Large-Scale Performance-Driven Training Needs Assessment : A Case Study

Article excerpt

This paper reports a case study of an unusual needs assessment project designed to identify the performance improvement training needs of Louisiana state government employees. The project required the development of a hybrid methodology, called large-scale performance-driven training needs assessment. This methodology was more performance-oriented than the "felt-needs" found in large scale applications. The project also highlights deficiencies in needs assessment methodologies and plans for future research.

Louisiana state government employees are emerging from a long period during which little funding was available for employee training. This condition resulted from a variety of political and economic factors that left state employees with a high level of unmet training needs. The current administration has placed a high priority on improving employee training, and approached the Human Resource Development (HRD) program at Louisiana State University (LSU) for assistance in assessing and prioritizing training needs.

The scope of this project presented an unusual set of requirements. The clients needed a training needs assessment that could be used on a large scale and would be linked to performance improvement. Specifically, the LSU HRD program was asked to develop a methodology that met the following criteria:

* could be used with all state government departments (72,000 employees),

* was linked to performance improvement,

* gave all employees opportunity for input,

* could assess needs throughout all of state government in one year, and

* could be taught and utilized by state employees after completion of the project.

The purpose of this paper is to report on the methodology developed and the pilot implementation.

While this situation may seem like a very unique one, the need for performance-focused training needs assessment on a large scale may not be. The training industry is in the midst of a transformation from focusing on learning to emphasizing learning for performance.[1] At a minimum, most trainers are being pushed to performance-based training. As Brethower and Smalley[2] noted, performance-based instruction is both learner and organization centered. It improves performance of individuals, and thereby adds value to the organization. In many cases, trainers are being pushed to become performance consultants, thereby broadening their role to include involvement with all elements of the performance system.[3] This trend may have started with private sector organizations, but many public sector organizations are also experiencing demands for increased outcome accountability.

As a result, many organizations with traditional course delivery HRD departments may need a large-scale assessment methodology to initiate a performance-driven training strategy. The needs assessment literature does not report such methodologies. The characteristics of large organizations, such as many government agencies, present unusual challenges and often require special tools.[4] The methodology and experiences of this case should be useful to other large organizations as a way to accelerate their move to performance-driven human resource development or working toward a culture in which assessment is more accepted.

Needs Assessment Literature

This section is a brief review of key scholarly literature on needs assessment. It should be noted that the literature on training needs assessment is not a particularly deep scholarly literature, though many case studies are documented. In fact, McGehee and Thayer's three level conception of needs assessment is still a core framework for needs assessment, despite the fact that it was published in 1961.[5] They viewed training needs assessment as consisting of three levels of analysis: organization analysis, operations analysis, and man analysis. Today, operations analysis is more commonly known as task or work analysis and man analysis is usually referred to as individual or person analysis. …