Conduct a Training Needs Assessment in Five Easy Steps

You know that your organization is facing some difficulties – mistakes, inefficiencies, inconsistencies, revenue and customer losses and more, all indicate as much. The question is, what should you do to address them?

The first solution that springs to mind is almost always “training,” and that is a great start! But who needs to be trained? On what – and to what level? In which format(s)? These questions – and their answers – are all part of an effective, five-step training needs assessment.

Step 1: Determine Desired Outcomes

It’s not enough to simply say, “we have a problem – let’s train everyone.” Instead, you must figure out exactly where things aren’t working the way you want or need them to, and what success in those areas would look like. For example, you might want to improve customer retention by five percent, decrease support call time to under five minutes or increase new client acquisition by 15%.

Meet with team leads, managers, supervisors, directors and other stakeholders to establish the metrics for success of your training initiative. Once you determine what your goals are, you can identify the behaviors that need to change in order to reach them.

Step 2: Identify Specific Points of Pain and Failure

In the next step, you match desired successful outcomes with the improvements in actions, information and abilities that support them. To do so, you’ll need to break down the duties and processes inherent to the outcomes so you can figure out specific points that need to be addressed.

For example, if you know that you want to decrease the number of calls to your help desk, you need to look at what causes the number of calls you’re currently getting. The problem may lie with the education customers receive about your product, with the level and frequency of proactive communication between account managers and customer contacts, with how calls are documented and followed-up on or with a combination of all of those – and more.

There are several ways to identify areas that require improvement. Here are a few of the most common and effective:

  • Observation and Assessment
    • Team leads and managers / supervisors observe employees to identify common areas of difficulty to focus training on areas that will have the greatest impact.
  • Surveys
    • Employees are asked to comment on areas where they would like more training, resources and support.
  • Data Evaluation
    • Available and collected data is reviewed to determine if there are common errors, inconsistencies or issues that can be addressed by training.
  • Training Assessments
    • Training organizations and references provide easy-to-administer assessments that can reveal areas for training focus.

Step 3: Determine Desired Behaviors, Knowledge and Skills

Once you know which specific problems you need to address, you can match training topics to the identified skill gaps.

To do so, you must first create a list of knowledge, skills and competencies each trained employee requires to meet the established objectives. Second, you need to identify how to determine if training has been successful at the individual level – the way to gauge that the identified skills and competencies were achieved to the degree required. These metrics for success are expressed as a series of learning objectives tailored to each problem and desired business outcome.

See example (Excel spreadsheet or Print-friendly pdf).

Step 4: Set Training Timelines and Priorities

Once you know which issues need to be addressed, establish the full training agenda. First, determine the targeted end date for the initiative as a whole, and then rank priorities for individual groups and sessions and put them on a schedule. Priority should be determined by a combination of urgency and sequence, meaning that both how quickly you need to see results from given department must be considered – but so must any dependencies (training that must occur before other training can happen).

Step 5: Select Training Needs Assessment and Formats

Now that you know what your goals are, who needs to be trained and on what, and how quickly the program needs to be complete, you can select how you want to administer training. Some programs, audiences and timelines are more effectively served by some methods over others. Online training, computer-based simulations, self-guided audio and video programs and virtual and in-person instructor-led sessions are all good options, depending on needs and circumstances.

Your Learning and Development resources – in-house or consultancy – can help you choose the right course fit for your organization and project.

In a Nutshell

A good training program requires a thoughtful and comprehensive training needs assessment. Beginning a training initiative without one makes it virtually impossible for you, your employees and the organization to succeed. In contrast, a well-crafted training plan grounded in solid analysis and comprehensive assessment helps you dive into your organization and issues in ways that lead higher employee engagement, improved performance and increased productivity – all of which provides a measurable and substantial return on your investment.