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The 5 Critical Questions for a Learning and Development Needs Assessment

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The process of identifying an organization’s training needs can be quite complex, and if the questions used to guide the “investigation” aren’t well thought out and objective, it risks being fruitless.

Obviously a training needs assessment involves not five but dozens (or even hundreds) of key questions that help determine, first of all, whether training is truly required for a specific issue and scenario and, if so, how the process as a whole will take place.

In order to narrow it down to just five critical questions, we started with a much longer list and eliminated everything that wasn’t vital for a learning and development assessment.

This makes it easier to focus on what’s really important. After all, it’s way more feasible to learn and memorize 5 questions than 50, right?

1. What are the company’s short-, medium- and long-term objectives?

Before even mentioning the word “training,” it’s important to understand the organization’s short-, medium- and long-term strategic goals. What does the company seek to achieve in institutional terms with all its stakeholders? Does it want to launch a range of products with the potential to disrupt a particular segment? Or does it plan to expand in the coming years?

All of this may seem far from the scope of T&D, but it’s not. Every training action needs to be directly or indirectly connected to the company’s objectives, and knowing where top management wants to go can be decisive for a learning program’s effectiveness and success.

2. What aspects of the organization are barriers to achieving results?

Here we’re talking about an accurate assessment of the organization’s climate, culture, processes, bureaucracy, engagement and purpose. This analysis will eventually reveal whether there is a need for a training program (or not).

To reach this conclusion, it’s necessary to understand the factors that impact the company’s results, both negatively and positively. Why is the sales team struggling to sell a new product? What’s missing for the team to feel comfortable and confident in moving forward? It’s not a matter of laying blame, rather a systemic analysis to identify the real bottlenecks (or barriers) that must be overcome in order for the results to happen.

3. What new level of performance is expected?

Once it’s been determined that training is the most appropriate way to overcome the barriers identified in the previous question, it’s time to define what kind of change is expected. Essentially, what you want to know is: what do work teams (the training’s target audience) need to start doing immediately after training?It’s equally important to identify what people need to stop doing. In Neil Rackman’s classic book “SPIN Selling,” he presents many good examples of attitudes that can hinder results and therefore should be eliminated. Based on years of research and statistical analyses, he shows that high-value B2B sales are the result of relationships and trust built over time. In other words, there’s no point in “forcing” a sale using traditional commercial tactics. Not only will it not work, it can harm the relationship with the potential customer.

4. Which indicators will used to evaluate the success of the training?

It’s time to define what will be measured qualitatively and quantitatively in order to establish the goals and objectives of the training itself. Without knowing how to measure the expected change, it’s hard to determine whether the training was successful or unsuccessful, right?

There are numerous quantitative indicators that can be used here: sales volume, number of products sold, tickets opened correctly, average service time, etc. From a qualitative point of view, indicators might include reducing the internal meetings needed to solve a particular issue, or improving the end customer’s perception of the quality of service delivery.

5. What Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes (KSA) are needed to achieve the desired results?

Now that you know what you’re going to measure, you know where to direct your energy in a proactive and focused way to achieve the results.

Here we’re referring to technical and behavioral skills. When conducting a training needs assessment, it’s important to take time to map all the Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes (KSA) the work teams will need to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. There’s no overemphasizing that people are a company’s greatest asset. Professional development strategies should be created according to each individual’s learning profile, job requirements and hierarchy.

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