As we stated last week, in simplest terms, a need is a gap. It is the divide from an existing state to a desired state. For example, it represents where an employee’s skill level is versus where you want that skill level to be.
When preparing for training, a validated needs assessment increases the likelihood of getting a favorable response from those who control budget dollars. If you say, “We need training,” but have no means to validate why, you may hear something like, “Come back when you have proof you need it.”
Valid data must first be collected. There are dozens of data collection methods and all of them have pros and cons. Raymond Noe stirred our thoughts on the topic in his book Employee Training and Development. Some of his observations are incorporated below.
Online Survey – Standardized electronic questionnaire that asks predetermined questions.
|Generally yields a high rate of return and large amounts of data||Respondents may collaborate when individual responses are preferred|
|Does not require a trained interviewer(s)||Respondents may rush through responses|
|Harder to validate if using a 3rd party survey tool (internal survey tool may be more reliable since employees must sign in to use)|
|Not all employees may have access to computer|
Paper Questionnaire – Standardized hard copy questionnaire that asks predetermined questions.
|Generally yields a high rate of return and large amounts of data||Labor intensive|
|Does not require a trained interviewer(s)||Returns not always high|
|Only provides information directly related to questions|
Face-to-Face Interview – Structured face-to-face question and answer session using predetermined questions.
|May reveal specific details related to development needs as well as causes of and solutions to various problems||Time consuming|
|Provides an opportunity to clarify questions and/or responses||Requires skilled interviewer|
|Questions can be modified||Scheduling constraints|
|Employees may tell you what you want to hear|
Archived Data – Data that have already been collected by an organization and are in their records or archives.
|Low cost||Often out of date|
|Unobtrusive||Previous compilation methods may not have been valid|
|Can be highly accurate||Could be based on previous business strategy|
|Often good to moderate validity||May be incomplete|
|Can allow for historical comparison/trend analysis|
Focus Groups – Structured interviews with small groups of like individuals using standardized questions, and exploration of other topics that arise to better.
|Relatively low cost||Can be time consuming which may increase costs|
|Rapid data collection||Produces limited quantitative data|
|Participants define what is important||Requires trained facilitators|
|Provides opportunity to explore issues in depth||Groupthink may skew responses|
|Opportunity to clarify responses||Difficult to collect sensitive information|
|Participants may not be forthcoming if supervisors are included in focus group|
Observation – Structured observation using standardized criteria.
|Can check for congruence on what people say and what they actually do||If participants know they are being observed, they may act differently|
|Feedback is immediate||Time consuming|
|Occurs within actual workplace conditions.||Requires trained observers|
Simulation – Using actual equipment or assessment, but not in the work environment.
|Able to observe and analyze in a controlled environment||Costly|
|Requires trained observers|
SGR recommends utilizing a minimum of two collection methods. Comparing data sets from both methods will solidify the validity of identified gaps, positioning you to present a strong case for training to meet the need.
President of Online Learning, Strategic Government Resources