Do You Really Need a Needs Assessment?

The goal of any training intervention is not merely to deliver a training class or eLearning module. The true goal is to give learners the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that they need to become more effective on the job. That usually means a change in behavior that results in enhanced performance.

The only way to truly ensure the delivery of training content that will bring about the desired changes in KSAs and behavior is to first do a needs assessment. The instructional designer(s) consider not only the goals of the organization, but also the nature of the target audience, as well as the logistics involved to deliver training. It is a well-established process, and doesn’t need to take all that much time.

Three Questions

There are three basic questions that must be addressed during any needs analysis. They are:

  1. What needs to be changed? This question looks at who needs training, the current skill levels of employees, and what kind of training content needs to be delivered. In short, what do we want to target with the training?
  2. What is the desired end state? This question examines what “ideal” job performance looks like. It identifies all the KSAs required to do a good job. It also identifies the gaps between current and desired job performance.
  3. How can we bring about the change? This final question determines the best way to deliver the KSAs to the target audience. It might be training, but it might also be some other job performance improvement measure, or both. You won’t know unless the needs assessment is performed.

Data Gathering

Data can be collected many different ways. The instructional designer might conduct focus groups or interviews. Alternatively, company records can be examined and analyzed. Surveys are another way to collect the needed information. Regardless of which process is used, the data gathered will need to be analyzed in order to write a plan of action.

Did it Work?

An important part of the needs assessment process is to go back and evaluate the results of the training (or other intervention) at the end, and compare it against the plan that was developed. Perhaps an important skill gap was overlooked, or not enough emphasis was placed on a given topic. Conducting an evaluation is an important final link that ensures continuous improvement, and the best value for your training budget.

Learner-Centered Instructional Methods

Learner-centered instruction is not new. The days where an all-knowing “sage on the stage” stands before a classroom delivering content to learners is long gone. Today, learners expect to be supported and actively engaged in exploring content, sometimes even determining which areas will be emphasized and which areas will be skipped over.

All that may sound good, but sometimes it leaves the instructor wondering what instructional methods are best suited for a learner-centered classroom. Below are a few of the most effective methods, along with a brief description on how they might be applied.

Debate

The format of a debate is the perfect framework for inspiring learners to research a topic, and then challenge each other to formulate their own opinions based upon the facts that they have discovered. Learners can work as individuals, or as a team to conduct the research and prepare their arguments. Debates also require learners to actively listen to other points of view, and learn to differentiate between subjective and objective data. They also help learners develop critical thinking skills, in addition to absorbing whatever content they may be researching.

Role Play

Learners can try out different approaches through role play, and find out for themselves what works the best. The scenarios can be created by the instructor, or even by the learners. The instructor is there to keep learners on point, and ensure that certain key objectives are covered. If learners are a bit shy about role playing, they can take on the part of critical observer, giving feedback to the other learners about how the scenario is run.

Index Cards

There are dozens of ways to creatively use index cards in learner-centered instruction. They can be used to brainstorm ideas, and then collected and shared with the entire class anonymously. They can be used to jot down questions that are then answered by other learners or the instructor. The cards can be used as an audience response system, using different colors or letters to respond to a question posed by the instructor. Learners can also create their own activities using index cards, setting up the guidelines together.

Small Group Discussion

Form a larger class into smaller groups, and have learners talk about a given topic. If they need additional information on particular points, have them go and do their own research. Have the small group select a spokesperson to report back their findings to the larger class, or have them create a presentation.

Many More Options

There are many more methods that can be used to engage learners. This has been only a small sampling. Also, learners can suggest instructional methods or do their own research on what is available.

Training Consulting Opportunities in Business

There are many opportunities for training consultants in business today. They play a vital role in helping organizations realize their training goals. But before you consider a position as a training consultant, you need to be familiar with what it takes to be successful in that position. Below are some attributes of a successful training consultant.

