“Needs Assessment and Training in Organizations”
Needs assessment (NA) with respect to organization refers to those requirements which are essential in order to run a successful business. NA in the context of organizational setting acts as a tool useful for planning purpose, therefore organizations still focus on reinvention and reengineering their needs so as to better understand their improving customer service. It is through the analysis of NA that the increased attention to customer service is expected despite downsizing and delaying efforts in the organization.
NA strength lies in the trends which are likely to continue even if the names change from time to time, for the changes emerge from a growing realization that traditional ways of doing business and being organized prevents an organization from moving fast enough, with high enough quality, or at low enough cost to meet the growing demands and competitive pressures placed on it.
It is through the implementation of NA that today organizations are able to accept information as power, then dispersed information is dispersed power, and that dispersement is what knowledge and technology does. There is a need to understand the relationship between NA and other organization activities because of an increased emphasis upon the use of cross-functional and multi-skilled teams, which are essential in taking advantage of advanced technologies, and these developments should free the smaller number of managers to focus on higher level strategic issues. NA where on one hand helps us to make use of the latest technological advances, at the same time it is through NA that we are able to assess the progress of our organization and where is it heading.
NA has enabled up till now to see a continued increase in the use of telecommuters, part-time workers, and cooperative education and apprenticeship students, so that the meaning of the word ‘employee’ has become less clear. Also, the increasing use of outsourcing and the involvement of both customers and vendors in co producing products and services are yet other trends that force training professionals to ask basic questions about who the customer is, what they need, and what development means in an ever changing organization and workforce. All these changes thrust some people out of leadership roles and far more people into them (as all employees are expected to think and act like leaders) whether they carry the title of leader or not. When it comes to HRM, NA requires leadership behavior to continue to be much more widely dispersed in today’s and tomorrow’s organizations. Training and development professionals are called upon to be consultants, policy setters, value purveyors, leaders, and facilitators of this and other organizational changes.
Training – Relation to Training
The relation of needs to training is that of making a decision before implementation. Designers of technical training should have an extensive list of communication behaviors that they consult as an integral part of designing the technical training. The experts involved with the daily business of technical skills are as proficient as teachers are in teaching and evaluating communications processes. (Bowers et al, 2001, p. 115)
The training, or human resource development (HRD), profession is much more advanced and sophisticated than it was twenty-five years ago, when many of us had our initial experiences as practitioners. It is the contention of NA that this is a great era for those in the profession because of our increased capabilities and the expanding opportunities we have to serve our organizations. Some of us have perceived the dramatic changes in our work environment as threats to the profession. NA have enabled us to face many new developments: competition from other providers of training and development services; new developments in training technology that are revolutionizing the training processes; management philosophies that emphasize increased accountability and a broader role for the training function; and a conscious movement away from training for training’s sake to more real-time and cost-effective training. While such training upgradations and further re developments may have seemed ominous, they have proven to be catalysts for positive change. We’ve been challenged to reassess our roles in today’s organizations and to use our capability and potential to help the organization grow, develop, and transform itself.
Relation between NA and training is just like planning and implementation. In planning theoretical considerations take place, whereas implementing those plans require practical work by organization. Similarly, anticipation and response to the need is followed by acquiring proper training. In the past, training has always been a part and parcel of organization needs. What training must be in today’s and tomorrow’s organizations is a process that is more holistic, and consistent with an organization’s strategy, so that the strategy is executed better than it would be without the training. (Sims, 1998, p. 4) One strategy is individual, which will have no impact on an organization, and the other is corporate, having a positive impact.
The important thing for training personnel to conceptually understand is that training must have an impact on the needs of an organization rather than on the individual. However, that will never happen if training personnel are doing training by picking up people and putting band aids on cuts, such techniques are applicable when there is a vision and a strategy, and training is part of a process of executing that vision and strategy for everyone. (Sims, 1998, p. 32)
We must consider analyzing all the needs of the organization, and remember that just applying technology to the training systems we have today is not going to solve the kinds of problems and challenges affecting training functions and their organizations, especially if all we do is take a system that doesn’t produce the results we want and make it more difficult, which will only make things worse than some believe they already are.
