Training Needs Analysis

Creating effective training programs begins with completing a reliable and accurate Training Needs Analysis.

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Training Needs Analysis Purpose

A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) is used to assess an organization's training needs. The root of the TNA is the gap analysis. This is an assessment of the gap between the knowledge, skills and attitudes that the people in the organization currently possess and the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they require to meet the organization's objectives.

The training needs assessment is best conducted up front, before training solutions are budgeted, designed and delivered. The output of the needs analysis will be a document that specifies why, what, who, when, where and how. More specifically, the document will need to answer these questions:

  • why do people need the training?
  • what skills need imparting?
  • who needs the training?
  • when will they need the new skills?
  • where may the training be conducted? and
  • how may the new skills be imparted?

There are so many ways for conducting a Training Needs Analysis, depending on your situation. One size does not fit all. Is the purpose of the needs assessment to:

  • lead in to a design of a specific purpose improvement initiative (e.g., customer complaint reduction)
  • enable the design of the organization's training calendar
  • identify training and development needs of individual staff during the performance appraisal cycle

… and so on and so on.

In clarifying the purpose of the TNA, consider the scope of the TNA. Is it to determine training needs:

  • at the organization level?
  • at the project level for a specific project? or
  • at the department level for specific employees?

Your answer to these questions will dictate:

  • who will conduct the TNA
  • how the TNA will be conducted, and
  • what data sources will be used

Training Needs Analysis Method

Below are three scenarios in which you may find yourself wanting to conduct a Training Needs Analysis. This is not an exhaustive treatment, however, it will give you some tips on what to do.

Employee Performance Appraisal

In many organizations, each employee's manager discusses training and development needs during the final part of the performance appraisal discussion. This method suits where training needs are highly varied amongst individual employees. Typically, the manager constructs an employee Performance Development Plan in collaboration with the employee being appraised. The Plan takes into consideration:

  • the organization's strategies and plans
  • agreed employee goals and targets
  • the employee's performance results
  • the employee's role description
  • feedback from internal/external customers and stakeholders, and
  • the employee's stated career aspirations

The employee's completed Performance Development Plan should document the area that requires improvement, the actual development activity, resource requirements, expected outcomes and an agreed time frame in which the development outcome will be achieved.

Check out our Training Management Template Pack for a customizable Performance Development Plan and instructions for use.

You may find some commonality amongst individual training and development needs identified in the various performance appraisals. In this case, it may pay the organization to review and classify each of the needs and convert them into appropriate training courses (or other interventions). The next step is to prioritize their importance and aggregate the results so that you end up with a list of courses and participant numbers against each. Then negotiate a delivery schedule that fits in with managers/supervisors and employees whilst keeping an eye on your budget.

Improvement Project

Most, if not all, improvement projects have some employee training associated with them. Examples of improvement projects include planned and structured attempts to reduce the incidence of product defects, increase sales volume and decrease the number of customer complaints. Here, the Training Needs Analysis begins by clarifying the measurable organizational improvement targets and the employee behaviors required to meet these targets. For example, the organization might set a target of a 50 percent reduction in customer complaints by the end of the year. Employee behaviors required to achieve this target might be:

  • empathetic listening to customer complaints
  • regular follow up of complaint resolution

... and so on.

To get to this point, though, the cause of the underperformance needs to be determined through a series of structured questions. If there is no one else to perform this initial diagnosis, you as the training professional may be called upon to do this job. A performance consulting approach can help you here. With this approach, the person doing the diagnosis first asks managers to identify their problems in concrete terms. Next, possible causes and solutions are discussed and training solutions identified, where appropriate.

To do this successfully, the performance consultant needs to be well-versed in process improvement methods and employee motivation theory and practice. For small projects, you can use a simple employee performance flow chart in working with managers to help identify the cause of performance deficiencies.

Where training is identified as an appropriate solution or as part of the solution, we then recommend that you work through a Training Needs Analysis questionnaire with the appropriate stakeholders. This will give you the information you need to move to the training program design phase.

