How to Use Training Needs Assessments for Tough Decisions

a man stands on a cliff and gazes over the ocean

The smart way to make any decision is to gather as much pertinent information as you can and then think it through carefully. For those of us in corporate training and development, a training needs assessment is a powerful tool to start off on the right foot. Done right, training needs assessments provide a way to identify who, what and where to train – and why,  relative to other business and talent priorities.

There are many training needs assessment guidelines about how to construct a survey that will result in meaningful data. Typically the advice on how to prepare an effective assessment runs something like figuring out:

  1. What to ask
  2. How to ask
  3. Who to ask
  4. When to ask and, finally,
  5. What to do with the data

Our experience of working over two decades in the training assessment field tells us that this is backwards. You should know before you begin what decisions you are willing to make as a result of what you learn and why it matters to the performance of the business.

Training surveys should not be conducted out of curiosity. They should inform you about what specific direction you should take with what the data tell you. Before you figure out “what to ask,” you should be clear on what you are going to do with the results. Because when all is said and done, training should not be undertaken unless there is a relevant, measurable and meaningful performance outcome. The results are what matter. Otherwise, training is just an exercise in keeping employees engaged for a day or two.

Now let’s go back to the recommendation on how to build a meaningful training needs assessment. Figure out:

  1. What business or performance problem you are trying to solve and how important solving it is compared to other priorities
  2. What moves and investments you are willing make when the data is analyzed
  3. What information you need to help you make a smart decision
  4. What means you will use (e.g. questionnaires, interviews, focus groups)
  5. Who your target audience will be
  6. When you should administer the survey and when you will decide upon specific actions to take

When you are willing to take action as a result of what the training assessment teaches you, then you can design the right questions, ask them the right way, and address the right audience at the right time.  

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360-Degree Assessments—Their Deadly Flaw

a man in a kayak is circled by sharks

360-degree surveys have long been favored as effective training needs assessments. It is generally believed that, when administered appropriately, they can help reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the subject and are then useful in determining next steps for development and coaching. They expose hidden areas, show where skills gaps exist and inform the template for targeted skill building.

Good coaches can use the feedback to enlighten them on how to provide insight to leaders on their challenges vis-à-vis their followers. Where could they improve? How are they perceived by others? Where does their own assessment of their strengths differ or agree with the perceptions of the circle of those who work with them? 

But there are some serious training needs assessment detractors of the value of these up-down-and-sideways surveys. Why? Because they claim that the data is faulty. Here is what they say…

360s are, in general, built to measure a set of competencies by asking peers, superiors and followers to rate the subject in terms of behaviors. Let’s say, for example, that you were asked to fill out a survey for Chris, your boss, and you are evaluating Chris’ management/motivation. You might be asked a question like, “Builds a compelling vision and ‘sense of purpose.’” The flaw, say 360-degree detractors, is that your answer is very subjective…it reveals more about you, the survey taker, than the survey subject.  A high rating indicates that you feel Chris builds a more compelling vision than you do. A low rating indicates that you are better at articulating a sense of purpose than Chris. Because the data gathered is not objective, it is not as helpful.  And because it is gathered, not from a random sampling, but from a select group of employees, it is a skewed sample.

According to some training needs assessment experts, the solution is to change the way the questions are formulated. The rater can provide good data if asked, not to assess the subject’s behavior, but to evaluate their own feelings. You could be asked if you understand the purpose of the team instead of whether or not Chris has built a sense of purpose. That outcome-based question would be a true rating and provide more valuable data.

The bottom line is that 360s can be useful as training needs assessments if they are couched in terms that measure the right things…not your subjective view of the target’s behavior but your own feelings.


What Can Go Wrong with No Training Needs Assessment

A cartoon businessman holding up a sign that indicates the "wrong" way

As a business consulting and training company we are all for skill development and training when it is done right…but all against training when it is done poorly or for the wrong reasons. 

Most of us have worked with clients who are in a hurry to deliver training without enough thought as to whether training will actually solve their problem or move them, their team or their company forward. Our job is to help the client by meeting them where they are and advising what we think makes the most sense. That means often telling the client what they do not want to hear…it is necessary to delay and, most likely, increase your investment to ensure relevancy to key stakeholders by conducting  a proper training needs assessment first. 

At LSA, we would rather be straight with our clients and turn away the business than take on a job we know won’t produce the desired outcomes that make sense for them or their business. That’s why we can guarantee results and work on a pay-for-performance basis. We know that skipping the training needs assessment phase can cost way more in the end and that the delay is worth the time.