Reshaping Training Design
In helping the organization achieve its goals, reshaping training takes a strategic approach and looks at the training mission and concomitant processes in a radically different light. This strategic approach to training takes place within an overall framework for workforce development that directly contributes to the organization’s achievement of its mission while also revolutionizing its processes. Reinvented training eliminates misaligned goals and objectives between training functions and their host organizations and training must identify the training that is critical, if organizations are to accomplish their mission, by identifying (1) what training is currently done that is no longer needed, (2) what type of training can be eliminated altogether, (3) how the remaining training can be better linked to support and reinforce the organization’s strategic agenda, (4) what new training should be offered, and (5) what non-training initiatives should be undertaken. In the end, reinvented training must be “rebuilt” based on the basics-the actual training required to accomplish the fundamental organizational purpose, versus the processes that have evolved over time. (Kraiger, 2002, p. 121)
Today’s and tomorrow’s training efforts must take place within an overall framework for need analysis, identification and workforce development that directly contributes to the organization achieving its mission. Such NA of training efforts develop a perspective forms explicit connections between training policies and practices, HR and HRD policies and practices, and the organization’s mission and strategic agenda. The relation between NA and training advancement premise behind a strategic approach to training is that training decisions that fit the organization’s conditions positively impact performance.
A strategic approach to training begins with the relationship between the organization’s mission, strategic agenda, and its HRD needs. Current and future HR-workforce requirements are derived from a clear and widely shared understanding of what the organization does and how it does it (including the forward thinking about what the organization needs to do in the future). A strategic approach continues with an assessment of the current capacity of its workforce what are the composition and core competencies and KSAOCs (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Characteristics) of current employees? From this assessment, areas of special need and/or continuous upgrading can be identified, and appropriate training (and non-training) delivered to those in need of it.
Discussions with most members of an organizations senior leadership would indicate their agreement that such a strategic approach to training is important to an organization’s success. However, the real test of their commitment to such an approach is the extent to which they are willing to insist that there be a linkage, or a common thread, between any training, other learning and development initiatives, and the organization. A linkage that consistently stresses the organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and strategies can result in a culture of training and learning.
Designing Training Program
Well-designed training initiatives facilitate the learning, development, and professional growth of an organization’s workforce. And because implementation of such initiatives can be viewed as an investment in human resources, employee morale is likely to improve as employees see themselves as valuable members of the organization. Such a situation will likely result in higher levels of employee performance, achievement of key organizational goals, and increased productivity.
Thorough organizational, work operations (job or task), and employee performance analyses that define the KSAOCs and required competency levels of various positions within an organization provide the information needed to accurately assess both an employee and an organization’s training needs. Such assessments aid in the design of effective, viable training initiatives that once designed, the implementation of initiatives is in the hands of those who will be actually conducting the training.
The responsibility associated with designing programs that focus on learning and successfully applying pivotal KSAOCs and competency levels cannot be understated. Inadequate design or implementation of efforts not tailored to an organization’s problems, needs, or opportunities can often lead to capital losses and competition.
While the design of effective training initiatives is an integral part of implementing successful training, the design is of little consequence unless the content of such efforts appropriately corresponds to the organization’s needs and goals. Thus, needs analysis through initiative designers determine the very specific qualifications dictated by the various positions within an organization, identify evaluation indicators, and finally, develop a customer-responsive and functional system.
Once the organization and its employees have been subjected to needs analyses, and pivotal KSAOCs have been identified, training personnel must then turn to designing initiatives that will result in employees who are more skilled in the performance of their jobs. In the modern “learning organization,” successful design of learning initiatives is the true test of whether those responsible for training are fulfilling their assigned charter. (Sims, 1998, p. 90) The training function must be able when designing initiatives to positively respond to questions like the following: Are we designing initiatives that are helping technical, knowledge, and management workers to perform new tasks and replace outdated work habits? Or are we just showing them stuff and telling them stuff and making them do stuff, then sending them back to their jobs and hoping they get better?
