“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail,” Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers in the psychology and training field, once said. The job of trainers, then, is to build up their toolboxes, so they can respond with more than a hammer. Trainers can determine what tools they need by doing a little discovery, also known as needs analysis.

Sometimes, a hammer is the right tool. When a nail is presented, the best tool to use is a hammer. For example, when the IT department launches a new software program, it might request a series of training classes. After discussion with the IT leaders about the goal of the software (a new e-mail program), who the audience is (everyone at the company) and what they want the audience to do (use this e-mail program), training probably is the solution. At this point, a training needs analysis will further help the training department identify the right types of training, the extent of training and the skills needed by each group. This is the classic “hammer meets nail” situation, and it is an appropriate use of training.

Unfortunately, if the training toolbox isn’t filled with other tools, the hammer is used when it isn’t appropriate, and it might not have a positive effect, or it might even damage the project. Take, for instance, a situation where the sales manager comes to the training manager and asks for training on the sales system. He tells the training manager that the salespeople aren’t using the sales system and must have forgotten how. If the training manager accepts this explanation without doing a needs analysis, she can damage her credibility as a valued business partner with the ineffective or unnecessary use of training to solve a problem it was never intended to solve.

However, if the training manager has other tools in her toolbox and performs a needs analysis, she may uncover the real reason the sales system isn’t being used. There could be many reasons, including performance expectations, resources, incentives, capacity, motives, and knowledge or skills. It may be because the leaders’ directions aren’t clear as to when or how the salespeople are supposed to use the sales system (performance expectations). The salespeople might not have enough time to use the sales system (resources). They might be rewarded for not using the sales system or not using it correctly (incentives). The salespeople might not be in the right roles (capacity). They might not be interested in using the sales system (motives). Or the salespeople might not know how to use the sales system, as the sales manager suggested (knowledge and skills). It could be a combination of these reasons. Once the real reasons the sales system isn’t being used correctly are uncovered, the training manager can consult with the sales manager to provide the right solution or solutions to solve the problem.

One of the important responsibilities of a training manager is to help the business determine what is going on, where the human performance is now, where the leaders want the performance of workers to be and how the performance of the employees can be improved to benefit the business. When this process happens, employees are better equipped to do their jobs. The training manager is considered a valued partner to the business, the sales manager is pleased with the results, the business needs are met and clients are served. It’s a win-win for everyone.