Here is why the training needs assessment step is often necessary. Without it, you may be teaching:

  1. The wrong people.
    You need to figure out who needs training and why. Some employees may already be adept at the skills you feel are needed. Some may not need those skills to carry out their jobs. You need to target the audience that will make the difference. Training is not of value in and of itself; its value is in how it can affect performance and business results over both the short- and long-term.

  2. The wrong skills.
    Do you know what skills matter most?  Or where the biggest and most important skills gaps exist? You have to know what skills matter and are missing in order to address the right gaps. For example, if your sales strategy is focused on improving margins, you need to know where your sales reps are falling short and how big of an impact you can make on driving higher margins from a skills, attitude and behavior perspective. 

  3. The wrong way.
    When training is a key part of the answer, make sure you deliver it in a way that will “stick.” Would e-learning do the job or would classroom delivery be better? Maybe blended learning would be most efficient and effective. Whatever mode you choose, make sure there is sufficient and ongoing follow-up coaching…otherwise your investment will be short-lived.

A sound, customized training needs assessment will tell you who needs the training, what skills are needed and why, and how best to deliver it. Don’t skip this step or your time, effort and money will be wasted.





Use the Right Assessment for the Right Reasons

The word Assessment is on a board in the midst of multiple related concepts like survey and goal

Assessments are all the vogue these days in the workplace. Recent estimates peg the assessment industry’s revenue at somewhere between $500 and $800 million per year. Assessments are popular because they can be very helpful in making all kinds of business decisions. There are training needs assessments that provide information on employees’ skill gaps; there are hiring assessments that help in sifting through job candidates; there are even assessments that purport to measure emotional intelligence. 

The challenge is to select the right assessment for the right reasons. What kind of information do you seek?  Will the information lead to better, faster or cheaper decisions? 

  1. Know what you want to learn. 
    If you hope to learn how job candidates or current employees manage themselves, how they deal with change, how they work with others or how they prioritize their activities, you should explore different kinds of behavioral assessments. If instead, you want to learn more about their knowledge, skills, cognitive abilities and experience, you should check into training needs assessments that measure competency levels.

  2. Know what decisions will be made as a result.
    The data you gather should help to inform decisions better than if you did not use the assessment. The investment of time and money should also be worth the value received.  Used properly, assessments can help play an important part in assigning the right people to the right roles because you have a more complete measure of their strengths, weaknesses, motivators and de-motivators. With employees in the right roles playing to their strengths, you not only decrease turnover, you increase employee engagement and performance.

  3. Know how to use assessments appropriately. 
    Assessments should be used in the corporate setting only to help with job-related decisions. Otherwise you may be in non-compliance. The business purpose should be clear and should be shared with those taking the assessment. They should understand that the assessment is a way to learn more about them during the hiring process or perhaps to select participants for a leadership development program or to uncover skill and knowledge gaps to inform a learning solution or coaching plan. When assessments are administered to current employees, the results should be shared so employees have an opportunity to benefit from improved self-awareness.


Assessments: Maybe Respondent Anonymity Is Not Always Best

A hand pulls aside a curtain from behind

In just about every article on corporate-wide assessments, the recommendation is for respondent anonymity. We understand why…it is assumed employees will be more open and honest with their feedback and will have no reason to worry about repercussions. 

But here is another perspective. Anonymity may not always be in the best interests of the employee or the employer. Especially when training needs assessments are concerned, there are reasons to pull back the proverbial curtain and share the source of the feedback. 

Here are those reasons. The insistence on assessment anonymity can unfortunately foster:

  • An unquenchable desire to know the source of the feedback and then the hunt that ensues takes away from the real issue.
  • A sense that speaking up is unsafe. If anonymity is the condition, employees may feel that they need that protection before they can safely share honest feedback.
  • A lack of specifics that makes correction or improvement problematic.

For training gaps to be effectively addressed, managers need to know where the performance problem exists and how it affects the team. They need to involve the subject of the feedback in order to plan a path toward improvement. The manager needs to explore the situation first with the feedback giver and then with the feedback receiver. How else can coach and coachee effectively address the performance problem?

What is also required is an open organizational culture where feedback is encouraged at all levels within the company. Senior managers need improvement too. They should invite suggestions from their teams and then be sure to act upon them. Set the example of the desire to learn and grow. 