In designing training initiatives that focus on learning pivotal KSAOCs and the attainment of competency levels, the responsibilities of training personnel are much broader than the traditional role of merely imparting knowledge. The tasks facing training personnel in designing training geared to increasing the learning and development of pivotal KSAOCs and the attainment of competency levels are
- Identifying the kinds and levels of KSAOCs required for high levels of performance important to achieving organizational results.
- Developing and maintaining structures, conditions, and climates conducive to learning.
- Generating and providing resources, including their own knowledge of investigative, evaluative, and documentary skills regarding initiative design.
- Identifying and providing access to off-the-job as well as on-the-job learning environments and resources.
- Providing individual assistance and feedback on various dimensions of the learners’ performances in specific pivotal KSAOC areas.
- serving as role models and mentors by guiding and advising organizations and learners as they pursue the mastery of pivotal KSAOCs and achievement of competency levels.
- Developing alternative but efficient learning processes that take into account individual learning styles, abilities, and work and life circumstances.
(Kraiger, 2002, p. 102)
A significant ideological barrier that must be overcome if training initiative designs are to be successfully implemented is the pervasive content orientation of many training personnel. One consequence of this orientation is a preoccupation with the covering of content material, rather than mastering pivotal KSAOCs and achieving competency levels important to the achievement of organizational results.
In too many training and development situations training personnel have by and large been left to their own devices to determine not only the content to be covered in their courses, but also to determine how well learners are expected to master it. In training efforts that are based on organizational needs analysis and emphasize the learning and development of pivotal KSAOCs and attainment of competency levels, the results of such efforts namely learning and development in the mastery of pivotal KSAOCs can be observed and used to evaluate training effectiveness. When training personnel and learners know what is to be learned, they can work together to achieve the required standards. (Sims, 1998, p. 78)
The kinds of complex KSAOCs required by members of today’s organization cannot be developed through only one learning process. Training initiatives based on only one training or learning design will at best make an inadequate contribution to pivotal KSAOC and competency development. Abstract conceptualization (which still tends to be the medium of many training initiatives) is extremely important, but it provides only the first layer of learning. Although the first layer is basic, because it is theoretical in nature, it provides only a concrete foundation upon which specific KSAOCS, the bricks and mortar and thus the visible portion of the training initiative, is built.
The three different training processes involve experience, observation, and abstract conceptualization in combination provide a basis for understanding the problems with which one must deal with in work life. A fourth generic learning process active experimentation is a further requirement for the development of pivotal KSAOCs and competency levels. Only when training personnel commit themselves to including these in the design of training initiatives will pivotal KSAOC and competency-based initiatives become more realistic and valued by managers in the organization.
Both the environment and the process of training must be well planned and well managed because of their special contributions to competence. Those aspiring to the higher levels of effective and efficient organizations need to learn how to function effectively in several learning modes and in various environments. Successful training in organizations depends on a systematic approach that involves a careful needs analysis, solid program design, and thorough evaluation.
Training professionals can be maximally effective in their design of initiatives that facilitate employee learning by defining clearly what is to be learned before beginning the design process. Defining what is to be learned requires a continuous cycle of analysis of the training needs of employees given the organization’s strategic agenda. Then, real training needs can be linked to the achievement of broader organizational goals, ensuring that they are consistent with management’s perception of strategy and tactics. Beyond these fundamental concerns, principles of learning are essential considerations in the design of any training initiative.
Elements of Training Design
Once the needs analysis has been completed and training goals and objectives have been established, decisions must be made on the training techniques to be used in the training initiatives. These decisions can directly affect whether training goals are successfully achieved. Although training design methods define the relationships between NA and training upgradation therefore, the goals of a particular training and development effort may be better served by one method than another or one combination of methods versus another combination. The most commonly used training methods will be discussed in the following sections, beginning with on-the-job training.
