Planning a learning needs analysis

‘Organisations need to introduce steps to support, accelerate and direct learning interventions which meet organisational needs and are appropriate to the learner and the context. Only then can organisations reap the full benefits of self-directed learning and development, such as increased motivation, better retention and improved skills.’

A systematic approach to learning needs analysis will enable organisations to:

    *identify what skills and abilities employees already have
    *identify what skills and abilities are required but are not available
    *identify what current training and development opportunities are available
    *identify gaps in the current training and development options
    *identify what new learning and development is required to address the gaps
    *raise the profile of the learning and development department
    *increase the attractiveness of the organisation to higher quality new recruits
    *increase retention of quality, motivated people
    *increase the sense of ownership and involvement of employees in their own learning and development
    *build a firm foundation for the evaluation of learning activities
    *place management at the centre of identifying the requirements of their own people
    *maximise the effectiveness of the training and development budget.

Identify levels of learning needs

At its simplest, identifying learning needs is done at one or more of three levels – the organisation, specific jobs or roles and individual employees. However, the organisation often has external factors to consider and therefore the organisational level of analysis may include a separate focus on legislation and regulatory requirements.

These four levels can be summarised as:

    *Legislative requirements. What legal imperatives or regulatory requirements are relevant to the industry? Is there any new legislation going through the UK or European parliaments that will have an impact?
    *Organisational needs. What capabilities are needed to enable the organisation to deliver its customer promise now and in the future?
    *Job or group needs. What are the capabilities required to carry out a specific job, or group of jobs, in the organisation?
    *Individual or team needs. What personal capability does each employee, or team, need to do their job effectively and what new skills will they need to develop for the future?

Links to the business strategy

The most thorough learning needs analysis will be a complete waste of time if it does not analyse the right things. One of the most important tasks of the learning and development manager is to ensure that all the employee

learning and development activities support and directly link to the business strategy. To achieve this, the manager needs to be able to:

    *identify the key stakeholders and involve them in shaping the learning and development strategy
    *identify the current and future business priorities turn these business priorities into appropriate learning needs.
    *turn these business priorities into appropriate learning needs.

Strategic learning and development plan

The learning needs analysis should be an integral part of a comprehensive learning and development strategic plan, built from the business plan.
Showing clearly how learning and development can align with and support the business goals will gain the support of senior management. This senior management support is critical to gain the required funding for a learning needs analysis and to champion the learning initiatives through the organisation.

The manager needs to question his/her own motivation when producing a strategic plan. It is important the manager does not simply do what he/she has done before, or what they like doing, or what the employees say they would like. While these sorts of learning interventions may be helpful they are probably not the most effective use of organisations’ limited resources. A thorough learning needs analysis will ensure the resulting learning interventions are fully in support of business needs. However, many learning and development departments find it difficult to prove the impact their training has had on a business performance indicator. The ability to prove this link to business goals is fundamentally dependent on the accuracy and thoroughness of the original learning needs analysis.

There is evidence that business strategies often fail because the right capabilities were not in place at the right time. This puts two key requirements on the learning needs analysis:

    *accuracy in identifying the right capabilities needed to achieve the strategic intent
    *timeliness of delivering the learning intervention to meet the strategic needs.

Demonstrating strategic alignment can be done in several ways. Organisations often develop SWOT or PESTLE analyses as part of their strategy development. An alternative strategic analysis tool is the Performing strength–weakness analysis matrix. This matrix is built up of the key drivers of performance in the organisation rated for their contribution to current performance.

The mission, vision and values of the organisation

    *The learning and development plan will need to ensure the learning needs analysis takes into account the mission, vision and values of the organisation.
    *The learning and development manager will need to consider which of these need reinforcement, exploration or understanding through learning events.
    *The organisation may make a strategic decision to ensure all employees attend a learning event to enable them to live these values in their working activitie


The general principles, policies and beliefs the organisation has about their people and their development

*The learning and development manager will need to know how the organisation manages its learning and how it grows teams and individuals. They need to know what kind of learning culture the organisation has. Does it consider itself to be a learning organisation? Does it believe in self development? Does it believe in developing potential? The organisation’s stance on these beliefs will have a significant influence on the learning needs analysis.
*Within the training policies will be the organisation’s approach to identifying training needs. Is it based on a careful analysis of organisational needs, best practice and relevant law?
*Who is eligible for training – new recruits, those recently or about to be promoted or transferred, those facing redundancy, members of designated training schemes, managers, supervisors, or all employees?
*What type of training is available and on what basis (job-related only, career-related, company-related or general, paid for wholly by the company or partly or wholly by the employee, conducted wholly or partly in company time or the employee’s own time etc)?
*Other training policies and processes relevant to the learning needs analysis include: qualifications, compliance, appraisal, potential identification, succession planning and personal development plans.
*These principles and policies will also determine the responsibility of line managers, individuals and learning and development professionals in the identification of learning needs.

Once these values, policies and processes have been defined and communicated the learning and development manager can move to the next level of analysis. This should start by identifying the needs for learning at the organisational level.