We know that the most effective training comes as a complete package: targeted, interactive skill building with follow-up coaching and reinforcement. The best way to learn where training is needed is from the front lines. Find out where employees and managers see gaps in skills and performance and follow up to see their feedback is both appreciated and acted upon.

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/training-needs-assessment/

A Cool New Way to Use Your Hiring Assessments

A businessman draws a diagram about performance and potential

More and more of our clients are taking advantage of hiring assessments to improve their interviewing and hiring processes. They make use of what they learn about a candidate from the assessment to help them select the right talent with the right competencies and attitudes for the specific job opening and corporate culture. 

Does your company include assessments as part of their hiring process? If so, you as a talent leader can put them to another and very productive use. Don’t let those assessments languish in a file in the HR office. Bring them to light so that you can apply them effectively as training needs assessments.

Without conducting a separate (and likely overlapping) survey, you can benefit from the valuable information on individuals for whom you have the responsibility to engage, develop and retain in at least three areas:

1. Strengths and weaknesses
The hiring assessment should tell you the initial areas of strength (proficiency and fit) and the areas of weakness (where the employee needs further development).  These skill, knowledge and attitude gaps that need to be bridged in order for the employee to succeed are a great starting place for a 90-day on-boarding and individual development plan. This baseline information allows you and the employee’s manager to coach toward targeted performance improvement. You get to focus early on what the employee needs to initially succeed in their new job.

2. Learning style
The hiring assessment often also pinpoints the employee’s preferred learning style so you can adapt content delivery and development approaches appropriately. The more tailored the approach to learning, the more successful the transfer of training will be to on-the-job application.

3. Motivation
The hiring assessment should also tell you how well the new hires know themselves. The data can be a helpful tool in discussions with the employee about where they excel and where they need further development. Assuming the company hired someone who is committed to self-improvement, and who is willing to put the time and effort into continuous learning, the assessment results will provide a great baseline for performance management.

Consider the hiring assessment as another tool in your talent management toolbox to better understand the training needs of individual employees. You can target learning programs and individual development plans to better address the most critical competencies for the roles they fulfill, now and in the future.

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/training-needs-assessment/

4 Tips on How to Better Assess Training Needs

2 people are looking at charts

Sometimes when we are called in to help a company solve an important performance problem, we recommend a thorough assessment to determine the root cause and the best next course of action. 

Unfortunately because many executives have been victims of poorly run, invalid and inconclusive surveys, it is not unusual for them to roll their eyes at the thought of wasted time and money. How could we blame them for their reactions? To provide real value, training needs assessment surveys need to be just the opposite. 

After more than two decades helping clients get a better handle on what they need to do to pinpoint development needs and improve performance, we know exactly how to go about the survey process. The key is to make sure that any assessment is used to properly initiate the change process, align leadership and employees, pinpoint skill gaps against a proven standard, customize training, predispose participants and guide coaching and individual development plans.

Here are four tips critical to success.  The surveys must be:

1. Action-driven, not opinion-driven assessments.
When you invest in a company-wide needs assessment, you owe it to your workforce and your leadership to ensure that smart decisions will be made and targeted action will be taken as a result of what you learn. Surveys should not be distributed for curiosity’s sake but to get a handle on exactly what needs to change to improve performance and, ultimately, business results.  Only begin an assessment if you are willing and able to do something about what you find.

2. A reasonable survey length.
If a training assessment is too long, you risk overtaxing the patience of the respondents and putting too great a burden upon those who must interpret the results. Shorter assessments when properly designed and customized will give you the information you need without wasting anyone’s time.

3. Properly introduced and implemented learning assessments.
Employees need to understand that the survey has a clear objective and believe that the findings will make things better for them as individuals, for their team and for the organization as a whole. Relevancy is critical.  And, for them to be candid, the anonymity of responders must be guaranteed. 

4. Training assessments focused on the issues and situations that will have the greatest impact on business performance.
First you need to be clear about the strategy and business priorities of the organization. Then you need to identify the critical few behaviors that drive toward those goals. The survey questions should be targeted to get at how well and how often your people are exhibiting those behaviors. The gap between where they are and where they need to be will define the areas that need improvement. Choose the few most critical moves to make rather than spread your efforts too broadly. 

The Bottom Line
Use proven training needs assessments to target performance improvements that will have the greatest business impact.  Practitioners who measure and share the link between behaviors and results make a true difference. 

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/training-needs-assessment/