Approximately 90 percent of all industrial training is conducted on the job (Barron et al, 1997). OJT usually takes the form of ‘1-on-1 instruction’ training in which the supervisor or an experienced employee works directly with the trainee, explaining and demonstrating the job, allowing the trainee to practice, and checking and correcting the trainee’s work. (Bernardin & Russell, 1998, p. 74). Five steps are involved in OJT i.e., observation, feedback, consensus, rehearsal and review of employee’s performance.
Though OJT is often associated with the development of new employees, it can also be used to update or broaden the skills of existing employees when new procedures or work methods are introduced (Cannell, 1997). OJT is best used when one-on-one training is necessary, only a small number (usually fewer than five) employees need to be trained, classroom instruction is not appropriate, work in progress cannot be interrupted, a certain level of proficiency on a task is needed for certification, and equipment or safety restrictions make other training techniques inappropriate. The training should emphasize equipment or instruments that are to be used, as well as safety issues or dangerous processes (Filipczak, 1996).
Training itself emerge in many forms like OJT training focus on exposure to developmental experiences. Job enrichment, job rotation, and apprenticeships are such forms. NA gradually builds new duties or more challenging responsibilities into an employee’s current position, allowing the person to acquire new skills while on the job and job rotation allows employees to gain experience at different kinds of narrowly defined jobs in the organization. It is often used to give future managers a broad background. Japanese companies are among the best in the world for providing job rotation. Once employees join a firm, the Japanese company spends and enormous amount of money and time training them and exposing them to various job functions. The training is “just-in time” so that employees are taught skills and then apply their learning within a short period (Overman, 1995)
Many companies in the United States have begun to show greater interest in having their employees be able to perform several job functions so that their workforce is more flexible and interchangeable. General Electric requires all managerial trainees to participate in an extensive job rotation program, in which the trainees must perform all jobs they will eventually supervise. This helps managers develop a broader background required for future managerial positions (Bernardin & Russell, 1998, p. 65).
Programmed or self Instruction
Programmed instruction (PI) is usually conducted through the use of electronic equipment like computers or booklets, depending on the need. The method is to present a small amount of information, followed by a simple question that requires an answer on the part of the learner. The best thing about PI is that there is immediate feedback for each response as the learner is able to find the answer on the next page or elsewhere.
Relative to other training methods, self-instruction offers high mobility and flexibility. It can take place with or without instructors, in a wide variety of learning environments like learning centers, workstations, or homes. This flexibility minimizes the disruption to work schedules that training programs can often create while trainers take a back seat to learn through self-instructional programs, such programs should have someone monitoring and tracking a participant’s progress. (Kraiger, 2002, p. 65)
PI is a useful method for self-instruction when the development cost of the materials has been paid by another organization and the materials are available. It might also be a useful method if there are enough trainees to amortize the development cost, and if the material is presented is suitable to the method.
Knowledge-based or expert computer systems based on artificial intelligence contain information on particular subjects and can give user specific advice. Combined with interactive video, expert systems can be used as “intelligent” tutors to teach tasks and skills. The systems can also be used in training that is moving from the transfer of knowledge to the application of the system to goal-oriented tasks in the actual work environment.
Computer Based Training
CBT is an interactive, self-paced instruction using software tutorials and can take a variety of forms. Of course CBT came into usage after a NA and thus provides many tutorial programs which some employers have formed software libraries containing copies of different tutorial programs that trainees can check out to work on at home. Still many other organizations conduct online training, installing learning software on workstation computers that allow employees to switch back and forth between job applications and training programs as their workload demands.