An effective Training Needs Analysis questionnaire worksheet will cover at least the following areas:

  1. TRAINING NEEDS ANALYSIS CONTEXT

    • Project Sponsor
    • Reason for Request
    • Participant Roles
    • Organizational Objectives
    • Training Program Objectives
  2. TARGET POPULATION

    • No. of Participants
    • Location
    • Department
    • Education/Experience
    • Background
    • Current Job Experience
    • Current Performance vs Expected Performance
    • Language/Cultural Differences
    • Anticipated Attitudes
  3. TASK DESCRIPTION

    • Task Description
    • Frequency
    • Proficiency
    • Performance Criteria
    • Conditions
    • Underpinning Knowledge

The results from these structured interviews are then written up in a formal document, along with the answers to the other questions raised above. Check out our Training Projects Template Pack for an example of a customizable Training Needs Analysis template that you can download today. The results of the TNA are then fed into the next phase of the instructional systems design life cycle; the high-level design of the training program.

Following all of the above is of course more time consuming than getting a simple wish-list from managers and delivering a smorgasbord of training courses. However, by using a structured approach, you will avoid the 80 percent wastage of resources that many companies experience in delivering programs that don't truly fit their needs.

Constructing a Training Calendar

When constructing an annual training calendar, be wary of simply asking managers what training they want delivered. Assessing training needs this way, you will most probably get a wish list with little connection to the real needs of the organization. When the time comes and they and their workers are pressed for time, you may find it difficult to fill seats. Training is expensive, and there is no better method for wasting your scare training dollars.

Why is this so? We find that many managers are not skilled in identifying which of their problems can be solved by training and which cannot. For a training calendar to be effective, it needs to be tailored for your specific organization's real needs. Ask your managers what training they need. However, make sure you engage them in constructive dialog about what their real problems are and which of them can realistically be addressed through training. If the performance shortfall is a one-off problem, such as an increasing number of customer complaints, it may be more effective and cost efficient to address the issue on an improvement project basis.

Training calendars are best suited to repeatable and regular demand, such as refresher skills training for infrequently performed technical tasks and for new recruits joining the organization. In these cases, review what training is required on a regular basis and look at what new recruits need to be proficient at soon after they join your organization. Generally speaking, consult with your management team by checking off which of the following areas require inclusion in your training calendar:

  • management, leadership and supervision skills
  • soft skills, such as communication and conflict resolution
  • environment, health and safety
  • human resource processes, such as performance management
  • business skills, such as strategy, planning and process improvement
  • technical line and staff skills such as telephone etiquette and inventory management

In constructing your training calendar, we suggest you also consider looking at one or more of the data sources listed in the next section. Once you have composed your list of courses, assess demand for each course and the required frequency, all the while, keeping an eye on your budget. With a limited budget, we suggest you get your management team to help you assess priorities.

Data Sources

In conducting your Training Needs Analysis, you may have a variety of data sources available to you. Which data sources you use will depend on a number of factors. These factors include:

  • the amount of time you have available
  • the human resources you have available
  • the level of accuracy you require
  • the reliability of each data source
  • the accessibility of each data source

The data sources that you have available may include:

  • interviews/surveys with supervisors/managers
  • interviews/surveys with employees
  • employee performance appraisal documents
  • organization's strategic planning documents
  • organization/department operational plans
  • organization/department key performance indicators
  • customer complaints
  • critical incidents
  • product/service quality data

For example, if you are considering providing training in project management to project managers, you may want to interview the prospective participants, the project managers, and their managers on what problems they are facing. It may also pay to review planning and procedural documents to ascertain what project management methodology and tools your organization is using, or is planning on using.

Data sources that may show light on where the training needs to focus the most are project performance data and post-implementation reviews. Which sources you will actually use and how much time and effort you expend on each will depend on your particular circumstances. Needless to say, there is no magic formula and you will need to exercise a fair amount of judgment in most cases.

Although there are no hard and fast rules in conducting a Training Needs Analysis, we have outlined above some general guidelines and helpful hints. We can also help you with some practical TNA tools, such as a Training Needs Analysis Questionnaire and Training Needs Analysis Spreadsheet, in our customizable template packs below.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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