Have a Desire to Help People

Some might argue that you don’t need a strong desire to help people to be successful as a training consultant. That would be a mistake, since the person-to-person interface is a critical dynamic in that role. Unless you have a genuine interest in helping people, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped someone else improve, then this might not be the right job for you.

Know How to Make a Sale

Internal training consultants have a “captive audience” so to speak, but they still have to convince higher management of their value. For external training consultants, the need to be able to close the deal is far more obvious. Training consultants must be able to articulate their value proposition, and convince their clients that they have the right solution. This takes rock solid communication skills, as well as confidence in your own abilities.

Be Published

One of the best ways of building your reputation as a training consultant and increasing your opportunities is to publish. This includes articles, blog posts, case studies, book chapters, or even entire books. Having a portfolio to showcase your expertise and proficiencies is an invaluable marketing tool. Show potential clients that you are a thought leader in your field.

Have a Product Line

You need to be able to show prospective clients what you can do. One of the easiest ways to do that is by having detailed descriptions of your products and services. In order to be different from your competition (and you’ll have plenty of that), you’ll need concrete examples of what you can do for the client. You can always customize your product offerings at a later date.

Demonstrate Commitment

Some consultants think that they can start a training business as a “sideline” to something else. All this does is to dilute your efforts. To be successful as a training consultant, you will need to be fully committed to the process. This means staying with it regardless of a few failures or mistakes along the way. Opportunities are there for those who are willing to work hard, and not give up.

Essential Professional Management Training Topics

Managers aren’t like other types of employees who have very specific job duties, such as accountants or engineers. Managers need to have a much broader skill set that includes mastering five basic management functions: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Successful managers will receive professional management training in all of these areas. Let’s take a brief look at what each function involves.

Planning

Planning is probably the most essential management skill. It involves creating goals, and then setting out a plan of action to accomplish those goals. While some people believe that only top management is involved in the planning process, it actually occurs at all levels within an organization. To excel at planning, managers must also be good at problem solving and decision making.

Effective planning involves internal as well as external factors. Internal factors include things such as organizational structure, and the makeup of the workforce. External factors include management of resources, economic trends, technological changes, government regulations, political influences, and more. Staying on top of all of these factors takes extensive training and experience.

Organizing

After a plan is made, next the manager needs to break it into activities, and then allocate resources for the accomplishment of those activities. Resources include things like materials, personnel, and financial support. Managers also organize by prioritizing which resources are given to accomplish which goals, and when.

Staffing

Staffing is all about finding the right talent to serve in specific jobs, as well as making certain that enough staff is hired to meet the needs of the organization. Managers are also responsible for ensuring that talent is developed within the organization, as well as locating and hiring additional staff as needed. Managers get things done with and through the efforts of other people, so they need to be able to maintain the workforce with incentives and the proper motivation.

Directing

Directing the activities of others is probably the most commonly identifiable function of management. But just telling others what to do is not enough. Managers need to be trained on how to motivate people, and guide them with clear communication. Good managers are able to maintain the harmony of the workforce, while also accomplishing all necessary tasks.

Controlling

The fifth and final function of management is controlling operational systems and processes. This involves establishing performance standards, and holding the appropriate staff accountable for the accomplishment of business goals. Managers also solve problems that come up along the way, in order to get the desired business results.

Training Courses for Leadership Development

Effective leadership is vital to the success of every organization, from corporations, to small businesses, and even non-profit ventures. An effective leader can make all the difference in how well an organization performs, to say nothing of the firm’s reputation. Leaders inspire followers to do their best work, and empower them to achieve organizational and team goals.

Training Courses for Leadership Development

Natural Born Leader?

Some people come by leadership naturally. Most, however, need training and development to achieve their full potential. Training courses for leadership development can help a novice leader become a good leader, and move a good leader towards greatness. Training that includes the emotional, practical, as well as theoretical aspects of leadership can be invaluable.

