Training Needs Analysis, Why Bother?


A colleague told me his company had conducted a leadership skills training workshop earlier in the year for all of their supervisors, but management was not satisfied with the results. According to him the trainer they used came highly recommended, and was a top notch facilitator. Most, if not all of the participants were raving about the class and seemed really excited when they returned to work. However, six months later management was seeing no progress in their supervisor’s behavior, and the complaints from the supervisor’s staff were still mounting. According to him none of the supervisors were using the skills, the workshop material was sitting on their shelves, and they were basically doing the same thing as before.

I asked him one simple question, “what were the results of the needs assessment conducted before the training?he indicated they had not done one. He explained that there was a lot of pressure to get the training done before the end of the year, because it was one of the key items in their performance goals.

Unfortunately my colleague’s situation is not all that uncommon. There is often a tendency to treat training as an isolated event rather than an integral part of larger process; of which performing a Training Needs Assessment (TNA) is crucial. Employees are often sent to one or two day training events without stopping to ask some key questions about the intent, and desired outcome of the training. These questions, if addressed properly would greatly increase the chance for success. Some leaders fail to ask these questions because they don’t want to appear to be doing what some would describe as “studying the problem, rather than solving it.” Conducting a proper TNA is especially important because there are times when training can positively address performance issues, but there are other times when it is not the best solution and can actually waste valuable resources.

According to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), US firms spent nearly $156 billion on employee learning and development initiatives in 2011. Yet their research showed that not more than 10% of these expenditures actually resulted in skills transferring back to the job, most being lost within a year. These results were mainly due to the fact that there were no meaningful assessments conducted before training, and very little practical follow-up afterwards.

When Eduardo Salas, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Central Florida, USA was asked what he considered to be the biggest mistakes companies make with regards to training, he said, “Organizations don’t take the time to analyze what their training needs are.”

Here are a few questions that the needs assessment would address; thus increasing the chances of getting the desired results:

What is the problem?

A common misconception is that most leaders have accurately diagnosed the problem when they request training for their staff, and there is no need to do a formal assessment. In many cases a general performance problem may be obvious, but the underlying causes and contributors may be missed and never addressed without proper analysis; thus causing the problem to surface again.

One of the key benefits of conducting the training needs assessment is pinpointing specific performance deficiencies, and stating very clearly the desired performance outcomes. A formal assessment could also signal to participants that measurable outcomes are expected; thus raising the importance of the training initiative.

Who will support the employee after training?

Often times the workshop facilitator will pack up and catch their flight directly after a training class. Their job is done, but the employee has only been exposed to a new set of knowledge and skillsets. Who will provide the much needed coaching support when the person returns to work? Who will be there to guide them until they become proficient in their new skills? When they have questions about the proper way to apply their new skills, who will provide the answers? Who will ensure that the work environment supports the new knowledge or skill introduced during training? The answer to these questions are actually more important than the training itself, and would be drawn out in a proper Training Needs Assessment.

What are the measures for accountability?

The greater damage for not conducting a needs assessment is there will be no measurable outcomes to hold the group accountable to when they return from training. In an era when employees are becoming more and more cynical about training, my colleagues company’s actions may have reinforced the notion that these training initiatives are just something to satisfy company policy, and nobody will be held accountable for applying the skills.

The good news is, more and more organizations are starting to think about Training Needs Assessment with the same importance as they do when tackling other major projects. As company’s training budgets get scrutinized more closely, leaders are starting to recognize the importance of upfront assessments so that they can show a return on training investment. Well thought out training initiatives, with proper training needs assessments can have a huge impact on an organization and the individuals who participate.

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