Summary: A great starting point for an overall organizational needs assessment is current training programs.
Before you begin assessing various organizational areas for training needs, it’s a good idea to start with training that already exists. Existing training can be centralized, that is, run by the training and development department. On the other hand, individual departments may have training programs going on at those levels, as well. These programs can be well known, or perhaps they may be “covert”. For example, some departments may have an on-the-job training program that may be as simple as a first day or first week checklist. The idea behind the determination of existing training is not to expose any kind of “secret” training, but to determine how training can be made more effective.
Existing training programs that are part of the training and development department are most likely the easiest place to start. Your programs probably have evaluations attached to them, such as level-one participant evaluations. In addition, you may also have evaluations that occur further down the road and cover both participants and their managers. Whatever the situation, go back at least three months to look at the evaluations and determine the state of the courses. If you haven’t been doing this on a regular basis, you may be surprised by what you find. If things aren’t going as well as you expected, place the courses in the overall assessment as needs.
When it comes to discovering training at departmental levels, you may need to use some diplomacy, or at least your internal network. Find out who has training, what kind of training it is, and how it’s going. While you’re conducting this fact-finding, stress that the motive is not to expose any kind of “skunk work” training, but to see if the training and development organization can help make the programs effective and possibly take them to other audiences. After all, if something is going on “under the radar” but is extremely effective, doesn’t it stand to benefit the organization, either in its current or a modified format?
Next, determine the framework for the needs assessment in relation to existing programs. What is the scope of changes required? For example, a simple departmental checklist could become a full-blown on boarding course that reaches across various levels of the organization. Or, it may be something that can stay within its individual department. Also, look closely at the current delivery method. Can anything that currently exists in a classroom format be converted to a blended or online format? Consider this question in the opposite form: are blended, online, or classroom courses wasting time that could be spent on-the-job with a checklist and daily coaching sessions? Another aspect to consider is whether existing training programs should be discontinued altogether in order to make room for new or improved programs? These are difficult questions to answer, but in order to begin your organizational assessment on strong footing they are necessary.
After you’ve determined the state of existing training, think about the timeline and staffing necessary to complete the changes. In some cases, you may have the staffing in place to start changes that are going to be a necessary part of the outcome of the overall assessment. On the other hand, you may not have the time or staff to start. In this case, it may be a good idea to hold off on any changes pending the results of the entire assessment. This way, you can get a good picture of the changes that need to be made, as well as the additions that will have to be made as part of the overall assessment.
As you are examining existing training needs, start to think about how you’ll measure effectiveness of programs that are rewritten or redesigned. Level one surveys are always a good idea, but don’t stop there. You may want to add evaluations of both participants and managers at intervals after the training in order to examine effectiveness. Plus, your stakeholders may be able to identify concrete measurements, such as operational reports, sales goals, customer complaint incidences, and regulatory evaluations. And remember that all of these evaluation suggestions will work for any of the types of needs we will discuss in the remainder of this series.
Now that we have examined existing training programs, let’s move into specific needs areas, starting with job, task, and industry-related training needs.
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