Training Needs Analysis is recognised as an important Human Resource function that contributes to the assessment of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the process is often approached in an ad hoc manner, typically focusing on the skills and competencies required to perform effectively in a specific role, rather than seeing this in the broader context of sustainable high performance. To be truly successful, training needs analysis must address three critical levels of activity. Within each of the three areas are ‘performance critical elements’ that make or break attempts to enhance business capability. Evaluating these elements is an essential requirement for HR, OD and Training Managers.
Developing a Clear Focus
Effective Training Needs Analysis involves a three-step process that includes evaluation at the Organizational, Task and Person level. The first stage is critical and requires a clear understanding of the organization’s future direction. What is the business seeking to achieve, and over what time-scale? This requires careful consideration of how training compliments the wider Human Resources Strategy, which in turn must be aligned with the Business Strategy. At the same time, training priorities should also reflect core cultural values and key facets of the work climate. These ‘areas of priority’ may, for example, relate to safety, or due diligence in activities central to the performance of the organization.
When responding to changing demands, stakeholder expectations and advances in technology, the organization must also take account of cultural norms that may hinder the acquisition of new skills and more effective ways of working. Underlying attitudes and ‘traditional’ ways of working may hinder attempts to translate training and development into operational reality. Indeed, the real training priority may involve changing the perceptions of managers, so they become more receptive to feedback and more skilled in the process of on-going performance review and development of people’s capability.
Sustainable High Performance
Organizational Analysis should start with assessing if there is an Enabling Environment that encourages high performance. This requires insight into the drivers that underpin employee Motivation (i.e. discretionary effort) and Commitment (identification with the organization). A well designed employee survey will enable objective comparisons to be made across departments and help clarify how well the business is addressing the ‘softer issues’ that impact on productivity. Once this assessment has been made, the focus can move to specific roles and responsibilities.
Task Analysis typically involves reviewing task statements and using these to create homogeneous task clusters. These can then be reviewed in terms of the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes (KSAOs) required to perform effectively in the role. However, it is often useful to go beyond this description of technical or professional ‘competence’ to include the wider competencies that contribute to more effective performance. Competencies are important as they describe the patterns of behaviour that contribute to superior performance. They therefore clarify ‘how’ the work is done, as well as ‘what’ needs to be done, which is described in terms of competence, anchored in functional job analysis.
Having a clear understanding of the competencies contributing to high performance provides essential support to the wider organizational analysis mentioned earlier. This process may, for example, involve changes in how products and services are delivered. Competencies make it clear the type of approach the organization values and is seeking to develop in the future. However, to be really useful, competency profiling needs to be backed by insight into the Personal Strengths that contribute to effectiveness in key areas. These Strengths may, for example, relate to analysis, interpersonal effectiveness, or drive and determination.
Person Analysis is strengthened when there is regular review and discussion of performance, with a clear focus on the quality of the product or service being delivered to customers. This analysis can be linked to KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). In many professional and managerial roles it is also important to consider the Role Relationships that impact on performance, and evaluate the approach required to achieve successful outcomes. To improve the quality of Role Relationships, organizations are making increasing use of 360 degree performance appraisal to enhance individual capability, but also to develop a more open and supportive culture.
Training Needs Analysis has been strengthened by access to more innovative, research-based employee surveys and 360 degree feedback. Profiling is now supported by on-line systems that were not available in the ‘pre broadband’ world. When assessing leadership effectiveness, we also have access to recent research indicating that employee levels of job motivation and discretionary effort are driven by identification with role, meaningful work, autonomy and a sense of professionalism. However, employee advocacy and emotional commitment also requires connection with the ethos and values of the business, a sense of trust, and a belief that the organization ‘cares about me’ (and supports personal development).
Surveys designed to profile organizational leadership and culture, which may be the start point in defining training needs, can be improved by a good understanding of these wider issues. The focus may also be enhanced by making a distinction between (i) ‘satisfaction’, which is passive, (ii) motivation & discretionary effort (associated with ‘professionalism’ and a sense of doing meaningful work), and (iii) advocacy, which is an ‘active’ component of organizational commitment. Understanding the key elements within the three levels of Training Needs Analysis helps ensure resources are used to best effect and secure long-term benefit.