As learning leaders, we’re all familiar with the benefits of needs assessments. We can recite them with our eyes closed — strategic alignment, courses planned in advance and smooth sailing from here on out. But when it comes to larger training initiatives, like upskilling and reskilling an entire workforce, conducting a needs assessment is a vital step that your organization can’t afford to skip.
Indeed.com defines a needs assessment as the process of identifying and determining how to bridge the gap between an organization’s current and desired state. More specifically, it outlines which processes a team should prioritize, improve or provide resources to meet its goals. Furthermore, needs assessments can help close skills gaps by systematically evaluating what training an organization or a specific team or team member needs.
To get a better understanding of the benefits of conducting a needs assessment prior to upskilling and reskilling, let’s dissect the definition and evaluate its importance in closing skills gaps.
The Process of Identifying and Determining
- How will we know what training program to prepare?
- How will we know who lacks the skill sets?
- How will we know the size and scope of the gap that needs to be bridged?
Identifying and determining how to bridge the gap sets the stage for our fundamental responsibility as learning and development (L&D) leaders and training managers. When the questions above are addressed in the context of the company’s goals and objectives, it becomes possible to integrate each element and ensure strategic alignment and focus.
In a primarily profit-driven organization, success is predicated on creating or increasing wealth — typically annual growth is expected. To this end, you must have in-depth understanding and knowledge of what currently works, where the deficiencies lie and what skills are needed to bridge the gap.
Prioritizing the Right Training
This could mean delivering high-value courses with the skills training your people need to function in their roles. For example, in this age of digital transformation where digital and tech skills are vital to survival, training should begin with prioritizing those skills. Doing so can enable you to apply Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model to best determine the impact of training on the organization.
Every organization believes that they walk the talk when it comes to customer service, however, this is not often reflected in customer satisfaction scores (CSATs).
A needs assessment in this case can uncover any inefficiencies in communication methods such as intonation, sales effectiveness and courtesy to name a few. The resulting training program will be tailored for these areas of focus, whereas a generic communication program may fall short.
Providing the Right Resources
Globally, the employee profile of many corporations is quite similar: There is an endless rotation of millennials and declining baby boomers. This presents serious challenges to organizations — usually taking the form of interruptions to business due to ongoing training programs and loss of critical knowledge. This can be solved with a corporate learning library curated by subject matter experts and seasoned executives. Another solution is learning in the flow of work with on-the-job training. This allows a knowledge transfer from your more experienced employees to those newer to the industry.
Our goal should be to listen, learn and implement training courses, job aids and make recommendations to assist the wider organization with meeting their goals. Developing a needs assessment is not a magic wand to solve every problem. But it’s an important process that must be done to ensure achievement of core business objectives.
In my experience, assessments, while effective, should be supplemented by open conversations and interviews. Send out a survey (preferably by Q4), co-facilitate strategic planning meetings (or ask for the notes), and most importantly, ensure all finalized training requests are aligned with strategy.