Training initiatives are typically some form of performance intervention: The leadership team or a business unit has identified problems from its key performance indicators and want the corporate training team to find a solution.

But what if you want to get ahead of problems before they happen? Proactive needs analyses are a way to discover performance challenges and fill those gaps with effective training before they become larger problems for your organization. By gathering data and making educated predictions, you can create a long-term custom training curriculum that drives employee performance forward, rather than just putting out fires.

Proactive Needs Analysis

The “proactive” part of this practice may sound off-putting. After all, learning and development (L&D) teams already have a backlog of projects at any given time. But all it means is that you’re engaged, invested and curious about your workforce. While you may already conduct needs analyses for a specific project, they’re probably often reactive. Proactive needs analyses, on the other hand, seek to discover potential gaps and design learning strategies to address those findings.

Business leaders should reference their one-year, five-year and 10-year plans to predict which performance gaps will slow down the organization. However, L&D teams must also consider which skills will be relevant in the future, what technology their organization may adopt and how the day-to-day work of the business will evolve. That’s why it’s important to gather data from your employees to identify where you may fall behind on those goals — but, of course, gathering data can be its own challenge.

Here are a few data gathering tactics to consider in your needs analyses:

    • Individual interviews with employees across a wide range of roles.
    • Focus groups with employees in the same role.
    • Surveys and knowledge assessments on key topics.
    • Direct employee observation.
    • Customer feedback (e.g., surveys, reviews and ratings).

Gathering data is important, but keep your organization’s business goals in mind while doing so. Be sure to align your training strategy with business goals and prioritize training development based on organizational priorities.

eLearning Project Management

When you consider the performance gaps in your workforce, as well as the skills employees will need going forward, you may find an excess of potential challenges. Depending on the extent of your performance gaps and performance goals, your strategy may take a few years to deploy. Some large organizations have received media attention for eLearning initiatives meant to accomplish just that goal. Amazon, for example, is reskilling its workforces over the course of five years.

While five years can seem like a long time, large organizational transformation takes extensive planning and careful deployment. There are a few best practices common to eLearning projects, but long-term projects have some unique features that may require more forethought. For example, using a phased approach to training development becomes particularly important as training initiatives grow larger. The ADDIE model has dominated eLearning development, but more organizations have started to make use of agile project management strategies, which are better for complex projects with extended timelines.

Some training consulting teams use hybrid ADDIE/agile models, which start with an analysis phase and then cycle through design, development and review phases. At the end of each cycle, the deliverables are functioning components of the larger project. This approach enables L&D teams to deliver assets over time while implementing feedback throughout the process. Moreover, long-term training strategies likely have several iterations of training content deployment over the course of several years.

Tips for Custom eLearning

While some of your skills and performance gaps may be general problems, there are bound to be a few that are embedded in your unique business processes. In that case, a custom eLearning solution may be your best option. Here are a few tips for designing custom eLearning activities.

Personal relevance is critical. Personalize your training delivery by designing content that addresses the performance challenges specific to a role or function. Essentially, only the impacted employees should complete the training.

Beyond personalization, use engaging and interactive eLearning activities. Presenting content in the right modality will improve memory consolidation and learning outcomes. For instance, if learners would benefit from practice or trial and error, consider using simulations that recreate the behavior in a virtual setting, or provide a sandbox to explore the functions of the technology or process in question. For example, if you’re looking at a performance gap in upselling, consider sales enablement training that uses interactive videos for learners to pick up on conversational cues. You can also use simulations to show learners the impact of their decisions by scoring outcomes based on their conversations.

Lastly, measure learning outcomes. Ideally, you can measure performance with the key performance indicators your organization already has in place. However, you can also use the results of simulations within training to provide a representation of employee performance. The more realistic your training experience, the better training performance will reflect on-the-job performance.

Considering the rate of development and innovation in most industries, being reactive in employee development challenges usually means you’re behind the curve. Be proactive by conducting frequent needs analyses. The solution may be long term, but by using best practices in training project management and custom eLearning activity design, you can address performance gaps before they hamper your business.