Learning needs analysis feeling like a box ticking exercise?
Learning needs analysis is considered standard practice for learning and development professionals.
Standard practice however, doesn’t always translate to good practice.
When completed well, they provide a fantastic opportunity to align performance with business strategy. When not, they become a tick box exercise and add little value.
Which approach does your learning needs analysis currently mirror?
This ultimate guide to learning needs analysis provides all the answers you’ve been looking for to create an aligned LNA that truly improves performance. I’ve even included a free template too (You’re welcome).
What is a learning needs analysis?
A learning needs analysis is a data gathering exercise that takes place at the beginning of every learning cycle. It’s used to ensure effective learning provision and skills across the organisation, keeping the business agile and responsive to future changes.
It’s a conversation with every identified key stakeholder in your organisation to assess historical learning data, reviewing any skills gaps and to discuss future learning requirements.
They are sometimes referred to as a training needs analysis (TNA) too.
What is the purpose and benefits?
Firstly, to shape the learning and development strategy and priorities for the year ahead. Secondly to create alignment between wider strategic business objectives and individual departmental performance.
Some of the many benefits include:
- Build relationships with your key stakeholders
- Gain a better understanding of how to improve performance
- Reduce time spent on training that isn’t value added
- Help you budget accurately and forecast spend
- Forecast training needs for the year ahead
- Plan for any internal training needs or tender for any external needs
Are they really added value?
Simple answer here is they can be. Every organisation I’ve worked in has taken a different approach to learning needs analysis. Some didn’t even bother to complete them at all.
From my perspective, learning and development teams that use them are better aligned to the strategic needs of the business than those that don’t. This is because they’re having regular discussions about performance to meet the organisational need.
Do they only work in certain sized organisations?
Learning needs analysis is relevant in any size of organisation. The process is just quicker in a small business as you may need to meet fewer key stakeholders.
Whereas in larger organisations, the process can be more difficult. Especially when it comes to forecasting spend and allocating budget between lots of differing departmental needs.
In large organisations learning needs analysis is equally, if not more important. As it ensures you’re involved in developmental discussions to ensure key learning needs don’t either, bypass you completely or arrive on your doorstep last minute.
How often should I complete learning needs analysis?
The typical approach is to complete annually, as you forecast for the financial year ahead.
There may however be times you wish to complete it sooner or postpone. I.e. large-scale change may speed up/slow down the process. Equally, if external factors considerably change, this may impact on the learning needs, so its always worth checking in to see how things are going.
Who should I discuss learning needs with?
Whoever you identify as a key stakeholder. This will vary in every organisation; in some you may only need to meet the senior team. In larger organisations there may be a mix of roles to meet.
As a rule of thumb, you should meet a senior manager from each key department. Do also consider other key stakeholders who aren’t perhaps as senior in role but have influence i.e. health and safety, quality, sales etc.
How can I prepare?
Some simple preparation steps you can take are:
- Identify your key stakeholders and arrange individual meetings
- Send an email detailing what the purpose of the discussion is for and what you’re aiming to achieve
- Include in the email the questions you intend to ask so they can prepare
- Prepare and analyse any relevant data (more on this below)
- Prepare your questions (more on this below)
Should they be framed as ‘learning needs’?
There are sometimes critiques of learning needs analysis that they are too focused on training and not on performance. In my opinion, language is semantics – It’s all about how you focus and frame the discussion with your stakeholders that matters.
Remind them that the focus is on performance. I’ve been to LNA’s where the manager will say “Jimmy needs an excel course”. It’s not about managers bringing their wish-list and expecting you to book it in, they could just send that over to you in an email.
What sort of questions should I ask?
I’ve covered these in a free template for you which you can download here. Otherwise I’ve got some suggestions for you below:
- What does the department do well?
- What skills gaps exist in the team?
- Where will the team be headed in 3 years’ time?
- What challenges/opportunities does the team face?
Do you have a template I can use?
Definitely! You can download it here.
This is the version I always use when completing learning needs analysis. Its jam packed with powerful questions to get right to the root cause.
Data forms the basis for an informed discussion about performance. To move away from individual training requests and towards truly improving performance through learning, data is the golden thread.
What data should I prepare?
Everywhere has different data and success measures, but some ideas include:
- Performance data – Any key metrics or measures of performance the department uses
- Learning data – Attendance at learning, time to competence, induction training, formal qualifications – learn more about training measures here
- Human Resources data – Recruitment statistics, time to hire, internal promotions, any talent data
- Wider data – Health and safety incidents or accidents, quality data, customer service stats, wider organisational statistics
Once I’ve got the data, then what?
In advance of the meeting, look at all the performance data you’ve gathered:
- What does this data tell you in terms of business performance?
- Are there any correlations or patterns?
- Are there any noticeable skills gaps?
Make as much sense of it as you can before you meet with the stakeholder. Data is powerful and the analytics can provide a picture on past performance.
How to complete learning needs analysis
Before the meeting:
- Identify who your key stakeholders are – I.e. your senior managers, and pockets of other influential roles
- Align learning with business requirements so it’s not a box ticking exercise – link it to key objectives and strategies
- Use the development professionals’ template to help you prepare
- Prepare your questions in advance and analyse any key metrics that support the discussion – such as; training data, performance data, competency frameworks or appraisal ratings.
- Ask key stakeholders to prepare in advance their thoughts – send them your prepared questions
In the meeting:
- Review the previous year’s training effectiveness and performance – What does this tell us about the coming year? Where are the gaps? What went well/not so well?
- Discuss the development metrics – Are there any patterns or correlations?
- Consider any key areas of developmental focus for the coming period – What challenges lie ahead, what will the scope of the team look like? I.e. change in headcount, restructures, growth etc. What impact will any business changes have to the team? Get to the root cause of a learning need. What skills gaps exist?
- Discuss options to address skills gaps moving forward – Remember improving performance and learning is more than face to face learning and qualifications. Consider self-directed, social and online learning too
- Don’t commit to any learning interventions in the meeting – The data and discussions away to theme before any key decisions are made
After the meeting:
- Consolidate all the discussions
- Theme the development areas – Are there any consistencies across departments?
- Prioritise development based on timeliness, urgency and needs
How do I align learning needs analysis with the wider business strategy?
Firstly, have an awareness of what the wider business strategy is.
- What direction is your organisation headed in?
- How as an L&D professional can you support this?
Then consider for each department the same questions.
- What direction is that department headed in?
- How as an L&D professional can you support that team to achieve heightened levels of performance?
Each organisation has different performance drivers i.e. market share, profit, customer service, innovation etc. Use the strategy as the driver for conversation and ensure any requests match the focus of the company.
How do I align with Human Resources?
Use your HR team’s tacit knowledge of the organisation or departments to your advantage – they may know more about the future of a department than the stakeholders on some occasions.
If you wanted, you could even include them in the meetings too.
Chose not to? That’s fine but make sure you share with them the focus of discussions post meeting. So they know what’s been discussed. They have as much influence on performance from an organisational design perspective so work together to achieve better results.
Although learning needs analysis is standard practice, as this blog has illustrated there are several component parts to completing it well. By aligning learning needs with performance, you create clear links between the learning and development strategy and the business, something much greater than a box ticking exercise.
If you want to remember what has been discussed in this blog post, this is your final chance to download the learning needs analysis template. I’ve put the hard work into creating this for you, so you don’t have to.