What to Expect from Leadership Training

Effective leadership training courses can bring about significant changes in an organization. These changes range from increases in productivity to improvements in decision-making skills. Let’s take a look at some specific topics, and how leadership development training can produce undeniable results.

Improve Decision-Making

Leadership training can enhance decision-making skills. Good decisions balance emotional intelligence with reason and logic, while considering all the stakeholders in that decision. Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly, while others require time to gather additional information and support. The decision-making process can involve uncertainty, stress, and potentially unfavorable reactions from others. That is why decision-making is one of the most important skills that should be offered as part of leadership training.

Productivity

People work most productively when they feel their leadership understands them. Leadership training on emotional intelligence can be particularly effective in helping leaders and managers connect with their employees by using empathy to empower and engage them. Productive employees are highly engaged employees. Effective leaders know how to give praise when it is well-earned, as well as constructive feedback when it is warranted – skills that can be learned through effective leadership development training.

Employee Retention

Employees don’t leave a company, so much as they leave a poor boss. Effective leaders have higher levels of employee retention, which in turn reduces recruitment and training costs. It also makes the workplace much more enjoyable.

Developing Future Leaders

Smart organizations always have a “pipeline” of future managers and leaders, who are being groomed with the appropriate leadership development training. Starting with employees who possess the right qualities and desire to fill leadership roles, leadership training nurtures future leaders and supports succession planning. As a side benefit, this approach also increases employee retention, since employees can see a positive career pathway.

Training for HR Professionals

Human Resources (HR) professionals play a key role in the ongoing operations and accomplishments of any organization. As such, they need to keep their skills up to date with ongoing human resources training. One particularly important skill is how to perform an HR audit to identify risks and do preventative and corrective management of those risks. Litigation that results from unfair employment practices or other human resources missteps can be very costly, as well as time consuming. Conducting regular human resources audits can avoid this situation. Below are a few strategic areas that need to be reviewed on a regular basis.

Compensation Practices

The first area to review in an HR audit is a company’s compensation practices. All wages and salaries that are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Equal Pay Act of 1964 should be reviewed periodically to confirm compliance. Also, an audit of internal pay equity should be conducted, to ensure that similarly qualified employees are being compensated in a similar manner. A report of all employee positions sorted by position, tenure, salary, and EEO category will help to organize the information needed.

Record-Keeping

There are very specific federal and state laws concerning employee personnel files, and how long they must be retained. This includes information on:

  • Medical and insurance data
  • Payroll and compensation information
  • General employment records

All HR professionals need to keep current on the most recent policies and laws in this area, and make certain that their company is in compliance.

Performance Management

Human resources policies on your company’s performance management system need to be documented in writing, and distributed to all employees on their first day at work. Also, any updates need to be communicated promptly to all employees. This includes information on:

  • Job descriptions and specifications
  • Performance standards
  • Disciplinary and corrective action procedures
  • Employee feedback policies
  • Performance appraisals

All employees are entitled to see documentation that supports decisions concerning their employment. HR professions need to know how to work with managers to ensure that they keep a well-defined paper trail to justify every employment action taken. This includes both positive actions (e.g., promotions) as well as negative actions (e.g., disciplinary actions).

HR Training

With so much importance placed on documentation and record-keeping, and the possibility of changes to regulations, laws, policies, and procedures, it is important that HR professionals receive ongoing training in their field. There are numerous courses and certifications available for HR professionals, both online and in person, which makes keeping up to date very manageable.

Writing Good Test Questions

It’s important to make certain that your learners have grasped the knowledge, skills, and abilities being presented in your training program. The most direct way to accomplish this is with a quiz or test. Unfortunately, if the test is flawed, you might not get an accurate picture of how much (or how little) your learners have benefited from the training.

Using the Right Testing Method

If you want your learners to simply recall the information being presented in class, then a simple multiple choice or true/false exam may be sufficient. However, if you need your learners to go beyond mere recall, then you would be better served by a short-answer or essay exam. While multiple choice questions are easier to grade, they can’t truly assess how students think through a problem or use the appropriate language when responding to a question. Also, good multiple choice questions can be surprisingly difficult to write.

Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions

Here are a few quick tips on preparing multiple choice exam questions:

  • Use simple sentences, and precise wording. Don’t use words that weren’t covered in the training class.
  • Put most of the words in the stem of the question. Keep the alternatives (also known as distracters) short and to the point. Also, make sure that the “wrong” answer choices seem plausible. If the only answer that seems reasonable is the right answer, it isn’t much of a test.
  • Most students have learned that the right answer is frequently the longest or most qualified one. Avoid this trap by making all the alternatives about the same length.
  • Design questions that emphasize the most important points of the class. Resist the temptation to write test items that pull from obscure information (e.g., the description of a diagram, or a footnote).
  • Avoid double negatives. In fact, avoid negatives altogether if possible.
  • Put the correct answers in random positions. For example, don’t put all the correct answers in only the “a” and “b” positions.
  • Have a consistent number of answer options. Three possibilities is probably too few, and five options is difficult to write. The “sweet” spot seems to be four possible options.
  • Avoid using “all of the above” and “none of the above” in your test. While it may be tempting when you’re running out of plausible answer options, it can promote guessing and doesn’t let you know if the learner could actually identify the correct answer.

Testing the Test

The final step in test preparation is to have a colleague answer the test questions before you deliver them to your learners. Ask them if the questions were worded clearly, and if the level of difficulty was appropriate. Then you can use the test with greater confidence.

The Importance of Training Evaluation

Creating and delivering a training program without evaluating it would be like designing a new car and releasing it to market without finding out how it performs, or whether the drivers enjoy the ride. Training evaluation is fundamental to any training effort. It is, after all, the final “E” in the ADDIE model. With such importance, why then do some organizations spend so little time and effort on evaluation? Mainly expense, and perhaps also lack of expertise. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Learner Satisfaction

The simplest form of training evaluation is learner feedback. Sometimes called “smile sheets,” most programs end with a brief survey on learner satisfaction. While this is a great start, it should not be the only form of evaluation used in a training program. Also, there needs to be a planned effort to use the data from learner assessments as a means of improving future programs. This includes elements of design, as well as delivery. With so many online survey programs out there, there really is no excuse to skip this step.

Skills and Knowledge Gained

Also fundamental to training evaluation is some measurement of what was gained from attending the training program. This can be done simply with an assessment (i.e., quiz, performance test, etc.) at the end of the program. Of course, this evaluation could be meaningless without a baseline assessment to go with it. For example, if your learners already possess a certain skill before they attend the training class, claiming successful learning of that skill after the class would be worthless. So, if you plan to conduct this type of assessment, it is equally important to start with a pre-class measurement for comparison purposes.

Application in the Workplace

This level of evaluation is somewhat more difficult to pull off. To successfully measure the impact of your training back in the “real world,” you will need the assistance and cooperation of line supervisors and managers. If you’re serious about doing this, set this step up in advance. Sending out an email with the planned learning objectives and what knowledge, skills, and abilities are being addressed by training before the class takes place will allow local management an opportunity to observe employees in a meaningful way. Then it’s just a matter of collecting data from them a few months after the class is over.

Return on Expectations

By far the most difficult form of evaluation is determining in the impact of the training on the bottom line. It’s sometimes nearly impossible to quantify changes in behavior that resulted from training programs. For this reason, an alternative approach is to measure whether or not management feels the training met their expectations. This can be accomplished by an online survey. Although it doesn’t take much time, it can be an extremely powerful step in proving the worth of your training efforts.

