How to Use Training Needs Assessments for Tough Decisions

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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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