Needs Assessment: Don’t Blow It, Motivate It!

We never think much about our car battery until we turn the key and the car doesn’t start. It’s the same with training needs assessment.

Let’s get at the concept of what the training needs assessment is, who it’s for, why do it, and make it work.

Companies and organizations want to take advantage of anticipated better times ahead. It’s good that there is an immediate call for the company or organizational needs assessments, probably because the economy is showing signs of recovery–depending on who you ask. But it may not be time for your typical needs assessment.

So, perhaps this is also time for another treatment on the subject. Now, I’m assuming this hubbub is all due to the weakened economy and the need for employers not have workers with jobs working at peak performance.

I think we have to take a fairly basic look at needs assessments in how we present the information, and fill in the details later. The purpose of this blog is to get at the concept of what is it, who it’s for, why do it, and making it work. Four things, which can be blown out of proportion so easily because the “need” is so great.

A training needs assessment, according to the authors of the linked document, Janice A. Miller, SPHR and Diana M. Osinski, SPHR, in order for initiatives to “be effective and efficient, all training programs must start with a needs assessment.” So, it’s an important first step.

“Long before any actual training occurs, the training manager must determine the who, what, when, where, why and how of training. To do this, the training manager must analyze as much information as possible about the following:

• Organization and its goals and objectives.
• Jobs and related tasks that need to be learned.
• Competencies and skills that are need to perform the job.
• Individuals who are to be trained.”

Company performance–right down to individual worker performance–is critical now for survival.

As the economy begins to brighten–an it seems to be–companies are once again thinking it is time to bring everyone to peak performance levels. The “what” is the needs assessment, of course. What we really need. Optimism. Motivation.

Here’s where we don’t blow it. The “who it’s for” is the company, but the workers take the training. They rate and evaluate their own performance so the company can train them to be more proficient at their jobs. What if the employees feels this is an effort to seek out the dead weight in the company on a day they aren’t feeling terribly productive, and so today they are feeling vulnerable.

Your people have been with you through the lean times. Let’s assume the training needs assessment is an effort to see where we stand and what we need to move forward. Naturally we want to improve productivity. I’m sure you are aware that the workers have been doing this for some time, filled with worry and concerns that many will not share with you. Then, you send them the Training Needs Assessment forms, which look suspiciously like “we need to see if everyone is doing their jobs, and if not, train others to do them better.”

At this particular moment in time, a stressful moment for the employees, optimism is not a part of the picture unless you present it that way. There has to be a preamble to reassure employees that jobs are secure, and in fact this may be part of hiring initiative. It should also emphasize why the company has picked this time to do a needs assessment, made workers take it, and quite simply tell them what’s in it for them. There doesn’t even have to be a direct connection to the training. By telling workers simultaneously that because things are getting better that we can all benefit from the needs assessment, it may be enough to satisfy them.

Better yet. Offer positive credit for training by adding it to their personnel portfolio, encourage supervisors to endorse the training fully, and otherwise make workers feel that when they do the training they do not have to worry about their current job as well. Unless they are sufficiently pumped for the training ahead and feel optimistic about the company’s as well as their own personal future, they aren’t likely to respond positively to the needs assessment. The pages will be grumbled about and set aside until the last minute as the employees scramble to save their jobs.

A total miscommunication is possible–and yet the company has said the right thing. Good communication doesn’t operate in a void. There are barriers to effective communication and one of those is the situation or environment in which the communication takes place. Another barrier is the mindset of the listener, so the sender (the company or organization) has to take into account the psychological framing of the listener.

We know what a needs assessment contains. We need to ask a lot of questions about what the company needs to do its job better as well as the employees. The formalized needs assessment, given by the thorough training folks (who may also be disconnected from the workers by position) should be prepared for in such a way as to take the “new” situation into account. We are big on saying no situation is alike, and yet sometimes, we treat the situations as exactly alike. If it’s not broke… The needs assessment system is not broke, but don’t forget the assessment is still about training people, and people learn and perform best when they know what’s in it for them. You don’t want to send mixed signals to employees about this is critical business function.

Ironically, the company has the best intentions, and probably says all the right things–for a normal, prosperous environment. It’s a leadership issue as much as a training issue.

Trainers: this is your opportunity to make a major difference. Go for it.

These views are mine and mine alone. I hope I have tweaked some interest in the topic and shed some light on a topic not thought about much–except when we need it. You can find more of my thoughts on a variety of topics related to training, speaking, acting–anything to do with communication on my website under the What I Say category. Please check out my unusual take in my eBook, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. Happy training.

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