Training Needs or Training Wants Analysis
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This article first
appeared in Training and Development in Australia,
Vol 36 Issue 2, published by the Australian Institute of Training and
So, you have been asked to conduct a Training Needs Analysis
(TNA) in your organisation. What I see all too often is people
undertaking a TWA instead; a Training Wants
Analysis. The training practitioner usually starts by walking around
asking people in their organisation what training they would like. If
there are a lot of people to ask, the savvy practitioner sends out a
paper-based or on-line survey. I call this the "smorgasbord" approach,
because employees and their managers end up being offered a selection
of courses –much like visiting McDonalds and choosing from their menu.
Some practitioners even include tick boxes in their training wants
survey to make selection so easy. What you end up with in all of these
cases is little more than a wish list.
What's wrong with asking employees and managers what training
they want? Nothing, if it is informed by the right mind set. With this
tick the box approach, the training department may look as if it is
satisfying real needs. But when push comes to shove and managers are
badgering their staffs to meet deadlines and serve customers, that
course that looked interesting on paper is just no longer a priority.
Even with a lovingly prepared training calendar and a slickly presented
course handbook, the end result is, more often than not, practitioners
complaining bitterly that hardly anyone turned up.
Training Wants Leave You Wanting
I see this type of Training Wants Analysis approach leading to
Scarce training dollars are wasted
on low relevance, low impact programs.
Training practitioners lose
credibility as managers perceive poor attendance rates at organised
Managers increasingly source their
training programs from elsewhere.
Employees become further dispirited
as training resources are not helping them do their job better or to
get ahead in the organisation.
The training department is the
first to be downsized when times get tough.
What surprises me most is that after experiencing the
frustration of low turnouts at scheduled courses and managers grumbling
that training is a waste of their employees' time, a number of training
practitioners go on to use exactly the same approach the next year. So,
why then do some practitioners repeatedly go after wants instead of
real needs? Well, how many of the following reasons ring true in your
It is much easier to simply run a
survey asking people what training they would like.
Training is seen primarily as an
employee benefit or reward instead of as a strategic tool.
Practitioner skills are lacking in
how to conduct a proper TNA.
Managers simply want to tick the
training box and get on with the "real" work.
The allocated training budget needs
You have decided that you want to progress beyond your
organisation's traditional wish list. What exactly is involved in
uncovering training needs as opposed to wants? Well, it partly depends
on the level at which your organisation has asked you to conduct the
TNA. Your TNA may be at the level of the entire organisation, a
sub-unit of the organisation (project, department, workgroup, team) or
at the level of individual employees. A TNA at each of these levels
will look very different. Primarily, your stakeholders (the people who
have an interest in the outcome of your analysis) will be different and
the information you use for your analysis will come from different
Get the Purpose Clear
Let's start at the most comprehensive level, that of the whole
organisation, and work down from there. Your organisation needs
training, but for what purpose? Get that clear and you are off to a
great start. Generally, employees need to be trained to move the
organisation forward. To move the organisation forward, the owners and
the management team should have some idea, some strategy, for solving
the organisation's current problems and making the most of
opportunities presented to it. If your organisation does have a set of
objectives and a strategy for achieving those objectives, well and
good. If not, then lock them in a meeting room and prompt them until
they tell you where they want the organisation to go and how they are
going to get there.
For an organisation to achieve the objectives that you
uncovered, it will need three capabilities.
- It will need capable systems, such as employee and customer
tracking, financial accounting, and so on.
- It will also need capable processes, such as customer
support, contract management, product delivery, and so on.
- Thirdly, it will need capable people with the knowledge,
attitude and skills to do the necessary process tasks using your
Your organisation will most likely experience some
deficiencies in all three capabilities. These are the gaps between the
capabilities it needs to achieve its objectives and what it currently
has. Your job in conducting a TNA is to find out the gaps in its people
capability. These are the shortfalls in the knowledge, attitude and
skills of your employees. The trick here is to avoid proposing a
training solution where the gap is not a lack of knowledge, attitude
Be wary of managers that see every problem, including employee
lethargy, resource deficiencies and unclear processes and
responsibilities, as being solvable with training. Sure, training may
be a necessary part of the solution, but conducting the training
without dealing with the root cause will not take you or your
organisation very far. Not every problem can be solved by training, and
in your TNA you will need to analyse carefully which shortfalls and
opportunities can be helped by training and which cannot.
