Training is a big and important investment. In order to get the most return from your training money, it's important that your programs are well planned. Your plan should come from carefully identified needs. In this post, my is goal to share my thoughts on where to look and how to identify those training needs.
Where to look:
The first and best place to look is in your organization's strategic and operational plans. I will tell you why later. The next is at the results of your company's performance appraisal reports if you have one. Lastly, you can also identify your employees' training needs by asking the employees themselves.
How to look
Abraham Maslow said "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail". This applies to training and identifying training needs. First, i hope you agree with me that training is not the solution to all performance problems. poor performance is not always caused by lack of training. It could be a result of poor recruitment, lack of effective tools, undesirable work environment, bad strategy and other extraneous factors. it is therefore important to separate the real need for training and the needs for other interventions. It also helps to employ various ways of identifying your training needs.
Let me now go to how I think training should be identified through the methods I identified at the beginning of this post:
Extract it from your organizational plans.
As I said, this should be your first and best stop towards identifying your employees training needs. Why, because the needs you will identify here shows a line of sight with your organization's goals and strategic direction. Here are the questions that will extract the answers you need:
1. If X is the company's goal and Y is it's strategy, how many people are needed to carry out that strategy and with what kind of knowledge, attitude, skills and habits (KASH)?
2. Are those KASH available to you now?
3. Which of those should you hire and which should be developed (through training)?
If you are using the balanced scorecard framework, all these questions are much easier to answer and the answer clearly links back to the organization's goals. For the sake of illustration, I came up with a simplified BSC set of goals and initiatives to show you how I think it should work.
Extract it from your regular performance appraisal reports
This is provided that your performance appraisal tool has a feature for appraising the "lead" indicators (desired behaviors or competencies) that affect delivery of results. If your appraisal only focuses on results, then there's not much to talk about except the desired results being met or not met. Your performance appraisal system can be a powerful tool for identifying training needs if it has all the necessary features. One would be behavioral or competency assessment, the other one is an (this is known by many names) employee development plan. This is the form managers and employees use to discuss the steps to take in order to improve employee performance. This form often contain the identification of needed training to improve the incumbent's performance. HR should collate all these and extract pertinent data that will be considered in drawing the training plan.
Going back to the behavior or competency-based appraisal, if you put all the appraisal results together, you should see trends in terms of strengths and weaknesses(see above table). If you play with the numbers, you will be able to see how many of your employees need to improve their presentation skills, for example or problem solving and decision making. Be forewarned though that as i said earlier, not all performance gaps are training needs. You need to investigate if this problem can be addressed through other means. See related topic here.
Ask the employees themselves
This is where you utilize your training needs analysis survey questionnaires. For me this is the least effective because it is the most subjective. To ask employees' what their training needs are is akin to asking them what their ideal man or woman are. They, more often than not fall in love with the complete opposite of what they say they like. So, the question you might have now is, is this worth doing at all? My answer is if you don't have organizational plans to refer to and your existing performance appraisal tool does not provide you with the necessary information, then this is your only recourse (aside from finally deciding to have an organizational plan and a performance management system that gives you the information you need of course!).
Is there a way to reduce the subjectivity of the responses to your questionnaire? My answer is yes. This is by asking your questions 360 degrees, meaning ask the incumbent, the boss, the subordinate and the peer. It can be a logistical nightmare to do this ( imagine asking 4 people the same set of questions for each incumbent instead of just one) but this is the best way i know to reduce subjectivity. One other consideration in using TNA questionnaires, is making sure that people are in the right frame of mind when they respond to your questions. I mean, they should completely understand and accept the purpose of the exercise and the role they play. If people are under or overstating the need, you'll have a poor basis for your training plan. This is why I always prefer to sit people in one room and discuss what we are trying to do before letting them answer the questionnaires instead of just emailing it to them. The face-to-face conversation gives me more confidence that i have explained well and all questions are answered.
Want to know more? Attend my Trainer's Training workshop on February 11, 12 and 18, 2010. See the details here.