Before any organization can begin training and developing employees, it must purposefully identify its own needs. Otherwise, opportunities for waste abound.
A need is a gap. In simple terms, a needs assessment identifies gaps or spaces between the current state and the desired state. An organization cannot confidently identify its needs without a systematic means of determining gaps that exist between where the organization is and where it wishes to be.
In the book Multimedia-based Instructional Design, needs assessment is described as the systematic process of determining goals, identifying discrepancies between actual and desired conditions, and establishing priorities for action. It is important for all employees to recognize that needs assessment is much more a process than event and one of the primary positive contributors to creating a development culture.
The primary purpose of needs assessment is to determine if and where there are issues for which training, or other developmental activities, can help close the gaps identified by the needs assessment. An effective needs assessment is purposeful and thorough. If implemented properly, it eliminates bias and yields timely and valid insight while providing opportunity to align development initiatives with business strategy.
Conducting a needs assessment helps organizations identify:
- Individual, team, and departmental goals and effectiveness in achieving these goals.
- Knowledge, skills, abilities, and core competency gaps that negatively impact effective job performance.
- Solutions that may or may not include training. Judith Brown, Director of Research for IPMA, states, “If policies, practices, and procedures need to be corrected or adjusted, this is a concern for top management, not a training concern.”
- Conditions under and surroundings where development opportunities will take place.
- Effectiveness of development activities and opportunities.
- Whether or not existing development activities are accomplishing their original purpose.
A needs assessment that is ultimately validated via transfer of knowledge and return on investment evaluations increases stakeholder confidence and lays a positive foundation for future training and development opportunities.
A needs assessment can be extensive or can be applied to one job function. It can be organization wide or focus on an employee’s skill gap related to using one piece of equipment. Needs assessment involves gathering data, and there are numerous ways to do so. Regardless of the collection methods an organization chooses, SGR recommends implementing two methods at a minimum as a means of validating collected needs data.
We will review various needs assessment methods in next week’s post.