Posted On: December 17, 2020

Needs Analysis: How to Conduct a Needs Assessment

When you're developing or changing workforce training for your business, it can be tempting to skip the organizational needs assessment – especially if your leadership feels sure of what they want.

The problem is that a needs analysis provides a more well-rounded view of all the factors that influence what training is necessary and how it will be received. It can help you build a more efficient, effective training solution for your workforce.

What is a Needs Analysis?

A needs analysis, or needs assessment, is a systematic process for identifying gaps (or "needs") that stand between current performance and ideal performance.

The concept of a needs assessment actually began as a model to improve societal wellbeing or the wellbeing of a particular community. But it's a useful concept to many, including learning and development (L&D) professionals.

In L&D, it's known as a Training Needs Assessment, or TNA.

The goal of a training needs assessment is to identify training needs and allocate training resources effectively to meet an organization's goals and objectives.

How Do You Conduct a Needs Analysis?

There are many different models for performing a training needs analysis. Their purpose is to guide the analysis and ensure you don't overlook any major factors related to the needs of the organization and the individuals within it.

For example, you can use PEST analysis, which looks at political, economic, social, and technological factors inside and outside the organization, or SWOT analysis, which looks at an organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

When you look past any specific needs assessment strategies, however, the general process for how to conduct a needs assessment ultimately boils down to four essential steps.

Step 1: Clarify Your Goals and the Necessary Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

It's important to identify the underlying reasons why your training needs to change, and it's important to do that first.

Often, the request for a new or revised training program comes down from an organization's leadership, but that doesn't make this step unnecessary.

It's critical to understand the motivation behind the requested change so you can make sure the C-suite's solution will solve the root of the problem before you invest time and money. Failure at this stage might result in a training "solution" that solves nothing.

Once you're sure you understand what you're trying to achieve, you may still need to clarify and narrow those objectives until they're actionable.

Next, you need to brainstorm about the knowledge, skills, and abilities your organization needs to meet those objectives. Who needs to know what? Which skills or pieces of knowledge do specific groups of workers need so they can contribute towards your success?

Be as comprehensive as possible and avoid thinking about the current circumstances. You'll have clearer results for desired behavior if you're not trying to retrofit your outcome to your current practices.

Finally, decide what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you'll use to judge the success of your efforts. What metrics should improve if your new training plan is successful?

Step 2: Assess Ground Conditions for the Front Line

Now that you're sure where you're going, it's time to assess where you are. You need to see the conditions on the ground that impact the underlying problem.

A lot of your data will be related to how existing knowledge, skills, and abilities stack up against the ideal that you mapped out.

However, you should be looking for data outside that scope as well.

One of the biggest criticisms of a training needs assessment is that by identifying training as the desired solution, you can miss other answers. Maybe workers have the knowledge, but not the right equipment. Maybe effective training is available, but they're not given time to properly use it.

Maybe the C-suite's solution won't actually move the needle on the underlying problem. In some cases, what looks like the answer from 10,000 feet is obviously overkill, underkill, or besides the point to someone with practical experience.

This is why you talk to front-line workers, front-line supervisors, and mid-level managers to get multiple perspectives.

There are a number of methods you can use for data collection: "focus groups" of experienced front-line workers, surveys or questionnaires of the workforce, observation of the skills or tasks in question, and formal assessments to gauge mastery of your target learning objectives.

However you ask, you need to make sure you're exploring topics like:

  • What front-line workers and supervisors believe is the best solution to your underlying problem – training or otherwise
  • Whether there are any learning objectives needed for success that aren't on your list
  • What is good and bad about your current training resources

You should also take measures to ensure that workers feel comfortable being honest and open in their answers. You won't get useful data if they're telling you what they think they should in order to avoid retaliation from HR.

Step 3: Evaluate Current Training Resources

Now it's time to look at your training resources. How do they match up with your target learning objectives? What's missing? What is superfluous?

Use the worker feedback you received during data collection. This can help you choose training formats or define do's and don'ts for your specific audience.

If workers gave some piece of current training five stars, make sure to preserve or replicate what makes it effective. If workers gave criticism on existing resources, you can use that feedback to avoid making the same mistakes.

Step 4: Decide What's Needed to Close the Gap

Finally, you need to reconcile all of these steps together. What needs to change on the ground for the organization to achieve the goal? What's the best method for bringing about the change?

If training gaps are the problem, what's the new training plan? How do learning objectives vary by team, position, and individual? What stays the same and what changes? Where and how will you acquire new training resources? What will the transition to the new plan look like? What does "regular training" look like after the transition is complete?

How will you know if the change is working? What will you do if it's not?

By the end of the needs analysis process, you should have a roadmap for reaching your organization's goals.

Find Skills Gap Solutions with 360Training

The outcome of a training needs assessment doesn't always need to be custom training. Leveraging off-the-shelf eLearning resources can be good business.

Some learning objectives are already well-covered by third-party training providers. By purchasing existing coursework for skills gaps where possible, you free up money and L&D resources for areas that do require custom training solutions.

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Reach out today and learn how we can help fill the gaps in your current training program!

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