Whether you are a strict adherent to the ADDIE training model or you have a barely passing familiarity with the Grand Old Dame of instructional design, there is a reason that all great training starts with the “A” or “analysis”. Without a needs analysis, you don’t know where you are going.
A training needs analysis needs to be part of your content strategy whether you are creating your own content or curating existing content for your learners. All effective training – meaning all training that ends in actual performance improvement – begins by knowing why you are doing what you are doing, and identifying the outcomes you must achieve by doing it.
A strong learning program is based on clearly stated outcomes, goals and objectives for the training that answer the question, “What would you like the learners to do when they complete the course or activity?” That requires a thorough analysis of three elements:
- current conditions – existing business metrics, existing performance metrics
- the state of your learners today – establishing what individuals know and can do
- the desired performance of your learners after they have completed your program – defining future state or what learners need to be able to know or do to perform to your standards and meet your business goals
With this information, you have a clear understanding about the width of the gap that you are trying to close. Without defining these baseline metrics upfront, you are throwing darts at a dartboard blindfolded. If you’ve ever been in a room with a blindfolded dart thrower, you know that’s dangerous.
Must I Do A Needs Analysis If I Really Know My Company?
For people who have been in a company for a while, they may look around and see what they believe are specific deficits that can be solved by training certain employees in a particular subject area. They may even be able to tell you what the knowledge deficits are and give you clear examples. But without a thorough and formal needs analysis, they are the blindfolded dart thrower.
Yes, the employees may have the identified deficit. But without a formal needs analysis that looks at your business objectives and measures the current state of the employees’ actual knowledge, it is hard to create training specific enough for a particular company’s current and future needs.
Here are some reasons why you need to do an upfront analysis even if you think you have a handle on your employees’ current state. A needs analysis will uncover:
- The actual knowledge of critical staff, including line employees, their direct supervisors, directors and vice presidents. You may find some fundamental knowledge gaps in important roles and also discover some valuable internal resources.
- Which employees need to be brought up to speed first to have the greatest impact on business or to avert a crisis
- The current state of your business and where it can be improved, including business opportunities that may be being lost at present and new business opportunities that will become available when you close the knowledge gap
- Where outside experts may need to be hired to acquire some types of knowledge
- What training you are currently doing or content that is already available and can be further leveraged
- What training you are currently doing that is outdated
- How your current training is misused and misunderstood, or needs to be supplemented
The reasons for analyzing your training needs are almost as many as the reasons you may encounter for requests to provide performance support. If you start the process by doing a needs analysis, you will avoid expensive mistakes.
The most valued instructional designers aren’t just “order takers”. Valuable IDs act as consultants who make sure that not only they understand the request being made, but that the customer understands the implications of their request, as well. That requires beginning at the first step – the “A” – analysis. Only then can the real business need be met.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. – Lewis Carroll