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Feature: What’s the Need?


TrainerElaine Priestley of The Matchett Group looks at how a thorough training needs analysis can make all the difference between the success or failure of a learning programme.

There is often a gap between ‘want’ and ‘need’. The board might say that they want their staff to be competent in a certain areas to achieve a specific goal. But when you talk the people themselves, they may well highlight a completely different need in order to reach that same end.

For example, the company might be planning a management development programme; but after analysing the views of the people who would receive the training, it might well be that what is lacking is communications skills.

A training needs analysis can also ascertain the scale of the training, how many people, where are they, when should it be completed, the budget and most appropriate method.

Market pressures
Training consultant Jeff DeLay of The Matchett Group has worked with many organisations, both public and private: “I go in as a blank canvas, putting my experience to one side, noticing what is going on around me, but not judging.

“The crucial thing is that I talk to the right blend of people: this has to be the people who will be receiving the training, their managers, and those above them, including the most senior person who is involved with training. It’s also a good idea to re-evaluate previous training, to find out what did and did not work"

How can I get buy-in?
A powerful context needs to be set when planning a training programme. Why are we doing this training? What’s in it for me, you and the company?

If people understand the reason for the training, in language that they are comfortable with, they are far more likely to be motivated and committed to it. People should be invited to attend training, not told to do so. It should also be the result of a conscious discussion, where the benefits to the individual are highlighted.

The secondary way to get buy-in to the training is to plan a reinforcement programme. On a recent training programme run for an automotive company, delegates were invited back after six weeks to give a presentation to their managers on how they were investing their new knowledge into the business as a result of the training programme. This was a powerful opportunity for mutual encouragement and shared experiences. They again met after 14 weeks to finalise the programme and explore ways of building ever more effective relationships with their managers; during this time, powerful relationships were forged.

As an organisation, if you are not prepared to pay to reinforce the knowledge gained on the training, it is a waste of money to do the training. Most companies see reinforcement as an add-on - it is not, it is evidence of how effective the training has been. It gives delegates an opportunity to continue trying to deal with barriers they have not yet overcome. It is also a time to celebrate successes.

The benefits of effective TNA
Of all the stages in the training cycle, the needs analysis stage is arguably the most crucial, and yet it’s the one where it can be tempting to cut corners. Because by definition it requires a great deal of effort for no immediate benefit, it’s often easier to assume that our intimate knowledge of what is going on at “the sharp end” means we can create a training plan without rigorous checking and sign off.

This is a trap that the learning and development team at Peugeot are determined to avoid. For learning and development manager Nicola Saxton, the TNA process is the biggest single project of the year, and one of her top priorities.

“Our consultant team spend three months of every year face to face with line managers going through an intensive dialogue in which we aim to identify real needs as opposed to wants," she explains. "It’s a real challenge, not only because of the time involved and the volume of data we generate, but because the dialogue itself is so complex. How do we know when a line manager is recommending a particular learning solution for someone because he wants to reward them? How do we sift needs from wants? How can we expect a manager to ask for something they themselves have never experienced? Because managers don’t know what they don’t know, they often expect us to make the call. The trouble is that if we do, we can end up being the fall guys, and it’s easier for the manager to disengage."

Despite the difficulties, Nicola thinks it pays off. “It’s taken us a couple of years to get to the point whereby the manager is properly prepared for the dialogue, and we are both clear about the importance of it. Managers have seen that when we both get it right it helps them to achieve their team objectives: it’s much more a partnership approach with the manager now.

As a result, the benefits can be measured. Nicola has seen the concrete results. “We have seen an big improvement in our course evaluation statistics because employees are being matched to a course that really meets their needs and we have been able to utilise our budget much more effectively.

"We are able to spend more on programmes which hit the mark because we are buying more efficiently and getting better value from suppliers. This means that we have been able to allocate budget to programmes that wouldn’t have previously been able to take place. So whilst we feel the pain of the process because it is so challenging, it is definitely worth each and every conversation.”


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