Summary: An often-overlooked area of needs assessment is leadership, talent management, and succession planning. Let’s define these areas and look at some ways to assess them.

As you are assessing your organization’s training needs, don’t forget about leadership, talent management, and succession planning. It’s true that you’ve probably identified some leadership and management training needs in the other areas of assessment. But remember that an organization is most likely going to need training that is specifically for the purpose of retaining talent, building a leadership pool, and ensuring that skills exist to cope with loss of leadership, whether sudden or not. Obviously this area of skills and knowledge works hand-in-hand with career development and job-related training to form a full development complement for the population. Let’s examine these areas and then discuss assessment methods.

It’s important to maintain the distinction between management and leadership training while you are conducting an overall needs assessment. You’ve already identified management needs, such as hiring processes or corrective action procedures. But these are functions and not attitudes and abilities. This is where the leadership needs assessment picks up – and keep in mind that leadership training and development can occur at all levels of the organization, not just at the management or supervisory level.

One of the first parts of a needs assessment in relation to leadership is to identify the leadership competencies that exist within the organization. Further, attempt to define a leader in terms of your organization. Of course there are general leadership competencies and definitions, but the task of the needs assessment is to choose those competencies and definitions and modify them to fit the organization’s culture. After “the leader” is defined, the needs assessment should go deeper into identifying the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that exist within each of the chosen competencies. This also includes defining levels of leadership within the knowledge base, that is, entry-level versus management level.

Talent management training needs are those that can help managers and supervisors manage the talent that comes out of leadership training. For example, are managers currently prepared to assess their teams for leadership potential, coach them, and prepare them for a future leadership role? Does the manager and supervisor group have the ability to identify a person’s strengths and coach those while at the same time developing opportunities? Is there a section of the HRIS system that is specifically developed for talent management? Again, you may have identified some of these needs as you moved through management and leadership. The question is: do they belong in those areas or should they be part of an overall talent management “school” or broad-based competency area?

Succession planning needs border directly on talent management and leadership, and may even be a part of those needs assessment areas. What is the organization’s philosophy on succession planning? For example, does the organization believe in both high-professional and high-potential leadership? What is the process for creating a succession plan? Do managers and supervisors need special skills or training in order to create that plan? These are all questions that you should ask during your leadership, talent management, and succession planning needs assessment.

But what are some good ways to conduct the needs assessment for this area? As you would imagine, this is a somewhat special situation. One way to assess in these areas is to gather the current leadership team or pool and lead them through a brainstorming session. Have this group identify the organization’s leadership competencies and also identify (at a high level) the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that fall under each of the competencies. During this needs assessment session, consider using whiteboards or flip charts around the room, which will provide a visual picture of the training needs as they are being built. In fact, you may see a training program begin to emerge during the brainstorming session. In terms of talent management and succession planning, one of the best ways to assess is through survey. Ask managers if they feel comfortable identifying the talent in their areas. Find out if they feel able to identify strengths and coach opportunities for the potential talent. If there is the slightest bit of hesitation, the manager and supervisor group may be able to help you identify their biggest training needs.

Next, we will explore the assessment of required and recurring training needs.

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