A needs assessment is a process used by organizations to determine priorities, make organizational improvements, or allocate resources. It involves determining the needs, or gaps, between where the organization envisions itself in the future and the organization’s current state. You then develop a plan of action to address the needs (or closing the gaps) to bring the organization closer to its desired future state.
Why is it Important?
At a busy company there are so many things going on, that it is hard to pin down exactly what may be holding it back. Needs assessment is important because it helps an organization determine the gaps that are preventing it from reaching its desired goals. In A Guide to Performing a Needs Assessment and a Gap Analysis, Anthony J. Jannetti says these gaps can exist in either knowledge, practices, or skills. Knowing what is working well and what needs to be changed is crucial to progressing effectively towards those goals and making an organization successful.
Needs assessment addresses these concerns from all levels, starting at the 30,000 foot view and drilling down further and further into the individual organization, to arrive at a plan with specific actions for improvement.
Types of Needs Analyses
Many needs assessments are available for use in different employment contexts. Sources that can help you determine which needs analysis is appropriate for your situation are described below.
- Organizational Analysis: An analysis of the business needs or other reasons the training is desired. An analysis of the organization’s strategies, goals, and objectives. What is the organization overall trying to accomplish? The important questions being answered by this analysis are who decided that training should be conducted, why a training program is seen as the recommended solution to a business problem, what the history of the organization has been with regard to employee training and other management interventions.
- Person Analysis: Analysis dealing with potential participants and instructors involved in the process. The important questions being answered by this analysis are who will receive the training and their level of existing knowledge on the subject, what is their learning style, and who will conduct the training. Do the employees have required skills? Are there changes to policies, procedures, software, or equipment that require or necessitate training?
- Work analysis / Task Analysis: Analysis of the tasks being performed. This is an analysis of the job and the requirements for performing the work. Also known as a task analysis or job analysis, this analysis seeks to specify the main duties and skill level required. This helps ensure that the training which is developed will include relevant links to the content of the job.
Process of Need Assessment
Let’s take a quick look at general steps taken in a needs assessment.
(i) Exploration and identification: During the first phase of the needs assessment, you need to determine what you already know about your organization’s needs, whether it be additional resources, new technologies, or market expansion. It’s about figuring out where you are and where you want to be. You also need to discover other undisclosed needs that may be hindering you from moving from where you are to where you want to be. You will often rank these needs in order of importance. You will then set the scope of your research. In other words, the needs you are going to focus on.
(ii) Data gathering and analysis: At this stage you are collecting the information you need to better understand the gaps (needs) between where you are and where you want to be. Data may be collected from internal company records or externally through market research techniques such as surveys and analysis of secondary data, including statistical data collected by the federal government. After the data is collected, it is organized and analyzed.
(iii) Utilization: This is where the data you analyzed is used to create a plan of action and implement it. You will set priorities, evaluate solutions, apply a cost-benefit analysis to determine which solution is best in light of the relative costs and benefits of each, formulate a plan to implement your solution, and then allocate the resources necessary for implementation. Again, the goal is to develop a plan to close the gaps between the organization’s desired future state and its current state.
(iv) Evaluation: While many organizations will not evaluate the results of their needs assessment, smart organizations do. You will evaluate the results of the action plan against the results: has the action plan placed you closer to where you want to be? Evaluation can help you determine what made an action plan successful or find the errors in your needs assessment.