How To Do a Training Needs Assessment and When Is It Used?
Training needs assessment is conducted in an organization where there are changes seen as significant enough to indicate gaps in performance for individuals (changing roles for example), an area or department (changing process, equipment, or responsibilities), or an organization (merging, acquiring, or divesting). These changes call for more than just communication but do not require an entire change or the development of a whole program. Training needs assessments are also likely necessary when there is a noticeable decline in performance for a group of people or teams without any discernible differences in processes, technologies, or organizational factors.
A good assessment always starts with asking three questions: why you think there is a problem, why are you looking at this now, and what are you expecting to see in terms of performance that you are not seeing. These should be considered before engaging in any formal assessment and should be as objective as possible. It is the objectivity needed that often requires a consultant who will have an outside view of the issues and experience in similar organizations and fields for comparison.
Challenges to traditional training need assessment
Traditionally, training needs assessments have usually been conducted on-site with the consultant observing and discussing changes in person. This way the consultant has the opportunity to determine the difference between what is the expected performance norm and what is the commonly observed practice. It is important to see the difference between the two because often the gap in training and performance is the difference between the best practice and the actual practice.
The difficulty in this type of observation today is that travel is limited, if possible at all. The increased risk of virus transmission, the cutback in the number of affordable modes of transport, and the expense of bringing a consultant on board when markets may be precarious is a risk many organizations choose not to take.
Additionally, with many more people working from home or at a distance, or with the increased distribution of a company globally, it may not be possible to bring people together to observe and discuss work.
How does distance affect observation or information gathering?
While it’s true that distance can have a limiting effect on gathering real-time directly observed data, it is still possible to do TNAs from offsite or at a global distance. The advent of technology and the use of modern tools assist greatly in seeing the bigger picture of how work gets done and where it might need to be adjusted or retrained.
Video conferencing tools can bring people together who work on the same team, or on different teams doing the same work. The benefit of employing video conferencing is that the sessions can be recorded for the consultant to review at a later date out of the order of presentation. This also an opportunity to encourage a robust conversation without the need to take fully detailed notes. Finally, there is also the added benefit of being able to watch the non-verbal communication that happens when people feel psychologically safe and at a distance from one another.
Video can also be taken in the form of a screen capture or screen share when work is being done on a machine or within a computer system in order to capture work step-by-step. If the video is captured while the consultant and employee are doing the work it can also be reviewed against the manuals or expected processes provided by the operations and training groups.
Distance is not an impediment to the investigation of the changes or complications in using the technologies of the organization. Giving the consultant access to systems or pieces of the relevant infrastructure to look at the ease of use, navigation, and other factors, will be an opportunity to see first-hand what a new employee (through hiring or acquisition for example) might encounter.
How to make use of the new reality of needs assessment in 2021
In order to make create an environment in which a training needs assessment can be conducted from a distance, the consultant needs to be adept at creating an atmosphere of candor and trustworthiness in an electronic meeting environment, as well as proficient in using systems that may not be intuitive to an outsider in an organization. The organization, in turn, should be accommodating to the consultant in sharing access to existing and proposed training, systems, planned changes, and individuals who will be able to contribute their knowledge and expertise in the parts of the organization.
Like all training analysis activities, regular updates with the stakeholders and key sponsors are necessary and it is likely that more time may be needed to complete the analysis based on the fact that there are usually delays when individuals are not face-to-face.
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