How to Conduct an Optimal Training Needs Analysis

training needs analysis guide

Think about it. In almost any situation, analyzing where you are, where you want to be, and how you plan to bridge that gap is a good thing. For example, if your short cut to avoid heavy traffic leaves you on a back road no GPS recognizes, then taking stock of the situation helps more than continuing to wander aimlessly, doesn’t it? Similarly, if your ROI dips two quarters in a row, you’d take the time to analyze what’s going on, wouldn’t you? 

With training requests flooding in from all arms of the business and alignment with strategic organizational objectives top of mind for L&D, a thorough training needs analysis process enables you and your team to prioritize learning interventions and skills development with the highest business impact.

Any training needs analysis allows you to identify and address existing skill gaps, so you can establish new training initiatives that fill the gaps. An optimized training needs analysis ensures that those new training initiatives are fully aligned with corporate objectives and business success.

What is a training needs analysis?

Stated simply, a training needs analysis is the process a company takes to determine who needs what training when so that any training gaps are filled and everyone can do their jobs effectively. Several factors are key considerations when it comes to a training needs analysis: 

  • Process: Training needs analysis  is a “process” that, when working effectively, can be used to assess the needs of the entire organization at a moment in time. 
  • Who: Training needs assessment evaluates training needs of the whole company, not just new hires who need to understand corporate culture as well as their role in the company. But, what about seasoned employees whose jobs are changing due to new technology or others who have changed positions? How are they brought up to speed? 
  • What: Because training needs analysis considers the whole range of training, it plays a crucial part in helping team members to complete their jobs as effectively as possible, as well as progress and grow.
  • When: When could (or should) you perform a training needs analysis? The answer depends largely upon which variation of training needs analysis best fits the situation. Does your organization need a large-scale analysis of the entire organization? Are you, instead, interested in analyzing the training needs of a business function or team whose performance is lagging? Or, are you analyzing the individual training requests received from people and functions throughout the company? The type of analysis needed affects the timing of that analysis. 
  • Why: Obviously, training is expensive, both in terms of personnel hours and money. Why make the effort if you have no system in place to ensure that learning interventions align squarely with the company’s actual training needs? A needs analysis ensures that training programs are 1) aligned with corporate goals and 2) accomplishing those goals.

How to conduct a training needs analysis

Read several articles about how to conduct a training needs analysis  and you’ll quickly discover an array of opinions about the best techniques and tools. Some people recommend the use of training needs assessment models that span the entire organization and explain the process in minute detail. Some of the models look intimidating, but they do provide a clear framework that helps you to implement the process. 

Others suggest a training needs analysis template as a useful tool to help you visualize the process. Templates also provide the opportunity for your training team to record the progress of their analysis. 

Still others present their approach to training needs assessment in 3 or 4 simple steps written in straightforward language. 

What’s the takeaway here? Just this: “Good,” effective training needs analysis can look vastly different from one company to the next. There isn’t a “one size fits all” model or a “cookie cutter” approach that works for all companies. Your goal should be to use the approach that best meets the needs of your organization while working within the guidelines of some proven best practices.

Even though the experts disagree over techniques and tools, they generally agree that a top-notch training needs assessment requires you to ask the right questions and follow through until you know the answers. Regardless of the exact approach you choose, or the tools you use, you’ll benefit by arming yourself with some crucial  training needs analysis questions to ask. Find the answers to these questions, and you’re on the way to understanding your training needs:

What are your company’s goals for this learning needs analysis? 

Are you focused primarily on short-term learning and development goals? Are you evaluating one department or the entire company? Has a thorny issue in one process prompted you to perform the analysis? What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish?

Your answer to these questions will determine which of the types of training needs analysis best suits your situation. Four common types include:

  • Organizational Analysis: This is a company-wide analysis of training needs. Analysis at this level is guided by your company’s history as well as its goals and strategies.
  • Task analysis: This type of training needs analysis hones in on the specific tasks your employees perform. The objective of task analysis–or work analysis–is to clarify the duties of a particular role. Beyond that, task analysis attempts to verify that any training your workers receive relates to their jobs and enhances their skills. 
  • Person analysis: Person analysis focuses on the employees. Do they know how to perform all their required tasks with proficiency? Have they mastered the skills they need? If not, do they need to be upskilled? What level of knowledge or skill proficiency do they currently have, and where do they need to be?  
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis: You may mentally link cost/benefit analysis to more objective activities like accounting or finance, but ROI and cost/benefit analysis have been integral to L&D activities for some time now. You can evaluate your training effectiveness by calculating the ROI that it contributes to your company. This approach helps you determine that your training ROI is a positive number—the training’s value to the learner (and, therefore, the business) is greater than the cost required to deliver it. Naturally, this also plays a key role in helping you decide which training initiatives to retain and which to scrap.

How does a training needs analysis help employees meet those goals effectively? 

The heart of a training needs assessment is discovering where employees are in terms of knowledge and skills. The next step is to use those discoveries as a foundation for training initiatives that help employees meet company goals. 

L&D teams are tasked with developing training courses and learning paths that move employees from where they currently are to where they–and their managers–would like them to be. Discovering needs is a critical  first step, but it is only the first step. Helping employees make progress is the driving force.  

What competencies would each employee need in order to achieve peak efficiency? Which of these competencies lend themselves to typical training situations?  Are there any difficulties that could be solved better by providing updated tools or equipment rather than a training program? Without the answers to these questions, you won’t be able to determine the extent of any gap between optimal performance and actual performance.

