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Training Needs Assessment Process: How to Start and What to Ask

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Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

In one form or another, organizations perform a training needs assessment before embarking on a leadership development program. These assessments range from simple awareness that leadership development should be provided to an extensive multi-faceted analysis to identify gaps in development and determine the right additions to the development process. 

Most organizations can benefit from a better method to assess your organization's needs. Without this process, an organization may be merely guessing what training or programs leaders may need to perform better in their roles or to be prepared for the next step in the leadership pipeline.

How do you know that your needs assessment is complete and accurate? Whether the person performing the needs assessment is an external consultant or on an internal team, here is a simple needs assessment process to follow that covers the most important details on how to start a needs assessment:

 

Start with the bigger organizational picture

Background information is an essential part of the needs analysis. It allows the report to have much-needed context and grounds the specific recommendations in the organization’s culture, objectives, and history. 

Think about what the organization has done in the past and where it wants to go in the future. It’s important to know the desired organizational outcomes and how those connect to the strategy. Are the goals related to performance, leader development, or team effectiveness?

While doing some work with a large government organization, we ensured we had the right program for them by asking some big picture questions about the future. Because the current employee population had many baby boomers ready to leave in the next several years, we designed a program that would help the organization position itself with a much larger leadership pipeline. By working with the organization’s sponsors, we were able to define outcomes they were looking for – including the need to have a 50 percent increase in promotable leaders – even amidst budgetary restraints.

How did we get there? A good place to start is with questions around organizational vision for the program such as:

  • What does the organization want to achieve as a result of this program?
  • How does the organization expect to see results related to business outcomes?
  • What external factors needs to be considered?
  • What internal constraints, like budgets or timing, could limit the program?

 

Understand the current performance

Next, focus on the program. The right development opportunity will take into consideration performance improvements and learning objectives, as well as who should be participating. To select or develop the proper program, consider current skill levels in comparison to needs. The gap where employees are not comfortable or able to perform certain skills shows a target for development.

When we worked with a large technology company, we identified the need to align the leadership development program with the organization’s identified leadership competencies. As a result, a custom-designed 360-degree competency assessment was created to measure the current level of awareness of leadership behaviors, with subsequent program content to help leaders to more frequently exhibit those skills. Conducting the needs analysis enabled us to determine the need to focus on competencies.

Here are the types of questions that we asked:

  • What knowledge and skills do participants need to be successful?
  • Where are the gaps in skills and knowledge?
  • How will behaviors or actions be identified and measured?
  • What reinforcement is needed to ensure sustained development?

 

Get to know the ideal participants

The last important element of the selection and evaluation process is the individuals who will be participating in the program. To determine who should be part of the program, identify key leaders or emerging leaders who will tie back to the larger organizational goals and strategy.

This critical step is outlined in recent research from Bersin by Deloitte*, identifying that when organizations craft development programs that are targeted to various leader segments, the organization and the leaders thrive. Determining who the ideal participants are is an important part of the upfront analysis of needs.

Some questions to be ask:

  • Who should be part of the program?
  • What are the individuals’ key characteristics or constraints?
  • How many participants will the program have?

 

Focus on the evaluation

After you have a big picture understanding of the company, culture, strategy, and goals, it’s time to look at how the program will be evaluated. In order to prove success and ROI, the outcomes must be measurable and correlated to the organization’s larger strategy.

In a large consumer products company we work with, the company wanted the leadership development program to improve employee engagement and retention. Before the program, metrics were chosen and the pre- and post-program evaluation measured not only the participant’s reaction, but also the impact on the metrics chosen for employee engagement and the desire for employees to stay with that company. Combined with other evaluation factors, a correlation between investment to return was identified.

Here are the types of questions that will provide more clarity on effectiveness:

  • How will you measure the desired outcomes?
  • How will we know if the program is effective?
  • What are recommended methods for identifying and evaluating the needs that have been established?

 

What’s next?

Once you have performed your needs analysis, the next step is to understand and digest the information you have learned. Provide the team an overview of the training needs you have identified and possible approaches with evaluation plans to satisfy those needs.

Verify this information with the project team and make changes if necessary, then set up a plan for action. This plan could encompass a schedule for the process of selecting training participants, the program framework, coaching needs, and other next steps. It should also include a timeframe for other meetings and the program’s implementation.

 

Once your needs analysis and research process is complete, it’s time to implement! And, keep in mind, going through these steps above is never a one-time event. Rarely does a program stay the same year after year. A continued cycle of the steps above helps to ensure your development programs are evolving as the company grows and changes.

 

*Bersin by Deloitte Research Bulletin: Six Leading Practices for Developing Leaders, Andrea Derler, PhD. 2017


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Linda Dausend

Linda Dausend CPLP, is a consultant at FlashPoint. Linda collaborates with clients to unlock the power of great leaders within their organizations.

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