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.