One of the most critical roles for any leader is to ensure the people in your organization are constantly evolving and becoming a better version of themselves. Before rushing into any plan, it is judicious to fully understand your possibilities in detail. Do you understand where you are in comparison to your market and to your own growth curve, where your performance compares to your goals and projections and how your overall strategic plan, values, vision and mission impact your direction? To effectively evaluate all opportunities and determine what course of action to pursue is to conduct an in depth needs analysis.
In their book “A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment”, Kavita Gupta, Catherine Sleezer and Darlene Russ-Eft describe the needs analysis process as “a formalized means of evaluate people-related and performance improvement opportunities”. The process can be used in a multitude of situations. Regardless of whether you are trying to solve a current challenge, avoid the reemergence of a past challenge or take advantage of a future opportunity, this process can help you identify where you are in comparison to where you want to be and understand why you are dissatisfied in your current situation. Because there are few situations which lend themselves to a single solution, needs assessments are extremely valuable in evaluating the multitude of options available to any organization.
There are many advantages to conducting a formal needs assessment. For starters, the process brings together multiple stakeholders to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and everyone has a chance to hear the other stakeholder’s needs. Large organizations have a tendency to evolve into an accumulation of silos, each focused on their own needs. Needs assessment can help fight this tendency for a single-minded point of view. Needs assessment is also invaluable in identifying what Gupta, Sleexer and Russ-Eft refers to as “leverage points and resources for making change, establishing objectives, prioritizing actions, determines involvement, and provides baseline data for later evaluation”.
There are four main approaches to completing a needs assessment:
1. Assess the knowledge and skills that already exist. This is a sound process for implementing new technology, identifying training needs and developing a training plan. It ensures training is linked to learner’s needs. While this is the easiest of the four processes to implement, it has the most limited focus.
2. Analyze the jobs and tasks to gather information on the scope, responsibilities, and tasks of particular job function. This process is appropriate for developing new job descriptions or revising existing profiles, identifying task listing for new or redesigned job functions and KSA’s and in developing consistent training requirements (especially for technical or specialized jobs). This option stimulates interest because people have the opportunity to define jobs, it defines skill requirements for entry-level versus senior level jobs and identifies additional KSA’s needed to move between jobs and/or functions. Unfortunately, this option doesn’t take into account the external factors that may affect job performance; it tends to be time consuming and costly, assumes that work is static and assumes there is one best way to do a job.
3. Determine the competencies needed for specific job functions. Competencies include the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, motivation, and beliefs people must have to be successful in a specific job and can be helpful in determining “fit”. This option identifies competencies required for all jobs, measures proficiency levels of people, leads to development of standardized training and allows for the development of performance management systems. It determines qualities that distinguish average from superior performance, and provides information about current and future predictors of job performance. However, this option can be time consuming, requires high involvement of many people in organization, is rather costly and requires good project management systems.
4. Focus on learning and performance gaps within the context of an organization’s business strategy. This final option links performance improvement needs to business strategy of the organization or community and identifies performance improvement opportunities at various levels (individual, process and organizational). Utilizing this option develops long-term solutions to existing performance problems or new performance needs, solves problems that affect core business processes and eliminates non-value added activities. This is the most time consuming and costly of all the needs assessment options and requires that a business strategy exists.
Anytime you conduct needs assessment, it is imperative to consider your organization’s realities. You have to understand how much time you can allot to both the implementation and analysis phases of the process. Successful needs assessment should also identify the level of reluctance of managers to release key people for interviews or focus groups. If your organization does not lend itself to gaining access to the people you need to complete the process, you may have difficulty gaining the maximum benefits possible from the assessment. In conducting the needs assessment, also be aware of the existence of conflicting opinions, especially if your culture perpetuates the existence of silos. Lastly, consider the power, influence and political climate of organization. The desired outcome of conducting a needs assessment is to identify the best courses of action for you to pursue. Failing to take in to consideration any of these factors can lead to your process becoming nothing more than a exercise in futility.
Needs assessments can be invaluable to the success of any organization. Before adopting any specific course of action to address the growth of your organization, use this formalized process to measure the benefits and drawbacks to the myriad of options available. In the end, taking the time up front to make a better decision will pay you back tenfold in the end.