There is a common practice in today’s corporate world to use training as a solution for pretty much everything. Employees are tired and demotivated? Let’s have a nice, light training session to take them out of the everyday routine and give them the sense of personal development. Revenues are low? Let’s have some training on the job to remind sales staff of well-established techniques as well as the latest discoveries about what makes customers seal the deal.
I recently met an IT engineer who told me he had just completed an “active shooter” module that taught him how to act and react in case somebody was pointing a loaded gun at him at work. The man is developing software for automotive and is based in a European capital, not in some war theater. Apparently the legal department thought this would cover insurance claims from the company in case somebody actually did show up armed and opened fire.
This convinced me of two things: we live in a crazy world and training is literally used as the go-to solution for all things that are going or could go wrong in the workplace.
The need for a training needs analysis (TNA)
The L&D department is situated in the ‘support’ zone of any company so naturally, when asked for a certain learning intervention, it responds positively.
Yet there are instances when situations can’t be fixed with training (honestly, if they are fearing gun threats, they should invest in security, not learning for that particular concern), instances where there are existing modules that can very well do the job and instances when something altogether new needs to be created.
In order to positively identify the most appropriate course of action, a training needs analysis has to be conducted.
This can take even more time and energy than the actual course design and deployment since there are many parties involved, lots of personnel to be interviewed and lots of factors to be taken into consideration.
However, there is a simple scheme to follow when training is requested as a solution. There are four steps to take before coming forth with either a training proposal or an alternative solution.
Get job performance information
This first step is all about identifying required performance levels and actual performance levels. L&D specialists need to look at the job descriptions and demands, create a comprehensive job inventory and conduct a job study. Once these are all in place, it is time to look at the actual situation by:
- Observing employees on the job
- Conducting interviews with employees, team leaders and quality-assurance coordinators
- Running surveys concerning the major themes of the requested learning intervention
- Testing employee levels of knowledge on those themes
- Reviewing recent performance appraisals.
This first step is definitely a lot of work as very much information tends to pile up, not all of it relevant for instructional designers. Still it is necessary in order to make the most informed decision about the path to be followed.
Conduct a performance analysis
Once it is clear what is expected, what is being delivered and what all concerned parties think on the subject, it’s time to take a good look at how it all influences KPIs and business goals.
This is the time do identify performance gaps and most important see what is causing them. Knowing the cause will help find a fix for it and see if training is the best solution or there is another course of action to be taken.
There was a car manufacturer who spent a lot of money on training on the job and time-management modules because its workers didn’t manage to assemble units in the desired amount of time. When all these either had very poor results or failed altogether, a proper analysis was conducted and it found that employees spent a lot of time going back and forth to get very small amounts of a special kind of adhesive they needed to put the parts together. By simply giving them small recipients that could be attached to their wrists an amazing amount of time was saved and they were easily meeting their targets.
Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
Any learning intervention is a resource consumer. From the time the instructional designers take to create the course to the actual deployment that means taking people away from their work, it all translates into costs for the business. That’s why these should be calculated right off the bat, as soon as it is decided that training is the best solution.
We all know that estimating the monetary results of learning is a rather tricky endeavor. Still, L&D professionals should try as best as they can to quantify the value of improved performance, give an estimate of ROI and identify the potential return-on expectation.
Furthermore, it is advisable to also look at what the costs of not going ahead with the training programs would be as well as what other non-training solutions might be available and more cost-effective.
It might be a tedious and not very creative step but still very important in the TNAs economy.
Make the decision
It’s always a great feeling to finish an important project so this part should prove a little more rewarding for L&D personnel. This is the time to wrap it all up and send it into the world (or, in most cases, into the inboxes of all those concerned). A good report should comprise the following:
- Recommendations for training or non-training solutions
- An appraisal of factors of organizational readiness
- A description of the change management plan
- A list of the measurement criteria
- An enumeration of the success factors
Since this report will go to people with the power to decide (and allocate funds) but who are also possessors of busy schedules, it’s advisable to keep it short, concise and convincing. They don’t need to know what Lucy from Accounting complained about in her interview or exactly how many people answered the surveys on the first day before their lunch break. If they need further information, they will surely ask for it.
All in all
Running a good training needs analysis when a learning intervention is required in one area of the organization is a must since it avoids the squandering of resources and ensures the most appropriate solution is identified and implemented.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.