As humans, we have an inherent tendency to train anyone who is willing to get trained. Take an example of a parent, trying to impart some adulthood knowledge to a three-year old about the advantages of enrolling in a preschool. Things like, “you’ll learn to spell new words with all those letters that you’ll learn” to “you’ll be able to play with new friends” are some popular trick sentences that we employ to get the kids excited about wanting to attend a preschool. However, there are a couple of fundamental questions that we’d want to ask – why should the kids attend the preschool, is it going to help them deal with their current situation better, or will it cause any behavioral change in them? Ideally, the answer should be an emphatic “yes” to all these three questions, right?
Now, using the concept of assimilation, replace the kids with employees or learners, the preschool with the new training program at their organization, and the parent/adult with a training manager. While we’ve changed the setting, the three fundamental questions still remain relevant – why should the employees enroll in the training, is it going to help them deal with their current situation better, or will it cause any behavioral change in them? These questions don’t have a simple answer, but can be used to start with the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) for an organization.
An effective training should be an enabler for employees to successively assimilate new knowledge, gain newer skills, and integrate the knowledge and skills in their current situation to perform future jobs better. There are a couple of ways in which we can try to ensure that the TNA provides maximum benefits for the employees. Coming back to my previous analogy of trying to send kids to preschool and then ensuring that they are learning something, our main focus is always on the child and not the preschool, right? We want the preschool to be the best “fit” for the learning capabilities of the child – maybe a self-motivated kid is better suited for a Montessori school and another kid who requires some structured surroundings to excel would do better in a teacher-led classroom. When you want your employees to become more effective in their daily jobs, why wouldn’t you want to focus on discovering where they are now and how you can help them rather than focusing on the training? Because ultimately, we want the training to be enabled to help them improve and become better.
You can leverage TNA to determine if a training exists for employees and what is required to fill the gap that exists in the “desired” learner behavior and “current” learner behavior. You also need to assess how, where, and why the training gap exists. The new and enhanced training should ideally eliminate this gap by providing targeted knowledge and focused skills to enhance learner confidence and capabilities. Please note that I have used employee and learner interchangeably.
Here are the steps that you can use to perform your needs analysis.
- Collecting data to build a learner profile
- Determine learner and organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and performance gaps
- Analyzing existing training materials
- Proposing solutions
Collecting Data for Building Learner Profiles
This initial phase involves developing an accurate learner profile to determine the skills and knowledge required for their specific roles and responsibilities. This will help you capture the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. Important information to capture includes the demographics of your learners, such as education, experience, and literacy level. You can use the following to gather data for the preliminary needs analysis:
- Use target surveys or questionnaires to gather information about how comfortable the learners are with their current skill and knowledge levels
- Conduct interviews to assess where and why the learners are coming from and any areas the learners can identify where the training could have done better
- Make observations about the environment and implications of the trainings being conducted and about the current learning situation as a whole
- Organize focus groups to understand your learner capabilities
- Organize workshops with the targeted audiences to assess their “pain points” and what all they would want this new training to include
The gap between the current level and desired level is a good indicator of where the problems are and what needs to be translated into a training need. You can store this data by using an application such as Excel or using a database, which can be easily queried to generate reports and information.
Another important factor to consider is meeting the compliance regulations. Organizations must meet compliance regulations, such as legislative requirements, licenses, and codes of conduct. While you are conducting your surveys or interviews, ensure that you have included specific questions or scenarios pertaining to these requirements in your question banks or surveys, or any mode that you are using to communicate with the targeted learners.
Determine Performance Gaps
McGehee and Thayer (1961) created a three-fold approach to analyze training needs to determine the performance gaps. Also called the O-T-P model, this approach categorized the training needs into one of these three levels: Organizational level (O), Operational or Task analysis (T) level, and Individual (Personal(P)) level. From each of these three levels, you can come up with specific dimensions that are pertinent to your organizational needs.
The organizational-level analysis helps to identify the learner expected competency level after the completion of this training – based on the newly assimilated knowledge, technology, and competence skills. This analysis focuses on the strategies that an organization can use to achieve these goals.
You can do the following in this phase:
- Analyze the organization’s structure
- Identify the organization’s goals and objectives (short- and long-term goals)
- Identify any future plans they have in the works and the skills that are relevant to this current training
- Analyze the organization’s culture and employee attitudes
The task-level analysis helps to identify the gaps or discrepancies in the learner’s current skill level and the required skill level to effectively carry out the future job and is generally measured in terms of performance achievement indicator.
In this phase, you may need to review the job description to identify which activities are needed to successfully execute the job and the Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habits (KASH) that are needed to perform the job. Note that the task analysis is a far more detailed process than a job analysis. If there is a performance gap that is a result of the learner’s lack of capability to perform that job, the proposed training should be able to ensure that the performance gap is filled.
Individual-level analysis aims at analyzing the person/employee/learner. This analysis aims at determining which employees need this training and which don’t. This level aims at preventing organizations from grouping all the employees in one bucket and then coping with the consequences later on. After the organization determines the correct set of employees to target, they can focus on how to provide the required trainings and ensure the person/employee/learner performance levels match the required performance standards and requirements.
Analyzing Existing Training Materials
This phase does the heavy lifting. Now is the time to dive deeper into the existing web of materials that the organization has. Using the learner profile matrix, you can analyze and map your current training to identify the gaps in the training courseware.
You need to understand that there must be some gaps in the current training materials because of which the learners are unable to perform their jobs efficiently. Most of the times, it’s not only the case of not having enough training materials but rather their alignment with the needs of the learners.
The main question to ask is “What works and what doesn’t?” in terms of instructionally sound, engaging, and consistent content. In this phase, you need to “see” the gap. You can do this by asking some simple questions like:
- What is the purpose of the training?
- What are the current gaps in the training that you need to fill – content-wise?
- What are the enabling objectives and what are the terminal objectives? Remember, each enabling objective will map to a particular topic and a couple of enabling objectives (topics) will create terminal objectives (modules or chapters) – Does the current material have any enabling/terminal objectives that you can leverage?
- Who is the SME for the content and how engaged will the SME be in this process?
- Who are the stakeholders involved in the project? Who is the best person to contact for escalations and sign-offs?
- What level of training are we looking at – L1, L2, L3 as this will impact the type of training to be built. As a best practice, always let the stakeholders know what you can do and what you cannot do.
- What are the tentative number of hours allocated and what timelines are you looking at?
- Who will be the point of contact for questions about this training?
- What are the completion criteria?
- Are there any training assessments? Do they need to be graded or not? Or any other requirements?
- Is certification required? If yes, what are the details? (Regulatory Body, Name of Certification)
- Does it need to be tracked in the LMS? (certification, assessment, training complete)
By the time you reach this phase, you need to provide a training solution to the organization – and some tangible steps you intend to take to fill the “performance gap” that you’ve identified in the early phases. You can create a detailed report that lists your recommendations and proposed solution for developing an instructionally sound customizable course. Now, you should be able to:
- Finalize the level of learning
- Outline the content
- Agree on the timelines and the delivery schedule
- Agree on the level of interactivity to be included in the course
- List the stakeholders and SME for the course, along with their emails and/or phones
- Identify the authoring tool to be used (in-house or off-the-shelf product)
Developing a course for learners is a very exhaustive yet rewarding process. Done right, you can create a training program that the learners enjoy, enhances their on-the-job skills and improves their behaviors, thus impacting their attitudes and jobs positively.