For any organization, when a department requests new training, a needs analysis is often skipped entirely. Whether it is for lack of time or lack of conviction, when the business knocks on our door to ask for a training, as a learning and development (L&D) professional, I used to rejoice and jump on any opportunity to develop a new learning experience. Little did I know then, how counterproductive this was.

Whether it’s for lack of time or conviction, in a hypergrowth setting, a needs analysis can be an overlooked process in training development. While it is undeniable that a needs analysis can be time-consuming, its benefits largely outweigh potential challenges faced within a fast-growing company.

A needs analysis is at the core of a healthy learning roadmap and is the key to scale-up a company’s growth, culture and survival in the long run. In a fast-paced environment, analyzing training needs may come with a road of obstacles, such as:

  • Last minute requests for new training: Stakeholders may request for new training late in the game, in which training should’ve been available yesterday. This can pressure L&D leaders to move quickly from needs analysis to training development and rollout.
  • Confusion between learning and knowing: Learning objectives are often confused by “learners should know this or that” and aren’t aligned to business outcomes.
  • A misunderstanding of L&D’s role: Training can often be confused with basic knowledge management (KM). Stakeholders may mistake learning as an extension of knowledge, and proving them wrong can be complicated when learning key performance indicators (KPIs) remain a mystery. Leadership may also expect training to be delivered quickly with instantaneous results.
  • Everything is urgent: Each department in an organization has different needs and priorities that can sometimes collide, making it challenging for L&D leaders to manage their bandwidth and plan ahead.

Needs Analysis: A Real-world Scenario

Analyzing skills gaps can contribute toward aligning L&D with business needs and in separating learning from KM.

When I joined Doctolib, an eight-year-old French scale-up, what stood out was how much we were talking about learning, when really we were referring to knowledge. Leadership encouraged us to learn three new things a day, making training the easy go-to solution, further blurring the difference between learning and “knowing.”

At the beginning of the business’ venture, L&D and KM were merged: As soon as there was a new idea, that idea was barely formalized but widely shared through “training” to transfer the new idea as common knowledge. However, as the business continued to expand — growing from 800 to now over 2,700 people in only three years — our user knowledge deepened, increasing the need to transfer and anchor knowledge differently — thus promoting a true learning experience.

Back when we confused KM and L&D, our KPIs solely relied on number of views and readership of articles. Today, by moving away from KM, we can effectively measure the impact of training with employee net promoter score (eNPS) among other learning KPIs, such as attendance, learner satisfaction, perceived usefulness and employee engagement with the pulse survey.

These new KPIs can help impact learning, and in turn, help justify the investment and true value of training. Beyond aligning L&D’s approach with business needs, conducting a needs analysis can help an organization by:

  1. Boosting learners’ perception of training: Needs analysis enable learning leaders to decipher what learners need and want to learn. This helps make training more tailored and relevant to each individual learner.
  2. Cultivating concrete career paths: Learners can be supported through learning programs that are aligned with their professional development and career goals.
  3. Improving employee engagement scores: In 18 months, we saw an increase of 0.5 in our learning and growth score, putting us +0.6 on top of our industry benchmark.
  4. Retention: Learners are more apt to stay in an organization that takes the time to identify their learning needs and align it with their career development.

Looking Ahead

A needs analysis can help make training a more relevant and effective solution for both stakeholders and learners. It can position you as a strategic business partner, enabling you to gain buy-in and trust from leadership. Conducting a needs analysis also helps learning leaders tailor training to fit each individual learners’ needs and objectives. This can help boost employee retention and increase learner buy-in.

Truth is, in a fast-paced work environment, designing, developing and delivering training takes a lot of time and money — making it a huge investment. Without properly assessing the skills your people need to grow in their development and to contribute toward organizational success, you’re better off throwing your company’s money out the window.