Conducting a Training Needs Assessment: A Mad Lib

The conversations around the need for training can sometimes seem like they’re taken out of a book of Mad Libs.  Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the following Mad Lib before:

Conducting a Training Needs Assessment - Mad Libs Style

All too often some managers, HR professionals, even some trainers propose training as an automatic response to address performance issues.  Training – in the form of an in-house refresher course, an industry-specific conference, an article, a book, a multi-million dollar eLearning module or anything in between – is certainly one tool.  But it’s just one tool, it’s not the overarching solution.

Questions to Ask when Conducting a Training Needs Assessment

Before training enters a manager’s mind, conducting a training needs assessment focused on an employee’s performance gap(s) can save a lot of time and money:

  1. Is it actually within the employee’s job description and duties?
  2. Is it related to a core competency necessary to be successful in the employee’s position?
  3. Has the employee’s manager identified and shared specific, observable behaviors describing the perceived performance gap?
  4. Have specific actions, goals, and milestones been identified for the employee to illustrate what success in addressing a performance gap would look like?
  5. Has the employee received prior education/training on how to competently address the performance gap?
  6. Has the employee been given time on the job to allow him/her to attempt to apply new knowledge, skills, abilities or behaviors learned in training?
  7. Has the employee been observed and had an opportunity to receive feedback on his/her initial attempts to apply new knowledge, skills, abilities or behaviors in addressing the performance gap?

Addressing performance gaps requires managers to play the role of a detective, asking the right questions and gathering information.  While training can offer enormous dividends if it’s connected to specific learning needs and performance gaps, employee development also requires a manager that is invested in the continuous development of his/her staff.  Ongoing coaching, support, and feedback will trump the idea of “more training” almost every time.

What is your approach to conducting a training needs assessment for your employees? Share your thoughts in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Conducting a Training Needs Assessment: A Mad Lib

  1. Spot on, Brian. Training, performance management, and progressive discipline are three legs of a stool. Too many managers use the wrong system to address the wrong situation–e.g. using training to address performance gaps, and performance management when progressive discipline would actually be more appropriate. Many managers don’t really want to do any of this stuff, so they don’t really take time to understand them well enough to do them well. As HR professionals, we need to do a little bit better job of steering the ship sometimes.

    • Thanks Warren. I know my biggest struggle is trying to put myself in the shoes of a manager who, in addition to peformance management, has to worry about budgets and targets and deadlines and organizational politics and maybe even a direct report’s personal or family problems that couldn’t have come at a worse time. The key is trying to figure out how to make sure the 3-legged stool you mention (love that metaphor!) is integrated into a manager’s daily routine and not seen as “one more thing” they need to do.

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