Effective training needs analyses are strikingly similar to good psychology research. Both require a systematic approach to gathering information from people to produce evidence-based answers to important questions that will impact future decision-making. Both also have a tendency to produce more follow-up questions and to have the headline result quoted wildly out of context if it’s not carefully delivered.
At the highest level, a good training needs analysis is a systematic investigation of a gap between desired and actual performance or skill sets and identification of any training solutions that will help close the gap, allowing the business to better achieve its strategic objectives. The process is easier described than executed, so in this article, we’re sharing a few tips to conduct an effective one.
But first, things to remember before conducting a training needs analysis:
When there’s a problem within an organization, such as performance or compliance, training is often cited as the way to resolve it. While training is a solution, it’s not always the solution.
It’s important to investigate the problem first to understand whether it’s coming from the individual, the work team or the organization. Start by conducting a systematic assessment of the gaps and digging deep into the possible root causes. Once you have identified the root cause of the issue, it may be the case that training will not solve it after all!
Tips for conducting an effective training needs analysis
- Know what you’re looking for (and what you’re not looking for right now)
- Have a plan
- Connect and communicate
- Gather and process the information
- Use the data to decide what’s next
An effective training needs analysis (or psychology experiment) starts with a clear plan, goals and objectives.
In psychology, there will be a hypothesis based on previous evidence or experience; within the organization, the question may be less explicitly defined, just that “something’s not right”. Whatever the focus, be sure it’s documented, committed to, and reviewed regularly. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the thrill of discovery and disappear down rabbit holes, but if they weren’t part of the original question, ignore those side quests as much as possible, taking notes of any that look particularly interesting to come back to.
Once the objective has been established, the next step in an effective training needs analysis is to prepare. Identify what resources are needed and document a systematic plan to get the answers.
Humans are the most important resource in both business and psychology (that is why they call HR “human resources” after all!), so it’s important to be clear on the focus. Will it be all the humans in the organization or a representative sample? Alternatively, the focus could be specific groups, such as teams or departments, or even just a single worker.
Whoever is involved, there needs to be a systematic plan to gather the information, to avoid rabbit holes and to be able to communicate to stakeholders what to expect.
The quality and quantity of responses will be directly related to how well people understand the goals of the training needs analysis. In psychology, researchers know that participants have their own expectations of what will happen and may act in ways they typically wouldn’t if they didn’t know they were being observed. Armed with this knowledge (and an ethical obligation to participants), they explain the purpose of the experiment beforehand and identify any consequences they might experience.
In a training analysis context, this means being upfront with stakeholders and sharing the purpose of the process. Employees don’t typically enjoy discussion of their shortcomings for fear of it affecting their role, so it may be beneficial to explain that the goal is to help them rather than punish them and that this is only possible if the true current state of competencies is known.
There are many ways to gather information for a training needs analysis. Some involve direct communication with stakeholders (interviews, surveys, observation), while others are more removed (performance reports, analytics, customer feedback, industry research).
Choose the methods that are most appropriate in terms of effectiveness as well as efficiency (time and costs are often a factor). Be systematic about this process, for example: asking the same questions in each interview is important in reducing bias. Ensure the data is stored securely too; some responses might be very personal and privacy is vital.
With all this data at hand, it’s important to process it into something usable by the organization. This might be a report or a presentation. Either way, the data needs to speak for itself. Objective statements around what was seen, heard and identified can be used to support recommendations and prioritization, as well as taking personal opinions out of the matter.
A final consideration when deciding what is next; not all problems identified during a training needs analysis are training needs. Sometimes the issue will be caused by other factors, such as procedures, personalities or the working environment. While solutions beyond training are not within the scope of a training needs analysis, it’s still a good idea to identify them and highlight why it’s not a training problem.
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