Where gaps between optimal performance and actual performance exist, what is causing the gaps? 

L&D teams use a variety of means to help them determine the cause of performance gaps. Interviewing employees and managers, observing how the critical tasks are being completed and analyzing pertinent documents all provide insights that help L&D plan their next steps. 

As part of the planning process, L&D will answer critical questions related to performance. What could be motivating employees to perform the way they are? Are they poorly trained? Do they lack tools or equipment that would help them work more efficiently? Do they feel unimportant or undervalued?  Would they benefit from upskilling or reskilling?

The answers are critical. They help L&D develop courses with the right level of complexity. They instruct L&D about an optimal format and the key aspects of content so that the course addresses the root performance problem. 

This step is particularly crucial when it comes to needs assessment for individual training requests. L&D have limited resources available, and getting answers to these questions also helps when saying no to training requests that would not benefit the employees, their manager, or the business.

What actions offer the best solution to this problem? 

Once you’ve identified gaps, highlighted problem areas, and gathered information to help you understand the situation, you can formulate solutions. You may advocate a specific training program. You might suggest updated or better-quality equipment. The best solution may include additional training in combination with updated equipment, supplies or workspace.

The big takeaway here is that a training needs analysis helps you link any training initiative to a distinct outcome that benefits your business. Your training is purposeful rather than perfunctory.

Consider this training needs analysis example.

Your state just made significant changes to the standard contract for buying or selling residential real estate. Because of the breadth of the changes, the broker-in-charge over your office–which includes more than 100 agents–provided mandatory training before the contract’s effective date.  

Several weeks have passed since the new contract became effective and the manager of a large team of agents within the brokerage is perplexed. 

Despite the mandatory training, the team has made significantly more errors on the new contract than they did with the old one. As a result, administrative staff members are spending twice the number of hours reviewing contracts and are returning significant numbers of them to the team members for correction.   

The manager is surprised that:

  • The errors don’t seem to focus on one section of the contract.
  • Experienced agents are just as apt to submit incorrect contracts as new agents are. 

The manager submits a training request to your L&D team. To understand the problem more thoroughly, you undertake task analysis focused on the task of writing the new contract. Although the manager doesn’t expect perfection, the goal is to achieve a correct-contract rate of at least 92%–the rate the team averaged with the previous contract.  L&D collaborates with the manager throughout the process to understand if training is the most suitable solution to the issue. 

To gather information L&D could access actual contracts, interview agents who have used the revised contract, and verify the difficulties with administrative staff members who have carried the extra load. L&D could also access dozens of completed contracts very quickly. Then, after carefully analyzing all the data, you’ll be in a position to make a data-driven decision on whether training is the correct solution and, if so, what type of training and support would best address the underlying issue. 

Benefits of a thorough training needs analysis process

As the example above indicates, a thorough training needs assessment is a process that requires a commitment of time and energy. However, significant benefits accrue to companies that incorporate comprehensive training need analysis before creating a new learning intervention. Companies that make the effort, indicate that a thorough needs analysis: 

  • Provides an integrated planning framework. Training is planned rather than piecemeal. It’s budgeted and expected. 
  • Links learning interventions to company goals. Training becomes an integral part of your company’s goals and objectives, rather than a band-aid applied to fix a problem. Training instructors are viewed as valuable assets and training becomes part of the corporate culture.
  • Avoids redundancy and flags ineffective training. Since you have greater oversight on the learning needs of the business, you don’t duplicate training projects or learning content. You save time and money by not funding repetitive or ineffectual training. 
  • Identifies and helps eliminate gaps in knowledge and technical skills. Needs analysis that identifies knowledge or skill gaps provides a foundation for training that fills the gaps. Workers accomplish their tasks more competently and efficiently. 

Difficulties of implementing a training needs analysis

We’ve already mentioned two “elephant in the room” hurdles–time and money. Effective analysis of training needs requires significant doses of both. What other difficulties could you expect? 

  • Lack of cooperation and/or enthusiasm. This attitude may be displayed by management or employees. Often, it’s rooted in factors like poor experiences with previous training, a perception that training is somehow disciplinary, or the belief that training won’t solve the problem. L&D teams who conscientiously build strong relationships with team managers across all business functions find that managers and employees are more receptive to their training initiatives. A collaborative spirit from L&D also helps reduce their reluctance.
  • Not having access to (or ignoring) feedback from previous training. This issue may stem from a change of personnel and/or a haphazard approach to sharing information. It’s more likely, though, that feedback isn’t available because the impact of the training was not measured accurately. The bigger challenge, then, is to implement a system that accurately and consistently records the impact of each training initiative. Regardless of what causes the lack of available feedback, not having it means you’re missing really valuable information.  
  • Inability to access an individual’s training needs during the initial intake process. By the time new hires work their way through the initial onslaught of paperwork, they and their supervisors are anxious to actually start working. The golden opportunity to assess knowledge and technical skills is lost–and it’s a sizable loss. 

What if you could easily incorporate training needs analysis into your intake process? 

Cognota’s learning operations platform enables this and more. With Cognota you can implement an efficient needs analysis process that starts at intake and ensures you and your business partners are on the same page right from the beginning. 

Cognota also provides L&D teams with the ability to centralize the L&D team’s strategic planning, day-to-day tasks, resource management, and team capacity—all while generating invaluable insights that prove the impact of your training team’s efforts. Interested in seeing Cognota for yourself? Start for free or speak with sales to learn more.

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How to Conduct an Optimal Training Needs Analysis