A lot of times training happens as a consequence of management requests. Sometimes a learning intervention really is required, other times another type of approach is more suited but either way, the L&D department has to step in, analyze the state of things and come up with an appropriate proposal.
Yet there should be a lot more to the work of learning specialists than this firemen-like interventions where they just jump in with water and axes (in this case training modules and workshops) whenever there is a distress call. Fire units are on permanent standby because there is no knowing when and where there might be an incident (as nobody in the right mind actually desires a flaming building) but L&D departments are in charge of something everyone wants and lots of it: knowledge.
Looking to the future
The skills and information necessary today may, however, become totally redundant tomorrow. All industries are constantly evolving and adapting to our high-speed, technology-driven world. An employee who was hired as an expert five years back may not be at the top of his field anymore unless he was involved in some professional development activities.
The corporate world is moving fast and changing even faster. This may be the main reason why training interventions are required apparently out of the blue and on very close deadlines for deployment.
Yet since we know everything is subject to constant transformation and we have the tools to take a peek into what these mutations will look like it’s best to set about determining future training needs – basically putting out the fire while it’s just a small kindle.
Like with any thorough analysis, the first step is to gather all the necessary information. Taking a look at current trends and recent innovations within the industry is a good start. There are so many good, accessible publications online that it’s not even difficult to get the intel, it just takes a bit of filtering out redundant articles and some time to read the relevant ones.
Then it’s time to check out one’s own front yard: the company’s annual reports, the declared business plans and brand strategy. L&D is mainly a support department that needs to stay focused and make sure that the organization has the theoretical tools for meeting its goals.
Last but not least, there is some precious information that is not so easily obtained: facts about what the competition is planning. James Bond-like skills would be a great plus but since breaking into headquarters to look at business plans is mainly illegal (and unethical) it’s enough to read interviews with the top management and review public statements and brand promises.
Once the reading part is over, the conversation part begins. Or, better said, the listening part. In order to be able to draw a coherent and valuable training strategy for an organization, one needs to hear what the main stakeholders have to say.
It’s important to make it very clear that the interviews are more about the future rather than the current situations. Some sample questions to ask would be:
- What is it that the L&D department is not doing today and would be best to do in the near future?
- What future innovations, products or services will require training support?
- What knowledge sets or skills will employee require to move the organization forward?
- What areas of under-performance are not explained by market or technological evolutions?
- Are competitors doing better in some areas? What are those?
- What is the most significant skill that is lacking in the organization?
These are of course just a few examples. There may be companies facing restructuring or mergers and then questions targeting those particular situations are in order.
Getting priorities straight
With all the gathered data on the table (or laptop, computer or tablet) some sorting out and clarification is in order. It is time to filter out what surfaced as being important and thinking out plans to address those issues by means of learning and development.
These plans will be extensively explained in a proposal that, if it is approved, will stand at the base of al L&D activity for the near future. When writing it, it is advisable to start with a review of what information was found about the market and what issues were taken out of executive interviews.
Recommendations on what types of training should be deployed ought to be based on these findings. The mediums in which learning will happen are also to be mentioned, whether they will be classroom interventions, e-learning, one-to-one coaching sessions or after-hours workshops.
If the analysis uncovered other possible ways of improving performance, these are also worth mentioning. And of course, there should be a big chapter about costs and benefits – we are talking about business after all.
Preparing for the future
Running a general training needs analysis when there isn’t one particular burning area gives L&D specialists time to be thorough and look at the big picture rather than figuring out how to quickly patch-up something. Learning is a process and having defined paths that are right in line with where the organization is going is the most effective way to achieve good performance.