Some companies are attempting to improve the links between training and job applications with computer-based performance support systems, a form of interactive learning. This computer-based tool, also called an “electronic support system” acts as a performance support tool, or a knowledge support system which helps employees on the job at the time they need specific information. Although individual programs vary by job, all systems contain a database and a help system. (Kraiger, 2002, p. 54)
Training is not limited to manual jobs, computer-related “knowledge” jobs such as bank teller positions-in which employees follow certain specified procedures lend themselves most readily to performance support systems also require regular updation. But these systems help train employees on job tasks that require problem-solving and decision-making skills, such as performance appraisals. Although the costs of developing or purchasing a performance support system can be very high, this expense often is offset by savings realized through improved training delivered in a shorter time.
Unlike high costing of CBT, it has the advantage of being self-paced, standardized, self-sufficient, easily available, and flexible which is particularly important in today’s fast-paced environment, where organizations cannot afford for employees to be away from the job for large amounts of time.
While annual hardware and software advances make CBT ever more interactive and flexible, a course still takes considerable time and money to develop. However, the cost of developing or purchasing appropriate hardware and software may be offset in other ways. Employers often find these programs are popular among employees, which encourages learning. In addition, some organizations have found that by reducing total training time and minimizing work disruption, CBT pays for its higher implementation costs. (Desario et al, 1994, p. 23)
The whole purpose of information needs assessments is to bring information customers to their rightful place at the forefront of the information chain; and, above all else, to ensure that information delivery is targeted, relevant and cost-effective. (Nicholas, 2000, p. 151) Far too much is going on in the information world for complacency to reign, yet we have been (and still are) complacent about our customers-real and potential. In the IT fog we seem to have lost our way and need to re-affirm our professional vows with our customers.
The very personal nature of information needs assessments and the processes involved (the repeated interviewing, the questioning etc.) ensure that close contact is maintained between information service and information player. The reciprocal exchange of information will benefit both parties enormously-and will ensure that the information service is never isolated from the mainstream activities of the community it serves, for that is where the real threat to information services lies. The questioning process that underpins information needs assessments should be seen as a vital part of the modern information professional’s armoury. In many respects what is being proposed is a form of information counselling-and it may well be that the information profession will find security and prosperity through it. Undoubtedly, people will do more of their own searching in future, but what they cannot do is to counsel themselves about their information needs-and that it is something that they will need in the dynamic, competitive and threatening information environment in which they will increasingly find themselves. Social counselling was very much the growth industry of the 1990s, and it is likely that information counselling will be the growth industry of the first decade of the new millennium.
Here the best example of NA is that of airlines, which after having difficulty in need assessment of identifying resource management skills still provide individuals, teams, and the organization with the guidance and standards for systematic training and assessment. The major part of this difficulty is due to succumbing to the traditional norms of job and task analysis methods with their emphasis on the individual in the specification of job or task knowledge and skills. Such traditional analysis does not have any room for NA and therefore with the growing awareness of the importance of the team and the organization on skill training and development, it does not support NA. (Foss, 2005, p. 121) This NA identifies many of the difficulties showing up when organizations try to integrate the identified skills with their training and performance assessment programs.
NA allows the resource Management skills to indicate a shift from knowledge and attitude training to skill training and with this shift there is a growing need for organizations to provide focused resource management skill training rather than the more general knowledge and concept training currently provided in familiarization courses. Although in the case of Air Crew Management, the line oriented flight training (LOFT) development process (Hamman et al, 1995) allows for skill practice and assessment, airlines have yet to identify the key resource management skills and specify how those skills are best trained.
