A strong needs assessment is crucial to understand business objectives and to ascertain learning needs. It’s also paramount to understanding where gaps exist in your organization and informing you of what needs to change to close these learning gaps to meet the organizational goals.
Let’s imagine for a moment that there is a need for a training program at your company or the very least, a new product is being implemented or even there is a need for continuing competency training ( to develop an existing skill). What is your move forward, what do you do?
One example would be to wing it, to have an idea of what employees want, and to start the design process pretty immediately. This is a very spontaneous method of training and although we probably have a lot of valuable information to inform us of what the training program should look like, we all know that training and L&D is not a quick, imminent process so we have to take time to craft it carefully.
The other element we need to keep in mind is ROI or return on investment. If we ask any executive, they will generally ask about how the money spent on a training program will result in improved performance and this needs to be factored into how we structure the training.
This is where the needs-based assessment comes into play and will allow you to understand the full spectrum of needs to give the best payback to your company and keep your leadership team(s) happy
Focusing on business needs
How do you start a needs assessment?
Qualitative vs Quantitative data
A training needs-based assessment is really about collecting different forms of data to quantify needs and gaps in knowledge and skills. There generally are 2 types of data you can collect, which we discuss below:
Let's talk about ROI again
(ROI) or return on investment is an important metric and quite honestly deserves its section of this blog post.
Let’s get one thing clear though, not every organization puts ROI as an important metric but probably should.
ROI allows you to judge the cost variable of a learning program, vs the outcome of increased performance or skill progression of employees.
Basing your training program on hard, measurable skill gaps generally results in more complete and accurate training for staff that actively converts into increased skills and meeting learning objectives which is the main result we are seeking.
If this is your first needs assessment then all this data will be new and you won’t have a reference point to compare, but if you have already completed a similar needs-based assessment then you have clear data to compare, and to judge if the skills gaps have closed over some time, are they roughly the same or the worst result, has the gap(s) widened.
When you can acquire this level and complexity of data, it shines through to executives who can look at this and understand what you are trying to achieve, can see it is tied to the organizational goals, where they will see their return on investment and in essence at the end of the day, justifies the need for a training budget or increased learning and development resources.
If you would like more information on return on investment you should visit the ROI institute who runs a range of webinars, coaching and have a wealth of information about how to calculate ROI effectively.
Make employees feel as though you hear them.
When employees tell you their work woes and frustrations, sometimes it may feel to them that they are not being heard and by extension, the level of staff engagement will drop, this will result in a net negative outcome for you as an L&D professional.
So, what do we do about it?
A multi-step process
What resources are available?
Having studied copious amounts on the subject myself, I can recommend resources to help with understanding the specifics of needs assessment, and to understand how to formulate one from scratch.
There is a lot of research and statistics on what is required in a good needs assessment but understanding this research and being able to carry it out are very different. The books below can be a great resource to build assessments for your training program.
Here are the recommended books on needs-based assessment:
How to conduct a needs-based assessment
Make sure you set strong learning objectives
Check out this video for tips
Understand what the current and desired ability is
Evaluate data to produce a pathway to learning
Design and conduct training
What about the evaluation?
If you have a designated training or learning objective to meet, and as an L&D professional it is your job to design and deliver this content, a needs assessment is an important part of the process.
With this being conducted at the very beginning before even starting the design, you will save yourself time, money, and angst and should achieve the best return on investment as well as closing the skills gaps of your company staff and increasing competence.
Feel free to experiment as there is no hard and fast rule of how to do it but use this post as a blueprint for what is necessary and go from there.
Make sure to assess first which should put you in good stead to develop a strong, valuable training program.