Who Needs a Needs Analysis Anyway?

When I teach my students about training, I stress the importance of needs analysis–the method by which trainers address skill gaps at the individual, group, and organizational level. Most training professionals would love to do more needs analysis, but they often face organizational barriers. Over the years, I have wrestled with why it’s such a struggle for training professionals to get consensus from organizational stakeholders. In this piece I’ll outline some of those reasons and offer potential solutions.

  • Fast Food. Oftentimes in organizations, training and development is seen as a solution to the problem. But the attitude of organizational stakeholders is similar to that of someone ordering from their favorite fast food restaurant. Requesting a sales training is fine, but unlike fast food, any individual or even a group may not be aware of what the problems are within an organization. This leads to the second issue.
  • Diagnosis. Rather than viewing a training professional as both an evaluator and facilitator of training, oftentimes organizational stakeholders often view trainers as facilitators only. But good trainers fulfill both the role of the diagnostician and that of the facilitator. In the same way that you wouldn’t accept a doctor who prescribed you a medication without conducting any tests or evaluation, you shouldn’t request a training from a trainer without a needs analysis. Leaders and managers must accept that they may not know everything about their organizations and could benefit from a needs analysis.
  • Slowing Down to Speed Up. Sometimes organizational stakeholders view a needs analysis as an unnecessary process that slows down the delivery of training. Many training modules (especially e-learning projects) are delivered on short timelines. But a solid needs assessment process is preparation for the actual delivery. It doesn’t slow down the delivery process. It makes things more efficient.
  • I Wasn’t Trained for This. Trainers are often not trained to manage the politics and consensus building required to develop and conduct effective training. New trainers acquire these skills on the job, which can be a difficult way to learn.

Now that we’ve outlined some of the issues, let’s talk about some solutions.

  • Start Small. Whether you are using an ADDIE model or a SAM model, both training process models are iterative in nature. In your project plans, start to include a piece about needs assessment, even if it’s a small needs assessment. Highlight the needs assessment continually. With each subsequent inclusion in your project plan, add another piece to your needs assessment during the next project. By building incremental additions to your needs assessment, you can eventually build it out to a full needs assessment process.
  • Use Data. Data is often collected at the end of training programs in the form of smile sheets. Include an open comment box to collect qualitative feedback on your training. It may be valuable to conduct follow-up surveys or focus groups to assess how the training worked. Use this data whenever you pitch the idea of a needs assessment. When describing issues in the organization, refer to data you have collected in the needs assessment process to show value. It is also imperative to use data from other departments. If your team is conducted sales training, track the sales over time. If your organization conducts safety training, how much safer is your organization?
  • Build Alliances. If organizational politics are holding you back from being able to conduct a needs assessment, identify your allies. Use a stakeholder analysis to identify the needs of each organizational stakeholder and how best to meet them.

I hope these tips help you along your path to using a needs assessment more often. Let’s change the fast food mentality around training to a diagnostic and solution focused one!