How To Do a Training Needs Analysis

The training needs analysis is one of the most important steps of any training project. After all, delivering training won’t resolve a business problem or improve an organization’s bottom line if the training was never needed to begin with. There is a tendency for leaders to propose training to fix performance problems, but the catch is that training will only fix a business problem if the problem is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. If a business problem is caused by anything other than a lack of knowledge and skills, for example, if it’s caused by a problem with hardware or equipment, or if it’s caused by a lack of standards or defined processes, training will not resolve the issue. That’s why it’s critical to do an up-front needs analysis when training is requested to identify if there is a performance gap, what is the cause, and what is the appropriate solution. This way you can be sure the training you’re providing will actually resolve the problem at hand.

It’s important to note that there are a few specific situations when you do not need to do a training needs analysis. Those are:

  • when something is brand-new (if it’s new, employees definitely need to be trained on it)
  • when training is legally mandated (if it’s the law, employee’s definitely need to be trained on it)

Remember: the training needs analysis is not the part of the project where you identify the audience, the type of training, amount of hours, the learning objectives, etc. Doing those tasks assumes that the training is needed, and before you even get to the point of asking those questions you need to be able to answer this one: is this training even needed to begin with? Once you complete the following five-step training needs analysis process you’ll be able to confidently answer that question.

Step 1: Identify desired/expected performance

The first step in the training needs analysis process is to identify how employees are expected to perform the task that the training will cover. For example, if the requested training is for how to process sales calls, you want to know employees are expected to process sales calls. Or, if the requested training is to train employees on the company refund process, you want to know how employees are expected to handle refunds. There are a variety of ways you can collect information about desired performance: look at training guides and past training materials, review job-aids, business process docs and standard operating procedures, interview employees and managers to learn more about what they understand expected performance to be.

Step 2: Identify current/actual performance

Once you’ve identified the expected performance, you want to understand how employees are actually performing that very task. For example, if you are looking at the company refund process, you want to have a deep understanding of how employees are currently handling refunds. Or, if the training is on how to process a sales call, you want to know how employees are currently processing those sales calls. You want to see how the task is actually being done at this point in time. There are several ways you can do identify actual performance: review documents or performance records, observe employees doing the task, interview employees and managers to understand how they do the task.

Step 3: Identify if there is a performance gap

Once you have identified both the expected/desired performance and the current/actual performance, you can compare the two to identify if there is indeed a gap, or a difference, between the two.

Step 4: Identify the cause of the performance gap

Once you have identified that there is indeed a performance gap, it’s time to identify the cause of that gap. A performance gap could be caused by many factors. Remember: training provides employees with knowledge and skills. Training will only fix the performance gap if the cause is a lack of knowledge and skills. Learn more about performance factors and how to identify which one is responsible for a performance problem here: Performance Factors and Why They Matter in Training.

Step 5: Identify a solution

Once you understand the performance gap and it’s true cause, you can propose a solution to the problem. You will only be proposing training solutions if the problem is caused by lack of knowledge and skills. Depending on which factor is affecting performance, your recommendations for a solution will vary.

Learn more…

How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis (E-Learning). This is an interactive e-learning module I created in Articulate Rise 360 which walks learners through the training needs analysis process and a real-life scenario.

How to Conduct an Effective Training Needs Analysis (Article). This is an article I wrote on this same topic, which was published by Training Industry digital magazine.

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