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Training Needs Assessment and Analysis: Is Training Really Needed?

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Imagine your company encounters a problem, and one of the higher-ups is convinced that launching a new training program might fix it. It's high time to take a step back and get a bird’s-eye view of the situation before anyone rushes off to create training materials. That’s the purpose of a training need assessment.

What Is a Training Needs Assessment?

Every training request indicates that the current state of performance is falling short of the desired outcome. The discrepancy between real and targeted performance is called a need. 

A needs assessment is a process of identifying if there’s really a need or not, while a needs analysis goes a little beyond that since you don’t just state the presence of a need, but also try to figure out the reasons for the problem and how to overcome the gap between what is and what should be.

In this article, we’ll use the term “needs assessment” in general, meaning that it includes the analyses, since it seems to make no sense to conduct research that won’t be followed by a conclusion and a plan of further action.

What is a training need assessment

Developing a training program has always demanded a serious investment, so the overarching goal of a needs assessment is to give a credible estimate if these investments will pay off and make sure that learning can solve the problem.

A needs assessment usually includes, but is not limited to, the following steps:

  • Analyzing the present situation.
  • Identifying a business goal.
  • Figuring out the root cause of the problem.
  • Determining what employees have to do to reach the goal.
  • Finding out why they aren’t doing it.

Important: Before we proceed, let’s be clear on the word usage. Today, it’d be more correct to say “needs assessment” with the word “training” omitted. This will help you avoid bias during the analysis that might otherwise simply confirm the prejudiced belief that training is needed.  

Also, don’t forget to download our Training Needs Analysis Template which will serve you as a quick reference guide after reading the rest of the blog post.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each step.

Also read: How to conduct skill gap analysis?

Step 1: Analyze the Background

Imagine a doctor and a patient. The patient complains about a headache and asks for a powerful drug. Would the doctor prescribe it by simply taking the patient’s word for it? Definitely no. 

Similarly, when considering launching training, we should listen to the client, then carefully examine what’s going on, what needs to be done, and if it coincides with the client’s idea of the solution. 

At this step, your task is to collect as much information as possible. This can be done through quantitative polls of employees, qualitative interviews, or a mixed approach (which is recommended). In some cases, it’d be a good idea to see the situation firsthand: if you’re told that a customer service department is failing to give courteous responses to customers over the phone, pretend to be a customer and check up on it.

The key questions of this step: 

  • What is going on now? 
  • How are employees performing? 
  • What results are being achieved?

Step 2: Identify a Goal

While no one denies the benefits of employee training alone, it must align with specific business goals, and you should make sure that training is really a solution you need. Only in this case will it be able to demonstrate effectiveness and ROI.

Talk to stakeholders and those who might have an interest in the success of the training, and define the performance objectives.

The key questions of this step: 

  • What should be happening? 
  • How do managers want employees to perform? What about customers?
  • How wide is the gap between the present situation and the desired outcome? Is it possible to measure this gap? How? 

Step 3: Discover a Root Cause

Ask yourself, those who requested training, and those who are to participate in it as the learners: Why aren’t people doing what they’re expected to do or performing at the proper level? Every so often, managers suppose training is the answer to all issues. At the same time, there are many issues that are more easily and cost-effectively resolved through changes in the current processes.  

For example, a manager discovers a problem that their team is unable to create good weekly performance reports for executives, and they’re wasting too much time on creating the reports. The idea of training how to write impressive reports seems to be very attractive and logical. 

At this step, it’s very easy to fall into a trap by clinging to the initial assumption. Unfortunately, things aren’t always as obvious as they appear, so the supposed reason for the problem might just be a symptom. 

In our example above, a further investigation might discover that the manager was under the impression that the team has to report to executives every week, while the executives would be satisfied with less frequent but more substantial reports. Therefore, the optimal solution wouldn’t be training, but a simple change in the process. 

The key questions of this step: 

  • What is the root cause of the present situation? 
  • Why is there a performance gap? What is the root cause of it? Do all the parties of the situation agree on this reason?
  • Is the gap caused by knowledge, skills, or attitude shortfalls? 
  • How much of the gap is caused by the environment, a process, or a technical factor (e.g. difficult interface of a system)?

Step 4: Consider Solutions

Once you have a clear vision of your goal and the reason why your people aren’t performing the way they’re expected to, it’s time to think about possible ways to close the gap. 

Again, don’t make a mistake by using training as the be-all and end-all solution. Developing professional training may be an effective but expensive and time-consuming solution. At this step, your task is to become 100-percent sure that training is the best option.  

During the whole analysis process, it’s crucial to be open to any signs that there can be other ways to achieve the same goal: 

  • Making changes in work routines
  • Starting or canceling present procedures
  • Adopting better equipment or software
  • Launching on-the-job coaching instead of formal training
  • Providing employees with job aids, etc. 

Cathy Moore, an internationally recognized instructional designer, created a flowchart that can help you determine the best solution to a performance problem.  

Will training help to close the performance gap

The author of the flowchart is Cathy Moore. Check out her blog for more inspiration in training design.

Plus, don’t forget that doing nothing is also an option. What will the consequences be if you don’t launch training and don’t change anything? The answer to this question helps you understand the true importance of the problem. For a nuclear power plant, enhanced workplace safety training is the top priority, but for an office company, it might be a mere formality.

The key questions of this step:

  • Is training the best way to resolve the performance problem?
  • Are there other ways to reach the same goal? What are they?
  • What will happen if nothing is done?

Now It’s Your Turn

Once you’ve analyzed the needs, you won’t need a magic 8-ball to say if the training will solve the task, since you’re able to make an informed decision: to develop a new training program that definitely aligns with your company and employee needs, or to revamp the current processes and change the working environment. 

If your path leads you to creating a brand-new training program nonetheless, then you may find the article How to Create a Successful Training Program useful. 

Feel free to ask any questions you may have, or share a piece of advice that we didn’t mention in the article. Either way, let us know by leaving a comment below!