Blog #1: Are your employees learning the right skills to grow your business?
The full blog is a 10-minute read. Below is a summary of items discussed.
Conduct a Learning Needs Analysis to pinpoint the necessary training programs that help your company thrive.
Allocate training budget on customizable programs rather than blanket training courses to get the biggest ROI.
Use this Learning Needs Analysis Interview Template to record data when interviewing business leaders on priority learning topics.
Training -- it’s been on your mind. You know that for your team to continuously meet and exceed company expectations, you have to upskill employees with the knowledge that helps them become smarter and more productive. However, how do you know if they’re learning the right skills that link to closing performance gaps?
Imagine a leader says to you, “Hey, we need to offer communication skills training at this company.” How would you respond?
Effective probing questions you can ask the leader are, “Why do you think we need communication skills?’ or “What do communication skills look like to you?’ I’ll share with you a complete list of questions later in this blog to help you ensure the potential money and effort you spend on future training programs are tackling critical performance issues.
Which brings me to the heart of this blog...
Conducting the Learning Needs Analysis
Conducting a Learning Needs Analysis for your company is similar to doing your thorough research on Car Max and Consumer Reports before buying a new car. You wouldn’t want to purchase any car that looks like a car; Similarly, you wouldn’t want to purchase a training program just because the word “training” was stamped on it.
What if you bought a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee but realized later that the Jeep isn’t meeting your needs of saving money because you’re filling your gas tank every four days? Alternatively, what if you purchased a communication skills training and found out a year later that a conflict resolution program would have been more helpful to resolve current (and prevent future) problems?
In both cases, you could make adjustments by investing in other solutions, though illustrating what or why you need it before spending any budget could have prevented you from the trouble of making a miscalculated purchase.
What is the goal of the Learning Needs Analysis? The goal is to ask business leaders a series of questions that pinpoint the specific behaviors and examples, not generalizations, of how and why employees are falling short and areas they need to improve. This information will help you determine the best training program to reach optimal, targeted performance.
Who can conduct the analysis? Any person involved in overall employee learning i.e., L&D team, HRBP, manager, special task force, consultant, etc.
Which leaders do you interview? You can extract this data from the top 1-2% of business leaders in your company. For the most accurate details, use a diverse group of business leaders who represent your employee population and are attuned to their team’s performance. You can also interview or survey high-potential employees who will eventually benefit from these training courses and can provide their perspective on learning needs.
How long does the process take? Depending on the size of the company, it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks to complete. Set aside at least 30 minutes to speak with each business leader, plus additional time to analyze the data.
The trick to the analysis is to see what the business leaders see. Some of us are not in the trenches of day-to-day business operations, so we may not have the best perspective on employee behaviors. With that in mind, be sure to ask thoughtful questions to see through the lens of a leader.
What questions do you ask the business leader? First make sure you record their name, title, business unit, and location so you can follow up with them if needed. The diagram below shows five questions, sample responses and an explanation of why each question is important.
I want to highlight question #2. This is the most significant question you can ask to identify underlying behaviors that produce more favorable results. For example, here are descriptions I’ve heard from one company on what exhibiting communication skills look like:
Leader A: Being more clear and concise in your emails
Leader B: Not talking too much in a meeting
Leader C: Actively listening to what the other person is saying and not interrupting them
Leader D: Not being argumentative and being able to see eye-to-eye with the engineers (Note: some people label this behavior as conflict resolution skills instead).
As you can see, everyone has their definition of communication skills. If we were to offer a general communication skills training to the above company, we might not be able to tackle some of the specific behaviors previously shared. I find this common in many organizations as they give in to the check-the-box mentality--they offer a training curriculum with general professional development courses because it’s good foundational knowledge, not necessarily the knowledge that results in meeting business objectives. Being able to identify the observable behaviors will help you choose the right training program and learning objectives for your team to measurably close performance gaps.
If you’re in a smaller organization, it may be easier to diagnose the exact learning needs due to a smaller pool of data. However, if you’re in a larger company with multiple business units, you may find yourself with a list of 20+ competing learning topics and not knowing where to start. How do you know which one will give your organization the highest ROI?
Identifying the Emerging Trends
Once you’ve collected and analyzed all the data, you’ll come to find that some learning topics are outliers and specific to a particular business function, and others are repeated across different departments.
Let’s say that you interviewed a total of 5 business leaders in your learning needs analysis. In the simplified table below, you can see that the Engineering function said their top 3 learning needs are AWS Training, Conflict Resolution, and General Management Skills. The Finance function said their top 3 learning needs are Communication, Conflict Resolution and General Management Skills, and so on.
The Outlier. Notice that the Engineering function is the only department that needs AWS training. Assuming you have a limited budget, consider offering training programs that help return a higher ROI and impact more teams rather than a niche group. You can also recommend the Engineering function to find money within their budget to cover the cost of this training.
The Trends. You can see that all of the functions have a common theme of needing Conflict Resolution skills, and everyone but the Engineering team needs Communication Skills training. (Even though Engineering didn’t mention Communication Skills as a top learning need, you can still offer it to them). These are the top two training topics that may produce the highest ROI for your organization. It’s hard to break down a learning needs analysis to an exact science, so anecdotal knowledge from leaders and asking the right questions will help you be as accurate as possible.
For further analysis, you can also break down this information by organizational categories such as business unit, experience level, and office location.
Selecting the Right Training Programs
Now that you know the learning topics that will be most beneficial to your company, it’s time to pick which training programs and courses you want to provide your employees. For each of the learning topics, look at the behaviors you’re trying to tackle and compare it to the learning outcomes the vendors are advertising. The training is not effective unless it addresses the underlying behavior you’re trying to resolve at your company, so look for a vendor that is flexible and can also customize the learning content.
Try it out
To get you started, I’ve created a couple of free templates you can use:
Learning Needs Analysis Interview Template - Jot down your notes on this Google Doc when meeting with your business leaders.
Learning Needs Analysis Survey - For those of you who have an incompatible schedule with your business leaders, you can also send them this Google Form and have them complete it on their own time. Follow up with them at a later date to probe on their responses, as necessary. Due to Google Forms limitations, you won’t be able to download this survey but shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be happy to share a copy you can save to your Drive and customize.
Take out the guessing, and let me do the legwork for you. Contact me at email@example.com to learn how you can receive powerful data about your company’s learning needs.
Founder, Feed Learning