Assessment and Measurement Methods
Summary: In this series, we will examine training needs assessment. First, we will explore an overview of needs assessment. Then we will move into various organizational areas that will need to be assessed in order to create a comprehensive training and development program.
An overall organizational training needs assessment should be a very comprehensive examination of what is currently being trained, what knowledge, skills, and abilities should be added to the education program, and what may need to be added in the future. Areas of assessment and assessment methods can differ from subject to subject within the organization, and most certainly differ between organizations themselves. Before we begin a discussion of various assessment areas of which to be aware, let’s explore the definition of needs as well as some of the methods used in training needs assessment.
You can easily categorize your organization’s needs into a few areas. First, a felt or perceived need is an overall desire for improvement in a certain subject area. For example, management may point out that customer service complaints have risen. There may not be a direct link to the training program, but the identification of a rise in complaints is a perceived need. Next, comparative needs are those needs that are discovered by comparing the training audience to a set of criteria, either internal or external. For example, hard-number production reports may tell you that a certain target audience is not meeting its goals. Third, an identified need occurs in response to a failure of some type, such as not meeting sales goals for a set time period. Identified needs can also be so-called “critical incident” needs, which occur because of a catastrophic failure such as a factory explosion, a regulatory infraction, or even a natural disaster. The final needs category is future or anticipated needs, which are obviously needs that will occur based on organizational changes, such as new products, new services, or mergers and acquisitions. Although this is a very simple view of the needs you may encounter, it serves as a starting point for your overall needs analysis.
You may also want to further separate the areas of need within the categories. For example, needs can be based on current training, that is, if current training is not meeting the mark then it will probably need to be rewritten. Needs can also be related to tasks or jobs. For example, ff an identified or critical incident need appears, it may be because of gaps in job or task performance, which may point to training gaps. Keep in mind that many of the needs we will discuss in this series can also be related to issues other than training, such as management, work environment, or even market or industry forces. With that in mind, your organization’s needs may be related to development in areas such as leadership, career progression, management, or human resources. And if your organization is heavily regulated, its needs may be recurring or required, such as training for regulatory compliance and legal issues.
Needs assessment and analysis methods vary widely based on the organization, its goals, the timeline for the intervention, and even staffing and budget. One of the most common needs assessment tools is a survey, either written or online. You can administer surveys to employees, managers, customers, and executives, and these surveys can give you an overall view of the needs (and types of needs) that currently exist. Another common assessment tool is job or task analysis, in which you may observe a job being performed and compare it to job descriptions, manager description, and even the expected output of the job or task. Many times a job analysis points directly to areas where the performer has a lack of knowledge or a low confidence level in the task.
Competency identification is another way to assess needs, especially if you are starting from scratch. For example, you may be charged with creating a comprehensive training program for an entire department or family of jobs where no training currently exists. In this situation, stakeholders, managers, and the people who perform the work can be asked to identify competency areas and the skills that fall under those competencies. For example, customer service representatives may have competency areas related to overcoming objections, closing the sale, and making appropriate referrals. Finally, operational measurements are great tools for needs assessment. These measurements may be goals, reports, or other data that point to skills gaps. Many times, an operational measurement may be the most concrete identification of a training need.
Now that we have explored general needs categories and measurement methods, we can move on to specific needs areas.
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