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Learning Needs Analyses

Bob Little 

January 22, 2016

©iStockphoto/possum1961Despite the slightly macabre saying, “Only lemmings jump to conclusions,” it’s all too easy to decide the answer to an issue and then look for evidence to back up that view. This temptation occurs in all areas of life – and L&D is certainly no exception.

L&D professionals and their clients (be they in-house or external) might be under time or budget constraints, and opt to develop some learning materials before carrying out a thorough Learning Needs Analysis (LNA).

An LNA – or, in less enlightened days, a Training Needs Analysis (TNA) – compares a worker’s current level of knowledge, skills or attitude with the organization’s current, or anticipated, needs. According to the U.K.’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, “such an analysis will enable decisions about what learning provisions are needed at individual, team or organizational level. These gaps should be interpreted and prioritised in connection with the wider organizational strategy.”

The CIPD goes on to say that implementing a formal LNA may be seen as a health check on the skills, talent and capabilities of the organization. The analysis is based on a systematic gathering of data about workers’ capabilities along with organizational demands for skills, as well as being an analysis of the implications of new and changed roles for changes in capability.

Naturally, this approach relies on some assumptions – not least that those questioned tell the truth and that the subsequent analyses are accurate and objective. Moreover, the gaps being measured have to relate to what the organization will definitely need in the future and, given the rapid rate of change in today’s world of work, this can be a big assumption. So, the LNA process should flow from a cogent, coherent and realistic business strategy. Its aim is to ensure there is sufficient capability to sustain the organization’s performance now and in the foreseeable future.

Conducting an LNA should result in a number of related benefits:

  • The measurement of workers’ progress against objectives
  • The ability to manage individual performance more frequently than in annual appraisals.
  • Managers taking responsibility for, and an active interest in, their teams’ development.
  • Team members feeling supported and encouraged.
  • Improved work performance.
  • Operational managers empowered to do the “management” part of their job.
  • L&D professionals determining learning objectives, an effective development plan, and, then, effective L&D programs.

When conducting the LNA, you need to take account of the workers involved, the organization’s aims, objectives, strategy, and culture, and the impact of both current and likely future legislation on the business.

Carrying out an LNA involves managers formally discussing learning with their teams and documenting each team member’s learning needs. Then they, in consultation with the L&D professionals, can use this document to identify any gaps. Relating these gaps to the organization’s goals, strategy and budget should produce a series of targets – and these will provide the rationale for related L&D activities.

Ten key questions to address as part of the LNA process are:

  • What knowledge and skills do employees need to carry out their role effectively?
  • What existing relevant knowledge and skills do they have?
  • What do they need to know or do to get their team and organization to function effectively and efficiently?
  • How do their attitudes affect the effective and efficient functioning of their team and organization?
  • What internal changes and objectives (for example, procedural, cultural, strategic) affect these answers?
  • What external changes (for example, legislative, compliance and regulatory) affect these answers?
  • Do the employees recognize and accept the gaps that the LNA has revealed?
  • How are these gaps going to be closed? (The most effective answer might not be a standard, formal, classroom-delivered “course.”)
  • How and when is the “gap-closing process” going to be measured and evaluated?
  • What processes are in place to ensure that “success” is achieved?

Data can be gathered from a number of internal and external sources. The resulting information will provide different insights depending on what is collected and how it is interpreted. So it’s important that sufficient data is collected and that you recognize and account for its limitations. You should also determine whether the opinions expressed in the data are justified.

But what if there’s a seemingly random corporate decision to “develop learning” or “do training” on some topic? How can the L&D professional then make the case for carrying out an LNA to see if the proposed learning is appropriate?

Roger Mayo has many years of experience as an in-house HR and L&D specialist with large companies. He says, “Most CEOs would welcome a proper LNA, especially if they could track the improvements and see benefits. The L&D professional may have to do a pilot first – to show the benefits that a proper, business-based solution could bring.”

Some people claim that LNAs are redundant nowadays, as knowledge and skills needs are changing at such a rapid rate. But Roger disagrees with this view: “In my experience, individuals are often very good at knowing where and how to access knowledge but skill acquisition is more difficult because they don’t always know or admit to what they need. An LNA brings everything together in one place, is integrated into the strategic intent and ensures everything is captured.”

Do you know what skills your people need to fulfill your business strategy? How can you find out more? Share your questions and experience below.

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One comment on “Learning Needs Analyses”:

  1. Suzanne Lahache wrote:

    This is an excellent piece of information! I would like to find out more on how to get our organizations “health check” up and running.