The needs-assessment process is basic, simple, and rational. But many trainers and businesspeople are confused about what a needs assessment is and how to do one. That may be because many organizations are taking the wrong approach to needs assessment.
So what is a needs assessment? It's a process for defining the gaps between current and desired results. It provides justification for identifying and choosing options for closing those gaps--options such as training, human resource development, restructuring, or total-quality management. A needs assessment uncovers the basic data necessary for ensuring that such solutions, once selected, will deliver the desired results.
Are you looking into ways to improve what your organization does and what it delivers? You can begin your needs assessment by asking some basic questions:
* What results are we now getting, and how do they compare with the results we should be getting?
* What contributions do we have to make to our own organization? What do we have to deliver to our external clients, to ensure their success and well-being?
* What do we use to set priorities and justify our needs?
* How can we demonstrate that the interventions we select will deliver a positive return on investment?
* How can a needs assessment help us do a sensible evaluation?
Sure, those can be tough questions. But if we don't provide sensible answers to them, what will our future hold? Needs assessments, done with integrity, will answer those questions and contribute to your success as a member of the training function--and to the success of the organization. Practical and sensible needs assessments are pragmatic; they allow you to define and achieve organizational success.
The first lesson to remember is that needs are different from wants. For some other realities of needs assessments, see the box, "Talking the Lingo."
Rating your needs-assessment process. Certain elements are essential if a needs assessment is to succeed. Before you take action as a result of a needs assessment, see how many of the following items you can check off:
* 1. Needs are identified as gaps between current results and desired results (the difference between what is and what should be).
* 2. A clear distinction is made between ends (results, consequences, and payoffs) and means (resources, methods, and how-to-do-its).
* 3. Three levels of results are identified, linked, and related. Micro-level results look at individual performance, macro-level results look at organizational contributions, and mega-level results look at societal and client contributions.
* 4. Any statement of need is free from any indication of how the need will be met (such as with training, computers, or other technology).
* 5. Any statement of need is free from any indication of the resources that will be used to meet the need (such as personnel, time, money, or equipment).
* 6. Needs are arranged in priority order on the basis of what it costs to meet the need versus what it costs to ignore it.
* 7. Interventions are selected on the basis of a costs/results analysis for each need or cluster of related needs.
* 8. Evaluation criteria are taken directly from the what-should-be dimension of the selected needs.
* 9. Evaluation results report the extent to which needs, or families of related needs, have been reduced or eliminated.
In a needs assessment's most powerful--and practical--application, you would be able to check off every one of those nine items. But few needs assessments pass that test. …