The Wonderful world of Needs Assessment!

This week, I’m going to thrill you all with talking about the wonderful world of Needs Assessment. It’s one of those things that we know is necessary to ensure we are creating the right solution to satisfy a problem but yet it is a process that is often left out in the cold. Usually bullied to the back burner by its rivals Money and Time. The ironic thing is that most often organizations spend more money applying the wrong solution to a problem and even more time trying  multiple solutions due to the first one not working. I can’t tell you how many times I have suggested the necessity of conducting a needs analysis and of course the age old response is ” We don’t have time. We have to roll out training NOW.” Then once training is completed, I follow up with stakeholders and revisit how we decided to roll out evaluations and collect data to see if the training really solved the problem.  As I  press the send button I can imagine the director or executive reading my message, yawning, and kindly pressing delete.  So being that companies think it is just a tedious task that training and development departments use to deeem ourselves important or waste precious time, I wanted to explore what actually happens during a needs assessment. To help us explore this topic we are going to take one of my favorite airlines to demonstrate how to conduct an analysis and identify opportunities for training, so that you are comfortable doing the same in your own organization when making the case for training.

The Organization of Southwest Airlines

When conducting a needs assessment analysis, its important for you to know who the organization’s stakeholders are and which one these stakeholders you will have to make your allies for training and development.  I would identify  all levels of management, shareholders, and employees as stakeholders for Southwest. When trying to gain buy-in during the needs assessment stage, I would want to get buy-in from the highest level of management, the person who has access to the budget, and the person that employees may see as the leader who impacts them directly. It is imperative to get the buy-in from the managers, their attitude towards training activities sets the tone for employees regarding how important or valuable the activities are and where on their list of priorities the training activity should be. This is the first step to building employee support and possibly (but not always) enthusiasm for the training or training activities that may require employee participation during the needs assessment analysis (i.e. surveys, questionnaires, or focus groups). “The key factors for success are a positive attitude among peers, managers, and employees about participation in training activities…”(Noe, 2010, p.111) So roll up your sleeves, clear your calendar, and start meeting with all levels of management to gauge how they feel about training and development currently.


Organizational Analysis

There are three sets of activities that should be conducted when performing a needs assessment which include an organization, person, and task analysis. When conducting an organizational analysis, you are “identifying whether training supports the company’s strategic direction; whether managers, peers, and employees support training activities, and what training resources are available” (Noe; 2010; p. 110).  We are going to start this needs assessment by first conducting an organizational analysis. To get a feel for the organization’s goals we are going to start with the company’s mission statement.


To Their Customers

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.


To Their Employees

We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer.


By looking at the mission statement, I am able to tell that Southwest holds the following values in high regard:

  • External and Internal Customer Service
  • Employees Growth
  • Stable Work Environment

So now comes the fun part! You now have to analyze to see if these items are really taking place and what types of training is currently happening to support these values. If there are any gaps you have now identified training opportunities.  You can collect data by sending out questionnaires, surveys, hold interviews , or focus groups. The importance is to look at all levels within the organization. You are sure to find some gaps in perceptions so just taping one targeted audience for data will give you narrow perspective on the big picture.


Person Anaylsis

This where you ,”identify  employees who need training, that is, whether employees’ current performance or expected performance indicates a need for training.” ( Noe 2010, p.113)

You can use the information that you received from the organization analysis to identify if there is a particular targeted audience who you should focus on when it comes to suggested training. Once you have selected the targeted audience, look to see if specific  individuals have any skill or performance gaps. Remember your alliances at this point will be management. If I were a training professional for Southwest, I would see if there are any gaps as an organization that hinder them from meeting their goals that are mentioned in their mission statement. So let’s say I gather information that states that due to customer service surveys, we are not meeting our goal of providing quality customer service, I would then see which groups are not meeting their metrics. If it’s the baggage handlers, I would then go to that group and sit with management to discuss if they have noticed any particular issues. Being that I have built an alliance, I would then ask if I could look at the specific individuals performance reviews, sit with the specific individual and gather feedback as well. Getting different perspectives will allow me to identify whether or not training is necessary for the person during the analysis.


Task Analysis

Once you have completed a person analysis you then want to look at the set of activities an individual has to complete to perform their job. While analyzing the individuals I would also look at their job and what tasks are assigned to them to evaluate if there is anything in the process that hinders them from performing at the expected levels.


Once you have gathered all of your information, you are able to report back to the stakeholders your case for the need for training, in which  areas, the business implications if not implemented, the targeted audience, and vendors selected for training if necessary.


You will now be armed with enough information that will seem substantial to your stakeholders. Now look at that, the very process that seems so tedious to others outside of training has the ability to give those same individuals a different perspective on training where they can appreciate the efforts and the results!

Noe, Raymond A. ;2010;Employee traiing and Development; 5th ed


One thought on “The Wonderful world of Needs Assessment!

  1. Nicole,
    You picked my favorite airlines for your analysis. Great opening paragraph. You did a good job identifying some of the stakeholders you needed to get involved. However, wouldn’t you want to include the customers and suppliers of products to SW as stakeholders for your analysis? I would agree that a good staring point is to meet with the different level of management to determine if the current training is meeting their perceived needs. During your organizational analysis who would you survey and interview? How would focus groups be used? What about interviewing the suppliers during the organizational phase? What documents could be used?

    You mentioned using a combination of survey results and interviews during the person analysis phase. While these data collection techniques can help you determine the existence of a gap in the training, doing some onsite observations will help to triangulate your findings. I wasn’t sure how you would be comparing job responsibilities and individual performances during the task analysis phase. Would there be any advantage of doing interviews and/or focus groups during the task analysis? What about the customers, would there input be of any value during the task analysis phase?

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