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Training Needs Analysis and the Art of Detection. By Annie Hayes


Decoding needs from wants is tricky when training is involved, and communicating that to those on the receiving end can require the diplomacy of a peace envoy. Annie Hayes explains how to hone your sleuthing skills and conduct a TNA.

More often than not the word ‘need’ is used when ‘want’ is more accurate – making sense of what training employees really require is challenging and can be a rocky road. To add to the problems say the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is that all too often the actual process of identifying training needs is undertaken in a ‘quick and dirty’ fashion or, worse still, omitted altogether.

Playing detective
TNA shouldn’t require the sleuthing skills of Hercule Poirot, however. There is no need for lurking around corners or secreting listening devices amongst the target group. Indeed often it’s not getting the information that is the problem but deciding the best way to extract it. There is a wealth of options available from complex questionnaires, computer and behavioural system to expensive consultancy services. And then you need to decide at what level you are going to conduct the analysis – individual, departmental or the company as a whole.

Rich Lucas of Supremacy Training Solutions says the best way to get to the required information is to deal with TNA as a brainstorming session rather than a dry administrative exercise. Lucas advises a thorough review of the strategic direction of the organisation as the first step:

“Firstly have an honest and clear picture of where you are at the moment (Point A), this can include a SWOT analysis, PESTLE, diagnostic checks, outside opinion...everything. The key is that it should make slightly uncomfortable reading. Then have a realistic vision of where you want to get to (Point B). Next, define what will be an aid to getting you closer between the two points and what will be an obstacle and come up with strategies to deal with them.”

Following this master plan would certainly satisfy the CIPD - no sniff of a ‘dirty and quick’ process here. But what about the costs? Lucas admits this must be addressed and suggests that this forms part of the analysis.

“From here, ask "What are the costs of getting from A to B?" Costs can be:

  • Financial: How much money is it going to cost?

  • Physical: Do we have the resources/people to do it?

  • Mental: Do we have the knowledge to do it? Can we get the knowledge from outside?

  • Emotional: Is the staff member/organisation mature/stable/confident enough to take this on?
  • and
  • Time: Is there enough time to do it? Do we have time alongside everything else?

Once the costs have been decided, says Lucas, the organisation has to ask "Are we willing to pay them?" But that’s not the end of the story.

Finding the right learning solution
If an overall company approach is taken it is crucial that the individual level is also addressed. A one-size fits all approach rarely works. Once the organisation has decided its strategic path it needs to decide what learning solutions fit for the individuals.

Sometimes it might be obvious – if a new IT system has been implemented then those that use it need to be schooled in it, the exception to the rule of a one-size fits all approach, but where the needs are more subtle then tailoring the learning to the individuals is a must.

Writing for TrainingZone earlier this year, Graham O’Connell of the National School of Government says that one of the first things to do is to identify the learning preferences of the individuals involved, for example, some might be better suited to formal training courses, others to computer based learning, some to reading materials and so on.

Focusing at the individual level isn’t just about decoding learning preferences. Finding out what they need to learn to propel them forwards is a crucial part of the TNA. And even if a strategic aim has been identified such as to improve customer service then this doesn’t necessarily marry up with what is going on at the individual level. For example one customer service operative might be lacking in self esteem whereas another lacks negotiation skills. O’Connell says that an interview is often the best way of finding out what is needed.

“These needs should relate to their current role and challenges, their future capability requirements and their aspirations.”

O’Connell suggests starting with the things that drive their learning needs. This may form part of a regular appraisal or personal development review.

“Don’t get into ‘which course do you want’, especially early on. The approach I recommend has two effects. Firstly, it gets them thinking and talking. The more they open up, the more you need to listen and, as a consequence, the more they will open up. The other effect is that you are more likely to get at a true diagnosis of needs rather than a wish list – you have to understand the problem before you can understand the solution.

“Toward the end of the interview I might ask about how they see the needs of their colleagues (not named individuals but as a grouping of roles). I might also start to speculate about possible development or training options just to get a sounding board reaction of what might press their buttons and what might turn them off.”

Prioritisation also plays its part. The CIPD say that debate with senior management can help in identifying which gaps are most critical to the business. O’Connell says that all this analysis doesn’t necessarily mean that costly formal training should be deployed either.

“There will be some needs unique to individuals and some that are shared. For the former you might suggest options ranging from quick, cheap and easy (‘the best book on this topic is …’) to more in-depth, stretching options (‘the best qualification on this is …’)”

TNA is as much about putting the pieces of the jigsaw together than anything else. Deciding what is and isn’t a training need and whether investing in it will prove beneficial to the organisation or the individual is not easy nor quick. Applying a layered approach where the needs of the business are first addressed and filtering that down to how the employees can plug them is the key. Filling the gaps is down to a robust TNA.

Related articles:
TNA: Aim for the Moon
TNA: Knowing Where to Start Your Journey


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