Training and Development Companies

Training and Development Companies

Corporate Training is Big Business

Training and development is vital to any organization that wishes to remain competitive in today’s business climate. Training is an opportunity for employees to expand their knowledge base and sharpen their skills. The benefits are numerous, including:

  • Enhanced job performance
  • Increased confidence
  • Boosted employee morale
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Strengthened skills
  • Increased consistency and adherence to procedures
  • Encouraged creativity and innovation
  • Improved company reputation

With all of these benefits, it’s difficult to understand why a company would not invest in training and development. Sometimes it’s just a matter of internal resource availability, which is why corporations can spend as much as 40% of their training budget on external resources. This includes external programs, course development, and tuition reimbursements. This drives the search for an external training and development company to supplement (or even take the place of) an internal training and development staff.

Outside Organizations

Professional training and development companies can provide the resources to development high quality training materials. Using outside contractors provides for flexibility in staffing, allowing internal learning and development departments the ability to acquire only the services that they need, without hiring permanent employees. Training can be “off-the-shelf” or customized to a particular organization’s needs. There is a great deal of variety when using these types of resources.

Selecting the Right Training and Development Company

When selecting the right training and development company for your project, there are a few things to consider. These include:

  • Experience. With an outside training specialist, they should be able to work with your subject matter experts to develop training materials. The emphasis is always on what employees “need” to know, as opposed what is “nice” to know. An experienced training professional knows the difference, and will work to develop clear, concise training that doesn’t waste the employee’s time.
  • Reputation. Look for a training and development company that has an excellent reputation in the training industry. Ask around. Read trade publications. Visit their website, and read their blog if they have one.
  • People. Look at the people running the company. Ask for resumes and references.
  • Cost. In practical application, cost will always play a role in the selection of a training and development practitioner. Don’t let that be the driving force, however. Buying “on the cheap” is one sure fire way to sabotage your project. A well designed training course will pay for itself in the long run.

Take a look at all of these factors when making your selection. Don’t rush into a decision based only on advertising or marketing materials. It’s much too important a decision to rely only on that information.

 

Training and Development Consulting Firms

Consulting Firms

Training and development consulting firms provide a valuable resource for businesses that either do not have an in-house training department, or need additional resources from time to time. These firms deliver training either onsite or online, and can offer both general skill development as well as industry-specific training. Typically these consulting firms work with the human resources department of the business, or with general management. Usually their overall objectives are to improve employee knowledge, increase productivity through skill development, or comply with legally mandated training requirements (e.g., sexual harassment training).

Why Use a Consultant?

Training and development consultants can offer temporary expertise, rather than hiring staff that may or may not be needed full-time. Choosing to use an experienced consultant accelerates the timeline of any training initiative. Also, the company hiring a consultant only pays for the services needed, when they are needed. Finally, when the need for the consultant’s services is satisfied, the relationship can easily be terminated or put on hold.

Access to Specialized Skills

One of the most common reasons for a company to hire a training and development consultant is that they wish to gain access to a specialized skill that they may not possess in-house. Companies may not have enough work to keep an internal employee busy, but consultants can provide that skill set on demand. All in all, consultants can fill the gap in a cost effective way.

Choosing a Training Consultant

All potential training consultants must have the relevant education, experience, and breadth and depth of knowledge. In addition, they should have the following qualities:

  • Adaptability: Training consultants need to blend in almost immediately with your existing staff. Forward-thinking consultants do advance research, so that they are familiar with the corporate culture, mission, vision, and goals of the organization before they begin their project.
  • Organization: Effective training consultants do extensive project planning, and always do their best to meet your time, quality, and cost constraints.
  • Expertise: Organizations hire external consultants because they need someone who can hit the ground running. This means someone who has kept current with industry best practices, and can implement the right intervention from a wide range of available learning strategies.

Value Added

Training and development consultants bring experience from a variety of companies and industries, and stay current on the most recent developments and innovations in their field. They can provide an objective viewpoint that employees within the organization may lack. Outside consultants may not have industry specific knowledge, but this is offset by a more diverse range of ideas that they bring to the table. The flexibility of using an outside consultant is usually a cost-effective option for small, growing businesses.