When business performance takes a nosedive, managers tend to implement a training program hastily. Training programs, however, are always predicated on employee performance and skills issues. What businesses must fear about hastily executed and unstructured training is that it may well prove to be an exercise in unnecessary education, further contributing to accumulating business woes (Carlisle et al., 2011 cited in Holloway et al. 2018).
To see where the business predicament lies, managers must first conduct a thorough needs analysis. Needs analysis will make it clear whether employee skills or a thorough knowledge of tasks are at the heart of the question, not some specific hiring problems, understaffing, or inadequate equipment.
In the final analysis, a decision that calls for a training solution must come at the back of a properly run process of needs analysis that points to a lack of knowledge and skills as the definite reason for the performance gap. An evidence-based approach to training needs analysis is a highly recommended yet often missing first step in designing training programs.
What is a needs analysis, however?
In this article, we will try to provide the answer, as well as walk you through the steps to execute a winning needs analysis plan.
One of the biggest obstacles learning professionals are facing right now is identifying the difference between training issues and performance issues. For example, issues in performance or productivity are almost always addressed by the training programs provided by the company or organization.
While standard training programs are designed to be helpful, they are not meant to resolve all productivity or performance problems regardless of how good a training program is. Training programs are not cookie-cutter solutions, that is why a thorough needs analysis is necessary not only to identify what the problem is but also the root cause of it and how to effectively address it.
Needs analysis definition involves the process of identification and evaluation of needs. It is the first step that should be taken in order to successfully develop an effective training program (Bleich, 2018). It is a vital process that helps businesses determine the specific training and training period they need to provide their employees for them to become productive and efficient (Morrison, 2020).
Needs analysis and needs assessment are often used interchangeably, but instead of being synonymous terminologies, they play different but related roles in the process of identifying performance issues and/or opportunities and analyzing if training is necessary to address them or not (Christensen, 2018). Christensen further explains that needs assessment, needs analysis, and training needs analysis refer to key steps in the process of determining “value-added solution” to a performance problem. These steps, however, can be tricky when terms are “misunderstood and used incorrectly” as the process offers a systematic approach, which involves a proper transition between steps in order to achieve positive results.
Christensen (2016) also developed a concept map that reveals the roles of needs assessment and analysis in the process of identifying problems and/or opportunities begins by conducting a needs assessment, which employs needs analysis in the process to identify skills or knowledge gaps. By conducting a needs assessment, an organization will be able to figure out which performance problem or opportunity needs training intervention and which does not. If there are issues that are recommended for training intervention, the next step will be to conduct a training needs analysis to figure out what type of training should be provided.
Additionally, the term “training needs analysis” refers to the process of gathering and analyzing to determine the training needs an organization has to provide to its employees (Reed & Vakola, 2006). Carlisle et al. (2011, p. 688) define training needs analysis as a “methodological investigation and analysis into an organization’s current and desired performance levels, focusing heavily on the ability of its staff and their support networks.”
Needs analysis offers an array of benefits to organizations such as the following (Morrison, 2020):
Source: GP Strategies; Statista
Training needs assessment, which involves the process of needs analysis, can be conducted anytime but is often implemented during the onboarding period, performance reviews, promotion consideration, and when there are changes in the organization that require employees to change job roles. It is, however, important to conduct needs analysis periodically not only to determine the training needs of an organization or its employees but also to assess the effectiveness of training programs (SHRM, n.d.).
According to the study conducted by TalentLMS (2019), 39% of employees in the United States receive training during onboarding and this helps new hires feel better about how they would perform.
Source: Talent LMS
For HR professionals, conducting a needs assessment is made easier with the use of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats—S.W.O.T.—analysis to help shed light on the issues and bring to focus the areas that need to be examined more closely. S.W.O.T. analysis is useful in performing a needs assessment in the areas of compensation and employment benefits (Universal Class). In order to conduct an effective training needs analysis, there are three important factors to consider (Bleich, 2018):
There are three standard types of training needs analysis, which are following (Bleich, 2018):
The tools vary and not every one of them is appropriate for every organization’s use. The best way to choose which suits your organization best is by identifying your company’s goal or reason behind conducting a needs analysis. Below are some of the popular tools and/or methods (Bleich, 2018)):
According to Legault (2018), there are three steps involved in an effective needs analysis but we can divide them further into four:
It is important to note that the main goal of needs analysis is to identify the underlying issues that affect performance and provide the appropriate training as a solution. Wilson (2020), however, states that training will not resolve a performance or productivity issue if the root cause is not the gap in the employees’ knowledge and skills.
An effective needs analysis also identifies the company’s role in the employees’ performance and productivity problems that are not training-related, such as ineffective standard operating procedures (S.O.Ps.), usability of applications and tools, outdated equipment, company policies, and others. While these issues may not involve training, needs analysis helps bring them to light in order to help upper management bridge and address the situation from their end.