What does your organization need, and how do you know? The answer to this question is the bottom line of the needs assessment. Without it, a training professional won’t be a good partner to the business and won’t serve learners well. So, go ahead and ask “dumb” questions. Training professionals get to do it for a living.

Dumb questions, of course, aren’t really dumb questions. They are questions that no one else will ask. These questions are often left unasked because everyone assumes everyone else already knows the answer to them, or people think they will look dumb by asking them. A lot of the time, they are the questions that new employees would ask. Therefore, many people are afraid to ask them, because they think they might look like they don’t understand the business or their job, and people don’t like to look vulnerable.

Unfortunately, if the questions aren’t asked, often, no one uncovers the real source of a problem or what an organization needs in order to be successful. That’s where the partnership with the training department can prove useful; training professionals can get away with asking dumb questions. They can dig deep, because they are not involved in the day-to-day operation of whatever department they are serving. With distance, there is room for objectivity and to ask the questions that need to be asked.

The people who are closest to the problem often see the need to change for better business results, but they don’t often see the cause of the problem. The needs assessment, or needs analysis, as it’s also called, is a great tool for training professionals to uncover the root cause of a problem. It can also specify the value of solving that cause so the business can decide if the cost of fixing the problem is worth more than dealing with the result of the problem. This key point is the reason to conduct a needs analysis.

So, what are some dumb questions to ask? One is, “Why is this important to the business?” This question sounds simple enough, but it gets into why the business needs this problem solved. It also is a question that other people won’t ask, because they think everyone should know the answer. When the training professional asks this question, though, he or she will receive a lot of information from the business partner. The department that is experiencing the problem will provide information about why it is causing issues. The training professional will find out who it affects – that is, is it affecting customers, internal business partners, processes or something else? He or she will also find out what’s going on and what it means to the business to solve the problem. These are all important answers for the training professional to complete a needs analysis and provide value to the business.

A second example of a “dumb” question is, “What should they be doing?” The business partner typically assumes everyone knows what the employees should be doing. But this question gets at what they are doing now instead of the “right” behavior, and the answers can provide more information about why they aren’t doing that right behavior now (or, at least, why the business partner thinks they aren’t doing the right behavior now).

Asking this question can lead to a discussion about what behaviors the business partner is seeking and why they think current behavior isn’t leading to the results they expect. At this point, the training professional has a great opportunity to dig in and find out what’s going on, why the change is important and, ultimately, what success looks like to the business. This conversation can uncover a lot of reasons that the behavior is not what the business partner expects. It can even lead to identifying how he or she will know the problem is solved.

With these two innocuous questions, the training professional has learned a lot about the business. They can help them provide deeper value to the businesses they support as they help them solve the problem in a meaningful and lasting way. And they can help them identify and uncover other areas that need to be addressed. These “dumb” questions get to the bottom line of needs assessment. They help the training professional and the business partner look at the needs and the best ways to address those needs, whether it’s through training or other measures. The department succeeds, the training professional succeeds and the business succeeds – just by asking a couple of dumb questions.