It’s More Than a “Training Thing”: Needs Assessment for the Bottom Line

Evan AbbottWhat’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “needs assessment?” If you are like most people, odds are the word “survey” or “training” was close to the top of your list.

Needs assessment is a fundamental component of the development planning process. However, for many of us, our needs assessments lack impact. Those thoughts of training and surveys either a.) stop us cold with the fears of survey construction, administration, and analysis or b.) limit how we approach the process. The first can often be helped by consulting with an outside partner to do the hard work for you (like MSEC and our Training Needs Assessment Survey). The second can be managed by changing how you think about the overall intentions of the project.

All too often we limit how we think about needs assessment to topics that we are considering as training topics or tests to benchmark and measure knowledge and skills. While these are important components of needs assessments, they lacking the substantive connection to link training to the organization’s bottom line. One way to increase the impact of your needs assessments is to think about the data and the process through four different
lenses: business needs, performance needs, training needs, and environment needs.

Business needs keep the doors open and bank accounts full. Examples include increased sales, decreased waste, satisfied customers, retained employees, and similar business goals and metrics. What role do business needs play in the needs assessment process? Without them, a fundamental question cannot be answered for the end learner: why? Training efforts should be tied back to end organizational objectives for the most impact and to have the most meaning for the end learner.

Performance needs are how business needs get met. What does a sales representative need to do to grow quarterly sales? What does a production technician need to do to reduce waste? What do supervisors need to do to support and engage workers? Performance needs are about the “do” behind the “why.”

Training needs connect the “why” and the “do” through a “what.” Training needs are the traditional aspects of needs assessments. What are those things the sales representative, production worker, and supervisor need to be trained on to perform at the level required to reach the business needs? What knowledge, skills, or awareness does someone need to possess to perform to your business expectations?

Finally, good needs assessments explore the environment needs connected to performance. What does the trainee need in his or her work environment to apply the skills addressed in the training needs? Environment needs are “where” the “what” happens. (Did you follow that?) These things could be tangible and concrete (e.g., equipment, resources, supportive processes, and rules) or more abstract (e.g., support from supervisors to apply skills learned, empowerment, and time to do the task the way it was taught). A work environment and supervisor that supports the knowledge, skills, and awareness learned in training are the biggest predictors of whether an employee transfers what was learned in training back to the workplace.

The next time you need to do a needs assessment, don’t forget to think more broadly. The more you think about the “why,” “do,” “what,” and “where” of training, the more impact you create.