Published by the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning.
Bob Bevil BSc(Hons), MA, CQSW, LicFITOL has held a number of posts both in the private and public sectors specialising in designing and delivering targeted skill set training. Prior to that he trained and practiced as a social worker.
Who is best placed to undertake a training needs analysis (TNA) for your organisation? Bob Bevil provides the theoretical background and discusses the effectiveness of several different approaches.
In his best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces us to the idea of the social paradigm. In simple terms, a social paradigm is our view of the world that has been conditioned through our experiences of life.
Some of the things that could colour our world view include our families, our schooling, our friends, the media and our environment. Covey develops his model of personal effectiveness by asking us to challenge our view of the world and achieve a paradigm shift, a concept he borrows from the celebrated philosopher Thomas Khun.
The concepts of social paradigm and paradigm shifts are not new to us. The development of our world view is a basic building block in a number of academic disciplines, not least sociology and social psychology.
Within the discipline of sociology for example, the process of developing a world view or ideology through our dealings with social institutions like the family, schools and the media is called socialisation. But what does all this mean? After studying the literature it is back to Covey who sums it up most succinctly
"Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it."
Assuming one agrees with this widely accepted idea, how does this impact on getting the most objective (and therefore most useful) training needs analysis (TNA) for our organisations and their staff? Over the last decade I have been party to a number of different organisations that have applied different approaches to staff TNAs, needless to say with varying degrees of success.
The Scatter Gun Approach
One approach I witnessed was simply to ask staff what training they thought they needed by way of a questionnaire. A "menu" of development courses was subsequently designed and the staff could choose the two that they felt best met their needs.
Apart from offering training disassociated from the wider strategic goals, this approach will inevitably struggle because of its reliance on the ability of people to self analyse based on their view of themselves and the world around them.
Intrinsically linked to the critique of this approach is the work of Joe Luft and Harry Ingham. Luft and Ingham developed the Johari Window model of self-awareness that states that we all have self-awareness "blind spots". Clearly, such blind spots in self-awareness do not help our personal or organisational desires to undertake an objective TNA.
The Appraisal Approach
Another approach I observed in a large sales organisation involved asking line managers to identify the training needs of their team members during the annual appraisal process.
On the face of it this approach would seem more viable. It was certainly the case that the field-based managers were trained in observation and assessment skills (the Observe, Record, Classify and Assess or ORCA model) and that they would have had the opportunity to make the learning more of a process (rather than an event) through field based coaching opportunities.
However, the disparity in the assessment in the assessments of the different managers led one to believe that their social paradigms were playing a biasing role in choosing development for their staff.
For example, in some cases entire regional sales teams were highlighted as needing the same training intervention in spite of the fact that the head office training department offered a menu of 22 different training and development interventions.
The Consultant Approach
The next option would be to invite consultants to come into an organisation and conduct the TNA. Of the options offered so far this is probably the one that offers most objectivity because it is undertaken by agents external to the organisational paradigm.
This is not to say, however, that the consultancy itself is not free of its own organisational paradigm. While Covey's fourth habit is to "think win-win" one can think of many examples where agencies and consultancies have "won" while the organisation they are providing a service to "loses".
It is not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that some supply agencies have an organisational paradigm geared more to maximising profit and less to delivering the goods and services genuinely needed by the contracting company.
When was the last time you invited a supplier to assess your organisational needs and they decided that there were none?
The Customer-Centred Approach
Clearly there is a web of paradigms at play when aspiring to a truly objective TNA. This begs the question as to who has the most important paradigm to help achieve this. One group who are often overlooked in a TNA are the customers or client group.
It is easy to forget the fact that there is a dyadic relationship between organisations and their customers. Indeed, our customers have a social paradigm of their own that determines how they feel and act. Sometimes they may feel dissatisfied and this manifests itself in the action of not taking up our products or services.
If a methodology could be constructed that can link this feeling of dissatisfaction and inaction to individual or group skill sets within an organisation, we have surely succeeded in a more objective and genuinely useful organisational TNA.
Depending on how much of a role we lend to personal and organisational paradigms there may exist a strong argument to somehow put an organisation's TNA in the hands of its customers and clients, particularly those who have stopped using or reduced their uptake of products and services.
Practically achieving a TNA drawn from lost or dissatisfied customers is clearly a big challenge. However, the bigger challenge may be to adjust our existing paradigms to truly engage with customers and users to the extent that we ask them about all of their experiences warts and all!
After all, the customer's paradigm is always right!