As mentioned in previous posts, I am, by trade, a trainer. Many of those years have been in the realm of public safety and emergency management, but I’ve had the opportunity to apply my trade to a few other areas as well. Quite possibly the most important things I’ve learned, both by training as well as experience, is the necessity of a needs assessment. A needs assessment, as defined by The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning & Performance is “a systematic study or survey of an organization for the purpose of making recommendations, and is often employed … to get to the cause of a performance problem.” This definition is on page three of the book, by the way. It’s that important.
In training and other professions we do needs assessments all the time; some formal, many informal. So informal, in fact, that oftentimes we don’t realize we’re doing them. I’m big on common sense and in trusting professionals, but I think this oft lackadaisical approach leads to incomplete and sometimes shoddy results – not where we want to be as professionals.
In the instance of doing a training needs assessment of an organization, one needs to be certain to assess both internally and externally. One internal focus, obviously is the employees themselves. First, we look at the tasks – what do they do, how do they do it, and how well do they actually do it (aka actual outcome). We compare this to expectations the performance expectations (which, ideally, are documented). The gap between actual outcome and expected outcome is, usually, a training need. These would translate to what I call Tier I training needs – those necessary to do business.
To digress a bit, here’s where a trainer often times becomes an organizational development consultant. Likely, the processes a company performs haven’t been looked at in years, with layers of policy and procedure added every time a problem was identified. The trainer, upon examination, may find that the process itself is faulty or outdated, which wouldn’t be a performance deficiency of the employees. These types of findings should be noted to management immediately.
Still looking internally, the trainer also needs to look at the wants and desires, in terms of training, of both management and the employees. Management may have training they want applied to all employees (by the way, this is worth analyzing, as often times something like this is ‘a good idea’ vs something identified by way of a needs assessment’) and the employees themselves (or their union) may want to incorporate training to allow for development, career paths, etc. These are all certainly viable candidates for Tier II training needs – those that aid the organization.
A good needs assessment must also look externally as well. The Tier I external factor would be safety and regulatory requirements – i.e. the legal things that must be done, such as OSHA training. External Tier II factors would be non-required industry standards. These are things usually obtained by way of certifications, conferences, etc. While they aren’t necessary, they can help the company’s resume and aid in keeping the company near the head of their industry. So often do we see these as some of the only trainings that employees receive, which is very frustrating. These are typically rather expensive (especially when you factor in lost productivity and travel), are not focused (at least on the needs of the employer), and the ‘training’ received is usually not shared at all with the employer.
Needs assessments are certainly applied in other areas. In emergency planning we do things like a hazard analysis, a vulnerability assessement and a capabilities assessment to determine preparedness needs. In emergency response we do a situational assessment to determine what is needed to resolve the incident – often times over and over again, as these needs change as the scope of the incident changes. In disaster recovery we analyze the needs of victims and survivors so we can provide the best services to them. Needs assessments are vital to many professions and fields of practice. It seems we’ve lost the quality of services that managers and customers expect. I feel that much of this is related to people being lazy, not taking pride in what they do, and taking short cuts in their work. If you short cut a needs assessment, you cut short your potential. Do it right and start off your whole process with the right information to do the job right.