“Talent masters recognize that a fast-changing business environment requires constant change and updating of both their leaders’ skills and their own leadership criteria. They give leaders training on specific topics, and they adjust their talent development plans according to the external changes they see as likely in the years to come.”
Bill Conaty and Ram Charan (“The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers”)
We know that training is important but how do we ensure that it is effective? A cookie cutter approach to training is not the way to go. When working with my clients, the first step in designing and delivering effective training is to engage in robust dialogue around assessing current practices, processes and needs. A successful training program should always be viewed as a work in progress. With inevitable changes in our business environments come necessary changes to our approach to training as well. Change is constant and so should our adjustments to our training.
The needs analysis component of training allows you to better gauge training needs and address these appropriately. Closing the performance gaps may require specified training, but sometimes training is not the answer.
So let’s dive into what a needs assessment is, why it is so important and how to do it effectively.
What is a training needs assessment?
A ‘needs analysis’ is “a process to identify gaps or deficiencies in employee and organizational performance”. When a performance standard is not being properly met, a needs analysis discovers what is missing to reach the required performance standard. The needs analysis will determine what the problem is and how to rectify it.
Source: Saks, A.M., Haccoun, R.R. (2010). Managing Performance through Training and Development (5th ed.) United States of America: Nelson Education Ltd.)
An analysis is done through gathering information and then analyzing this information. Once this information is gathered and analyzed, it is determined how to best fill the gap. This can be done through simple changes in processes or through training. If training is required, then proper design and delivery of the training must be done including identifying training objectives, content, methods and principles.
Why analyze current training?
In order to design, develop and deliver training that is aligned to business goals, it’s imperative that a deep dive is conducted. Analysis helps to better determine business goals and performance objectives. These are necessary to design training strategies, plans and programs that are tailored to the business and its people.
I’ve experienced first-hand how companies both view and approach training. I’ve been asked to come into companies and deliver a half-day or full-day soft skills training program. This is an ask most often because companies know that training is important for skill and capability development, employee engagement and retention. However, when asked what the business goals and performance objectives are for the training, companies often struggle to see the correlation between business goals/performance objectives and training.
To ensure that there is a return on investment on the training, we have to understand:
- What the desired performance is
- What the gap is between desired and actual performance
- What obstacles currently hinder effective performance
What are some assessment questions to consider before designing and delivering corporate training?
Below is a listing of some key questions to ask prior to jumpstarting your training design. Answering these questions will provide more clarity on the purpose behind the training and specific training needs required to address gaps and meet business goals and performance objectives. Ultimately you want your training to close performance gaps and you want your trainees to apply skills taught on the job!
- What is your business strategy?
- What is your Human Resources strategy?
- What is your Learning and Development strategy?
- What is the desired performance?
- What is the current performance gap and where do these gaps exist (i.e. departments, positions …)?
- What are some possible reasons these performance gaps exist?
- Human: Lack of knowledge, skills, motivation, rewards, group norms, informal leadership, political climate
- Technical: Poor job design, lack of tools, lack of procedures, rapid changes in technology
- Information: Ill-defined goals/objectives, lack of performance measures, ineffective feedback
- Structural: Overlapping roles/responsibilities, lack of flexibility, lack of control systems
- What does the business want to achieve as a result of the training?
- What external factors need to be considered?
- What are some internal factors that need to be considered (i.e. budget, timing, perception of topic, prior exposure to topic, interests/motivations, buy-in, learning styles)?
- Who will perform the desired behaviour? Who needs the training?
- What behaviour will demonstrate the mastery of the objective?
- Where will the behaviour be demonstrated and finally evaluated?
- When will the behaviour be demonstrated and finally evaluated?
- What is the standard by which the behaviour will be judged?
If you’ve determined an organizational “itch” – something that appears to be off and not working properly in the organization, then it’s your red flag to begin the process of determining what the root cause is. Conducting a training needs assessment will help you assess what the gap is.
Take the time to analyze your training needs and address gaps identified appropriately.