presentation tuition-free. (“Wait a minute, what did he just say?? Has he gone insane?!”) Yup, while the “no charge” aspect may be controversial, to me it’s not just about the money. We made this decision so that students can keep their certifications current and take updated info back to their departments. There are a few provisions, such as class size limitations, but as far as the “give back” factor, it’s a commitment to the students that works for me.
After the class is over, I feel it’s important to be available for follow-up questions from the students. Make yourself and other instructors a “living resource.” These days, this typically comes via an email. Like you, I get a ton of emails from friends and professional contacts. (There’s no doubt in my mind that my failure to forward various emails which come with a warning of what will happen if I don’t will someday result in a cataclysmic, cumulative, computer-generated tragedy of perhaps Biblical proportions, thus ruining my life!)
Students’ emails added to this electronic flow can be almost overwhelming. The inclination may be to just blow them off, deleting without a reply. I would personally ask you to not do that. Instead, make every effort to respond. If you don’t have a good answer to their questions, tell them, but also try to steer them to where they can find the answers they seek. Such a commitment will surely include some payoff in the long run. Sometimes I pick up on new techniques and ideas thanks to such sharing with former students.
From a more practical business approach, a company database should be established and maintained. Obviously email addresses are a critical part of this compilation. They provide an easy way of sharing information, as well as getting out the word on upcoming training.
Name: There are a number of business issues for you to consider. One is the company name. I suggest choosing a corporate identity that reflects a positive approach to training. National Training Concepts, Inc., worked for me. Please don’t go in another direction with anything even remotely close to “Billy Bob’s Killer Training Company.” (OK, I’m kidding—kind of.) Once you come up with a name that really rolls off the lips, run it through at least a couple of Internet search engines to see if someone came up with that name first. If it’s already out there, then it’s probably best to divine a new name before you start printing up your business cards.
Logo: Along with the name, you may want to put together a company logo. The same thought applies: Use maturity and common sense. For example, skulls and crossed bones (or rifles) may work for the current Jack Sparrow-generated pirate craze but not for a professional training entity.
Web: This is 2011. To be effective in reaching potential clients, you need a website. These days, if you don’t have an “electronic front office,” then people may be suspicious about the company’s legitimacy. There’s so much that can be shared about your business through this medium. When used effectively, the payoff is real.
Offices: Unless you have the cash for a brick-and-mortar corporate office, establishing a post office box for company correspondence is a good idea. I use this for company business, such as correspondence and deliveries. Don’t use your home address unless it is really necessary. I learned this the hard way. I was an expert witness on a use-of-force case and had stupidly—yes, you heard it here first—left the home address on some company-related documents. I subsequently received a notice from the attorneys suing the cops that they’d take my deposition at Casa d’Miller. I had to bust some serious moves to get out of it. I certainly didn’t want to have to explain to my domestic watch commander a bunch of people showing up at our house to run me through a legal Q-&-A session.
We’ve covered a lot of business sense. It now makes further sense that I stop bending your ear for this month. In the next issue, we’ll wrap up this discussion with some of the basic mechanics of presenting courses and a few final thoughts. Especially if you have that voice in the back of your head saying “I can do this,” like yours truly once did, then I hope you will come back for the last installment.
Train Safe. God Bless America.