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How to Simplify Training Needs Analysis

Posted by Alan Magnan on 12/16/13 3:00 AM
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The first training needs analysis I ever conducted didn’t turn out very well. Our training department had no pending requests, so we decided to add something new and useful to our list of offerings. We prepared a training needs survey for everyone in the organization. The top response was a need for a course on MS Excel. But the course we created didn’t get the turnout we thought it would, and the people who did attend the course often said, “I already know how to input formulas. I thought you were going to cover things like macros and templates.”

 

We had asked people to self-diagnose their own training needs. That’s like a doctor showing you a list of possible prescriptions and asking which would help address your chronic back pain. The trick is to focus in on specific areas of work and identify existing gaps with concrete detail. Here are three questions you can ask that will accomplish just that.

Which job tasks seem to be an area of concern?

This question allows you to focus on tangible parts of people’s jobs. A task is a complete, repeatable process that results in a product or service that has value. By focusing on tasks, you can avoid vague, amorphous topics like “MS Excel” or “Documentation.” Instead you can get specific, actionable processes like “format spreadsheets” or “input formulas.”

How should each task be performed?

This allows you to determine expected performance. The more specific this is, the easier it becomes to identify gaps in performance. The standards that apply can be expressed as time, quantity, quality, cost, safety, or accuracy. Many standards may apply to one task. For example, making a soft-boiled egg definitely has a time standard, but it also has a safety standard.

How is each task actually being performed?

This question allows you to actually quantify real performance gaps. You shouldn’t have to rely on people’s anecdotal evidence, or their “gut feeling.” Identifying actual numbers that relate to the expected performance can help you find the gaps that really matter in the organization.

There’s more to training needs analysis than these three questions. But starting here allows you to base your findings on real data about real work. Too many needs analyses end up being very fuzzy and abstract. One outcome is certain—when your needs analysis is vague and fuzzy, the results of your training will also be vague and fuzzy.

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Alan has been a course leader with Langevin since 1996. He studied business administration at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Alan’s philosophy on training is that it can be fun, engaging, and active, but that’s just what’s on the surface. Training must also be practical, realistic, and applicable. Alan is a computer geek at heart and enjoys programming and gaming in his spare time. He’s also a great fan of the outdoors during the summer months, and when the winter moves in, you’ll find him reading, or recording and playing music.

Topics: tips-for-trainers, instructional design

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