Focus on Shortfalls in Behaviour
The second key point to keep uppermost in mind when conducting
your Training Needs Analysis is that if your training solutions are to
have maximum impact, you will need to focus on shortfalls in employee
behaviours. As you conduct your analysis, continually ask managers what
they need their employees to be able to do in order to achieve the
desired objectives. Novice practitioners easily get caught in the trap
of asking what people need to know. But knowing in theory what it takes
to calm an angry customer is not the same as actually being able to do
so in the heat of the moment. Focus on skill deficiencies, not just
knowledge gaps. Sure, underpinning knowledge is essential, as is having
the appropriate attitude. But it's what employees can do with the right
knowledge and attitudes that count.
At the level of the entire organization, what other sources of
information can you get hold of that will shed light on its objectives
and performance shortfalls? Some things you can ask for are strategic
planning documents, key performance indicators, share market data, and
so on. Your focus here is on finding out what the organisation is
trying to achieve, how it is progressing and what skill gaps are
holding it back.
If you have been asked to conduct a TNA at the next level down
in the hierarchy, your focus should be on finding out the objectives of
that organisational unit, be it a project team, department or
workgroup. Ideally, the objectives of the organisational unit will be
cascaded down from above. If not, identifying and implementing training
to achieve the sub-unit's objectives will have but limited impact on
the organisation. Data sources you could be looking at for this level
are project plans, operational plans, departmental key performance
indicators, product and service quality data, audit reports, and so on.
At its most granular, you will be asked to conduct a Training
Needs Analysis on specific individuals. These may be all employees
belonging to a particular role or position, such as frontline
supervisor, marketing analyst, accounts officer, and so on. Or it may
be a specific individual or individuals identified as having changed
responsibilities or experiencing performance shortfalls.
Sources of information that you could look for at this level
are role descriptions, competency maps, employee performance
appraisals, customer complaints, critical incidents, and so on. Once
again, you should be looking for evidence of what is expected of the
employee and their current level of performance. Employee expectations
should be aligned with the organisational sub-unit's goals mentioned
above. Otherwise, any new skills inculcated will be mostly wasted.
Where expectations and skill requirements are not clear, your TNA will
have served a very valuable purpose by prompting the relevant people to
draw up the required documents.
Question with the Right Intent
When conducting a Training Needs Analysis at either of these
three levels – organisation, sub-unit and individual – it is essential
for you to interview employees and their managers. Here, there is no
difference compared with conducting a Training Wants Analysis. However,
when conducting a true TNA, the intent behind the questions is wholly
different. Questions are asked not for the purpose of simply
constructing a wish list, but to uncover what managers and their staffs
want to achieve and how people capability gaps are holding them back.
Start your TNA exercise with this mindset and you will achieve
long-lasting benefits for your organisation.
In this article, I have not dealt with the nuts and bolts of
performing a TNA, such as profiling participants and conducting task
analyses. I will be satisfied if I have driven home the key point that
your training programs will be ineffective if based on wants alone. To
be truly useful to your organisation, you need to become a detective,
uncovering the real needs amongst the litany of false leads. I have
listed below some useful resources to help take your Training Needs
Analyses to the next level.
© Copyright Leslie Allan
About the Author
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of
Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing
in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations
for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager,
consultant and trainer for organizations large and small. Mr. Allan is
a prolific writer on business issues, with many journal and web
articles to his credit. He is also the author of five books on employee
capability, training and change management. His company's web site is a
rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of business
and management areas. Visit Mr. Allan's Business Performance
web site to download trial versions of products, free
templates and introductory chapters. Authors Google+
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