Why are needs assessments important before developing training initiatives? For the same reason that blindfolded archers rarely hit their target—we can't aim if we don't know what we're aiming at.
To determine the best-fit training solutions for an organization, it is absolutely critical to perform a needs assessment, because they help determine what improvements need to be made. How can we solve a problem if we haven’t properly identified the issue? The short answer: We can’t.
The assessment phase of any learning intervention is the most critical. Needs assessments are all about identifying performance gaps between actual and expected performance. Consider the assessment as the foundation for a structure we're building. If the foundation is not solid, we will certainly encounter human performance issues later, at which point they will be far more difficult to address.
Let's look at what all goes into conducting an assessment, as well as how to proceed once it's been completed.
Gather Relevant Information
We can’t start making any changes until we know what is working and what isn't. We have to figure out if the foundation is solid and can be built upon, or if we have to start over.
Organizations typically perform a needs assessment to:
Repair issues or breakdowns with a process, system, or workflow
Enhance the skill set of employees to take on new business or changes
The best way to find shortcomings or performance gaps is to talk to the people that are living it every day: the employees and their managers. What do they have to say about their jobs? What is difficult? Why do they leave? What makes a customer dissatisfied? Are there concerns about ethics, safety, business execution, or other topics?
To identify these gaps, we should look at business metrics that are currently available. Depending on the company’s business practices, we may already have the following data:
Turnover data and exit interviews
Employee satisfaction surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys
Management feedback via interviews
Other performance data (incidents, grievances, etc.)
The review of this data, along with key conversations, will assist us in determining the key areas to focus learning strategy. Keep it manageable, and explore the possibility of rolling the training program out in phases.
In addition, take the following considerations into account:
What are the goals of the organization? Is growth a priority? Are new clients coming online?
Do recommendations align with the organization’s culture?
Is the technology in place to support and host effective eLearning?
From Planning to Implementation
By now, we've had a chance to come up with a well-thought-out blueprint for the training initiatives, and we're well on the way to crafting a learning strategy plan and making maximum impact on the organization. We have a list of training deliverables, including:
Custom training courses (online or instructor-led)
A popular approach is to come up with a training requirements matrix based on the assessment's findings that lists roles and training activities. To indicate which training is priority, make it required. If training is lower-priority and not required, indicate "optional" or "recommended."
The required or immediate-need training should be what is addressed in the first phase of the rollout. Prioritize the training solutions so as to have maximum impact right away. Meet with key stakeholders to ensure the business is aligned and in agreement with training needs and their importance.
Now that the needs assessment is in place, it's time to build a One Page Plan, a collaborative and actionable document that helps ensure that the business is aligned with learning KPIs and their corresponding business objectives.