Have you ever been forced to take time away from your job to complete training that was boring, uninteresting or, worst of all, irrelevant? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. The problem is that managers often think, “I have a performance problem, so I need to train my team.” But how can you determine if training is really the solution to a problem? Sometimes, the root cause might be inadequate equipment, understaffing, hiring problems … something other than lack of training. By completing a needs analysis, also known as a training needs assessment, you can identify the performance gap and figure out if training is the right solution.

Let’s walk through the three steps of an effective needs analysis.

Step 1: Determine the Desired Business Outcome

The first step is to identify the desired performance standard or business outcome. Your goal is to determine the ideal way that employees should perform their core competencies.

Here’s an example: Your vice president of sales asks you to create new training for sales associates, because they’re working too slowly. You start by asking which key tasks they’re underperforming on, and she says the key competency she’s most concerned about is order processing.

Your first step is to identify how sales associates are supposed to process orders. When you’re exploring this question, there are a few sources of information you’ll want to use:

  • Conversations with managers and team leads.
  • Company documentation (manuals, job aids, lists of job duties, etc.).
  • Evaluations of high performers currently performing the task.

Let’s say you look in the company documentation and see that the desired speed for order processing is 10 minutes. At this point, you’ve figured out the key task, and you have the desired standard of performance.

Step 2: Assess Employee Performance

Once you identify how the task should be performed, you need to find out how staff are actually executing it. There are many ways you can find out how employees are performing a task, including:

  • Observing learners on the job.
  • Interviewing supervisors and managers.
  • Analyzing company metrics.
  • Analyzing performance reports.

For example, if you’re considering creating training on processing orders, you might want to observe sales associates on the job. You might also ask for performance reports that have statistics on the average duration of order calls.

Step 3: Identify the Cause of the Performance Gap, and Offer Solutions

Now that you know the specific performance gap, you’ll need to identify the cause, before you can identify the right solution. To do so, you should investigate all the possible factors that could affect performance, including:

  • Feedback
  • Knowledge and skills (past training)
  • Motivation
  • Capacity
  • Tools and equipment

To get to the bottom of your team’s performance, interview a variety of people to obtain different perspectives and make your own observations. In the sales example, you might chat with associates and find out that some of them have never been trained on a few of the more complex ordering scenarios. They’re sometimes slowed down, because they have to look up the process in their job manual. In this case, the solution is training. What if your team members report that they know the process well, and what slows them down is actually their outdated computers? In that case, time is better spent lobbying for an IT upgrade, not creating training.

Once you’ve identified the cause of the performance problem, you can identify a viable solution. You should only propose a training solution when you identify that a lack of knowledge and skills is causing the performance gap. The goal of a needs analysis is always to identify the underlying performance problem – and then define how training will address the problem. If you start with the underlying problem, you’ll be well on your way to designing training that’s targeted and effective.