“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.”
Anthony J. D’Angelo
Training is not a panacea. Yet training is frequently treated like the kitchen drawer that accumulates all of the miscellaneous items that no one wants to take the time to sort through and put away properly. There seems to be the notion that, when in doubt, schedule a training session.
However, there are many things wrong with this approach to training. It is important to take the time to investigate the reason for the training request. If we don’t, we run the risk of training the wrong people in the wrong content at the wrong time. This is not only a waste of time, energy and money for us and for others, it also guarantees that training in general and training professionals in specific will be considered irrelevant and unimportant.
A training needs assessment is the only way to verify and validate the need, focus, scope and target group for a training program.
Training needs assessments can be proactive or reactive. In both cases, the goal of the training needs assessment is to identify performance issues that can be remedied through the introduction, practice, or reinforcement of specific and measurable knowledge and/or skill sets.
Proactive training needs assessments initiate a strategic review of future organizational needs that will require new capabilities and competencies.These assessments tend to be more formal and systematized in order to determine the full spectrum of possible training needs throughout the organization. They may involve assessment strategies that are time consuming and require specialized expertise, such as on-line surveys, focus groups, and knowledge tests.
Reactive training needs assessments respond to requests to train pre-identified employees in specific content.These assessments tend to be more informal in order to get a better idea of the reason for the training request and what the training is intended to achieve. They typically involve assessment strategies that are relatively quick and require basic skills to conduct one-on-one interviews with supervisors and/or employees, or review performance data.
Regardless of whether or not the training needs assessment is proactive or reactive, it should determine that:
1. There is a verified performance issue that can be remedied through training.
Does the performance issue involve skills that can be taught? If so, then training is the answer. If the issue involves notification of new or changed policy, then a memo or a brief meeting may be the better recourse. If the issue is individual employee performance, then performance management will be the best approach.
2. This issue is important enough that it needs to be addressed.
How critical will the consequences be to the organization if the training does not occur? The relative importance of addressing this performance issue needs to be considered. Most organizations will have many different training needs, so some prioritization has to occur
3. The appropriate target audience has been identified.
What is the root cause of the performance issue and who is ultimately responsible? If employees are not performing satisfactorily, the typical assumption is that they lack certain knowledge or skills that can be taught. This may not be the case. Instead, their poor performance may actually be due to a lack of delegation, communication or planning skills of their supervisors or managers. In this event, the appropriate target audience would be the supervisors or managers, not the employees.
4. The appropriate training content has been identified.
What knowledge, skills and/or behavior need to be learned? Once the root cause of the performance issue has been located and the correct target audience has been identified, the training content can then be specified. The content will be based on the knowledge and skills gap between current and desired performance.
5. The desired training results are realistic.
Can the desired learning be accomplished within the allotted time frame? Expectations regarding the outcome of a training program may need to be managed. Training can only build skills incrementally. If there is a major skills gap that needs to be addressed, then this may require more than one training session.
6. The training approach is cost-effective.
What is the most cost-effective way to build the necessary skills? It is reasonable and cost effective to schedule a training program if new skills need to be developed or existing skills need to be refreshed and updated for a number of employees. However, scheduling an entire training program to address isolated individual performance issues is neither appropriate nor cost-effective. It may make more sense to send the individual employee to a public workshop, provide on-the-job training and coaching, or use an e-learning solution.
7. The training schedule is compatible with work schedules.
What are the limitations imposed by the target group’s work schedules? If the target group works different shifts, that will need to be considered when scheduling the training program. Also, there may be times of the week or the season when work responsibilities prohibit attendance at a training program.
Take the time to investigate training requests. Training needs assessments will help you avoid wasting yours and others’ time and money, impugning training as a viable performance support, and harming your credibility as a training professional.