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In this SoftExpert white paper, Carl Greenberg, a human resources consultant and organisational psychologist and Ian Huntly, CEO and MD of Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings, discuss the importance of conducting a needs training analysis within an organisation.
SoftExpert is represented in sub-Saharan Africa by Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings.
At the core of any effective training program is correctly identifying what your training needs are. Poorly conducted needs analyses can lead to training solutions that train the wrong competencies, the wrong people and utilise the wrong learning methods.
This nine-step “How To” guide provides a step-by-step approach to conducting a needs analysis. The results of a training needs analysis provide the employer with answers to the following questions:
* What is needed and why?
* Where is it needed?
* Who needs it?
* How will it be provided?
* How much will it cost?
* What is the desired outcome on the business?

Determine the desired business outcomes
Before a training needs analysis can commence, the employer needs to articulate the goal of the training. In other words what are expected business outcomes of the training? The training goal should correspond to a business objective. This can be specific to an individual employee, work unit, department or the entire organisation.
This ultimate goal of the training should be clearly articulated and kept in the forefront to ensure the entire needs analysis process keeps the desired state in sight. It is best for an employer answer the question “How will we know the training worked?”

Linking desired business outcomes with employee behaviour
There are generally multiple behaviours associated with any desired business outcome. These behaviours are a result of employees:
* Knowing what do;
* Having the capability to do it; and
* Having the motivation to do it.
At this step in the process, employers should identify the critical competencies (behaviours and associated knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics linked to desired business outcomes). This is usually done through collecting information from subject matter experts.
Data collection may take the form of interviews, focus groups, or surveys. Regardless of the method used, the results of the data collection should result in a clear understanding of how important each competency is to achieving the desired business goal.
A rating scale example to assess the importance is “How important is this for successful job performance”?
1 – Not at all
2 – A little
3 – Somewhat
4 – Considerable
5 – Extremely
To ensure only the competencies deemed critical should be considered for inclusion in other training needs analysis steps, rating averages should be at least a 4.0 on the 5-point rating scale.

Identifying trainable competencies
Not every competency can be improved through training, nor may an employer necessarily want to invest in improving performance through training. For example, a sales job may require sales people to be outgoing and initiate conversations with total strangers. It is more effective for an employer to hire people who are already extraverted than to attempt to convert introverts.
Similarly, it may be more effective to hire people with specialised knowledge than to educate and train them. Employers should evaluate each critical competency from Step 2 and determine if this is something you expect employees to possess prior to job entry. Taken together, this should provide employers with a list of critical competencies amenable to training.

Evaluating competencies
With a targeted list of competencies in hand, employers should then determine the extent to which their employees possess these. The most often used methods are competency evaluations and tests or assessments.
Performance evaluation surveys are best used to evaluate observable behaviours. This can be easily accomplished by taking the critical competencies from Steps 2 and 3 and having knowledgeable people rate the targeted employees’ behaviours.
More often than not supervisors perform this function. Multiple raters (peers, subordinates and customers) are used to evaluate the performance of managers and executives. This approach is generally labelled as a 360-degree survey.
Performance evaluation surveys become less effective the more raters have to infer unobservable competencies like ability, skills and personality. Evaluation of these competencies should be accomplished through the use of professional developed tests and assessments.
There are many tests available on the market to measure specific skills, abilities and personality characteristics. However, choosing the right test should be done in coordination with a testing professional (e.g., an industrial-organisational psychologist). Care should be taken in selecting tests that are valid measures of the targeted competency.
Custom-designed assessments are also appropriate, especially if the employer desires to measure specialised knowledge or effectiveness in a major segment of the work. These can range from multiple choice job knowledge tests to conducting elaborate job simulations. For example, a very effective approach to measuring the training needs of managers and leaders is using an Assessment Centre, which comprises different role-play exercises that parallel managerial situations.

Determining performance gaps
Regardless of the methods used to evaluate competencies, individual employee results are combined to assess how many employees are in need of improvement in particular competencies. To do this the employer first needs to establish what constitutes a performance gap.
This will vary from employer to employer. Some employers will set higher standards than others. Setting the standard will now provide the employer with an understanding of how many employees fall above or below that standard. Those falling below would be considered in need to training.

Prioritising training needs
Employers should aggregate the data in Step 6 with information on the performance gap pervasiveness. For example how many (or what percentage) of the targeted workforce needs training? Employers should also consider the importance of the competency (see Step 2). Taken together, pervasiveness and importance should result in a list of training priorities.

Determining how to train
Using the training priority list from Step 6, employers should now consider how best to train their workforce. Typical training methods include:
* On the job;
* Mentoring and coaching;
* Classroom;
* Web-based;
* Books;
* Conferences; and
* University programmes.
It is recommended employers use a professional who is well versed in adult learning to help determine the best ways employees can acquire a particular competency.

Conducting a cost benefit analysis
At this point, employers need to consider the costs associated with a particular training methods and the extent to which performance gaps can be combined into the same training experience.
Cost factors include:
* Required training time;
* Training content development;
* Training content delivery;
* Lost productivity; and
* Travel and logistical expenses.
On the benefit side, different training methods will have varying degrees of effectiveness (see Step 7). For example, while web based training may be the least costly, this may not be the best way for employees to develop a particular skill. Employers need to strike a balance between the cost of a particular training method and its ability to achieve the desired results.

Planning for Training Evaluation
The last step in this process is for employers to decide how they will know that the training worked. Effective training is more than employees liking it. It should include an evaluation component similar to how the needs were assessed in Step 4.
Questions that evaluation process should answer are:
* How much did the training improve the competencies targeted in the training?
* How much did the training improve employees’ actual job performance?
* How much did the training improve the meeting of business objectives?
* To what degree did the training effect a positive return on its investment?
The type of questions the employers wants answers to will drive the method and components of the evaluation process.