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Stephen Walker

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Training Needs Analysis (but not as we know it)


Stephen Walker takes a look at what a Training Needs Analysis viewpoint can do to feed your business development processes.
Organisations leave clues about their needs, present and future, in a variety of easily accessible ways. By using these clues, training businesses of all sizes can anticipate their clients' needs and have the right offer in their portfolio at the right time. In this way, your salesperson will be knocking on an open door. Your client will need what you sell.
Training Needs Analysis assesses what skills are needed for people to be competent at certain tasks in the future. If we zoom out from the organisation, we will see that there are needs evident from the organisation's situation and behaviour. You will see a number of clues outlined in this article that will help you determine the likely training needs of your (potential) client's organisation. You can then be confident that what you send to your client is of relevance.
This article is about meta-Training Needs Analysis as a business development tool. So if you are on the outside of an organisation, where do you look for clues about their training needs?
"New products may need new skills. Successful new products may need more people with the existing skills"


There are several ways to monitor the recruitment activity of your target client. Look for new jobs advertised on their website, in job sites or with agencies. LinkedIn is a good source of information on new starters or promotions with consequent training needs. Of course, your contacts in the client organisation are always worth nurturing to get the inside story on what is happening. New recruits may need to train up to standard on the required skills.

New products

Is your client promoting a new product or service? Their website will carry the news and explain the advantage of the new product. Their trade press is likely to carry a story on the innovation. Of course you will be on the mailing list (or a friend of yours will be) for a catalogue, email updates or whatever else they do to promote their products. New products may need new skills. Successful new products may need more people with the existing skills.

New markets

A move into new markets is often paraded in the financial statements of the client. It usually happens as part of a high-level strategy pronouncement. The trade press will be aware of the new market thrust. The recruitment of people with skills new to the organisation is a strong clue. If your client is advertising for French-speaking salespersons, and they have only sold in the domestic market to date, that is a very clear clue.

Organisation size

In 1972, Larry Greiner published a study of the revolutions in management that an organisation needs as it changes size. More than that, he found that the current management system that created the growth was responsible for the failure in the future, unless the system changed in a revolutionary way. The five crises of growth happen as the organisation outgrows the management system.
The first happens in the successful new organisation or start-up business. To succeed the start-up has to be creative, fast moving and have a small staff. People work long hours as required and expect to be part of that core team doing something important.
If the start-up grows, it needs to develop processes that deliver consistently, cost effectively and reliably. Late night planning sessions in the pub are replaced with strong management. The people working in the organisation will need a raft of new skills to adapt to 'being managed', reports, doing the numbers and the other paraphernalia of strong management.
In time, the successful organisation is constricted by the iron grip of the strong central manager. High staff turnover, lack of delegation and remote decision making leads to a crisis of autonomy. In this stage, with delegated responsibilities, there is a need for local decision making, local replication of previously central skills and the setting up of a headquarters function in a divisional structure.
Eventually, and with growth, the organisation reaches a crisis of control. There are too many uncoordinated decisions made, divisions compete with other divisions in the same market and demands on the centre for resources are chaotic. Now the organisation has to combine control with autonomy with a management system of co-ordination. There is still a lot of local decision making but now it has to be agreed by the newly expanded headquarters function. The skills needed change as project justifications now have to appeal to remote HQ staff. There is a huge increase in formal procedures and a raft of central services appears in the headquarters. Red tape strangles the highly bureaucratic organisation as it expands.
The final stage is one of collaboration. Matrix management, flexible project teams and simple controls replace all the bureaucratic tick-boxes of before. There is a huge need for effective team-building skills. A need for knowledge about managing team rewards. The huge meetings demand strong management if there is to be any time left to do anything after long hours spent talking about it.
At each stage there are training needs as people are asked to perform new roles with different responsibilities. Careful observation of the evolution of your client will tell you what they will need next.
"Careful observation of the evolution of your client will tell you what they will need next."

Innovation in skills

New knowledge appears all the time and needs to be available to your clients when appropriate. You know what their activities are, what skills they need and can detect when the new knowledge appears. You can tell them what they need before they realise themselves. It may not be genuinely new knowledge but be an understanding of best practice. This is an excellent training product.
Thirdly, changes in technology or affordability can bring new opportunities. If it is new then people need to know how and a skill needs delivering.


There are three important points to keep at the front of your business development plans.
  • Know your niche – make sure you know who and why they buy your products
  • Anticipate needs – know your niche's skillset and requirements
  • Tell them what they need to learn before they realise – anticipate needs, provide the product for the need and make sure your clients know about it
Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop the management of motivation to inspire greater performance. A published author of articles and conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops on personal, management and leadership skills across the country. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


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