From an operational perspective, organizations NA requires need a method that will allow them to identify resource management skills within the context of the individual, the teams composed of those individuals, and the organization itself. Once skill assessment and identification is done, the organizations are free to enjoy a much stronger position to address how those skills should be trained. Such an approach is for the identification of resource management skills, based on a broader context extending beyond the traditional ISD process to one that encompasses the entire organization. This type of identification method is designed to be part of a complete skill analysis that can be used by organizations committed to improving their resource management skill training and assessment program. (Bowers et al, 2001, p. 11)
NA in the context of training design allows organizations and researchers to pay increasingly greater attention to the effects of the organization on job performance and skill development. Organizations in this case support the identification of skill standards and have started to play a more active role in the specification of skills. Furthermore, recent research in NA addresses some of the organizational activities that affect job performance, and working within that broader context should lead to more accurate predictions of job performance (Arvey & Murphy, 1998). For example, the effects of the social and organizational changing environment also affect research on skill acquisition (Voss & Wiley, 1995). Researchers in the context of training and NA realize to address the fact that skill acquisition takes place within an organizational and sociocultural environment that helps create a need for specific skill developments. This is particularly true in the area of HRM needs assessment where an organization’s operating philosophy and policies can have a strong influence on training and motivating the development of individual and team skills.
As far as HRM skills are concerned, they must also be addressed at the team level so that teams are given adequate opportunity to practice, develop, and refine their management skills. Therefore when identifying new resource management skills, organizations need to address the assessment, diagnosis, feedback, and additional practice required to strengthen team-level skills.
We can say that NA serves to be a helpful tool for training designs and purpose as well as for technical skills assessment. There are grounds for expecting that among the benefits from adopting new training techniques HRM practices are upgrading in order to cope up with the changing assessment trends. Arguably, the adoption of a single such practice which may involve NA may sometimes provide a contribution to innovative performance.
In an organization dedicated to creating a learning environment, training is a top priority as learning organizations do not simply appear. Instead, they are the hard work of fostering and devoting time, energy, and resources on a continuous basis to the training and development of employees. Taking steps to encourage learning through training and development activities and forums is essential to improved understanding, performance, and effectiveness. To help their organizations learn requires the training function to shed its current roles and adapt to the organization environment of the future. The training function must
- adapt a positively influenced strategic role in the organization;
- deal with the demands of training and developing the more diverse, knowledgeable workforce of the future; and
- adapt and prove its value added service to the future of the organization. (Sims, 1998, p. 154)
As the pace and complexity of change in organizations continues, training must become more closely integrated with the organization’s strategic agenda. To do this, training staff will need a much wider exposure to the organization’s internal and external environment. They will have to build more bridges with customers, both those in line units and those outside the organization. Training professionals will have to help foster an environment for excellence by taking a proactive stance in linking training to organizational values and identifying strategic issues. This will require increased research on the impact of organization vision and strategy on HR and HRD, and an increased willingness to participate in strategy formulation and implementation.
The training function will also need to integrate itself more closely with a wide range of HR functions, such as recruitment, staffing, labor relations, employee relations, and organizational analysis. This may present problems for some staff who have spent years differentiating themselves from the ‘human resources’, but today’s employees want one-stop HR services that are organized to serve core processes.
Thus needs assessment bridges the gap between training and HRM practices. Indeed, the training function needs to take a strategic orientation from service provider to performance consultant, policy setter, and value purveyor. For example, in response to efforts to decentralize HR and their HRD efforts, some organizations have begun to push centralized HR and HRD functions into line units. Where this occurs, the training function of the future must be prepared for the fact that they may do very little training delivery.
Many training functions are still taking a ‘reactive’ or ‘training’ approach to their charge. Such approaches cast the training function as one focused on processing training requests and providing classroom training.
Yet, these approaches do not serve the future training and development needs of organizations as well as they served the past, and failure to move beyond them will be taking a dangerous risk. There is no doubt that over the long term, reactive and classroom training services will be heavily automated, performed by line units and/or done by subcontractors to a much greater degree, leaving central training functions without a substantial business to be in.
By comparison, assessment provides organizations with the increasingly demand a ‘strategic’, ‘customer’, ‘performance improvement’, and ‘accountability’ orientation only after a detailed need assessment, in which they look to training to help solve problems, lead change, and foster a learning environment. Training professionals can add real value to their organizations by meeting such needs.
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