3 Mistakes People Make When Conducting Needs Analysis
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Not all needs analysis is conducted equally. Let's talk about the big pitfalls you want to avoid.
Mistake # 1: You approach needs analysis as "learning needs analysis" or "training needs analysis."
When you start by asking "what needs to be learned?" you've already decided that learning is the solution.
That's not always the case.
Root cause analysis-- looking closely at what's creating a problem-- on the other hand, leaves the door open for the most effective solutions. It's a practice geared towards defining the problem and responding to key causes.
Let's look at an example from a customer education project. The client wanted to train their customers on their dashboard, which wasn't being used well.
After talking to the internal stakeholders and some of their customers, what we learned was that:
the UI of the dashboard had some confusing elements
there weren't many nudges to return to the system beyond onboarding
onboarding was a single email and a list of action steps without any other support
In this case, there was some learning content to create-- we needed accessible tutorials.
BUT small adjustments to the UI and a few extra marketing emails were more effective than any training (and less expensive).
Mistake #2: You do learner analysis by speaking with subject matter experts or managers.
Learner perspectives need to be included in needs analysis. Period. What we now know to be true is that people leave organizations where they don't feel like they are being developed, and a major reason for that gap is because they aren't asked about their needs or goals.
The other problem is that when you rely on SMEs or Managers, their perspectives are biased by experience and position. For instance, working with one client whose staff was comprised mostly of people without college educations, managers were convinced people "just weren't good students" and that they "didn't want to learn." When you talk to the learners, you quickly found that:
training wasn't standardized or kept up to date, and they were sometimes confused by which version of it they should follow
management didn't support their continued learning / feedback was mostly given as correction rather than support
they didn't have the resources they needed to do the job in the way they were trained
The idea that the concepts needed to be dumbed down were pretty baseless. These people needed support.
Mistake # 3: The only data you gather is what people tell you and some content (previous training docs, manuals, etc).
There are so many reasons that people can't or won't be able to tell you what's really happening inside a business. They might be:
in a position of limited power and fear losing their job
someone who likes to "look good" in front of others and fears admitting they're struggling with or failing at something
protesting a decision made without their input
lacking in self-awareness that helps them understand when they are and aren't meeting expectations
Relying only on their narrative can obscure truth. While conversations can lend valuable insights, you need to have a more comprehensive view of the work context.
Simple assessments, observations, and system reports can help you make more informed decisions.
Ask for Analysis
If you're a business leader, I encourage you to insist your learning partner conduct a needs analysis. It should be appropriate for the complexity of your situation-- not everything requires a 3 month analysis, but your situation might. You risk wasting time, money, effort, and other resources when you skip this critical phase.
If you're a learning and development professional, educate your clients/colleagues about analysis and the benefits-- not just how it works, but how it helps. Ask to make needs analysis a part of the work. Ask for the tools you need to do the analysis well. Not asking is the #1 reason I find that people don't have an opportunity to do it (very anecdotally, of course).
With that said, when I say ask, I don't necessarily mean asking for permission. "Could we try needs analysis this time?" is likely to get a no or a non-commitment.
I mean making a case for needs and getting approval. You might try saying something like, "How can we make space for this very important part of the process?" or "Who can I connect with to start gathering the data I need to make informed decisions so I can best address this issue?"
Small shifts in language can make a big difference in results.
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