5 Most Important Learning Needs Assessment Questions to Ask
“Hi there, Dani! I have set 2022 goals for my team, and now I need to train them in negotiation and re-train them in customer experience. Can you please help?” As L&D, I receive requests like this weekly. When managers set performance goals or feel their teams need to improve in any area, training is usually one of the first ideas that come to mind. And that is great! We want to be the go-to team for this type of requirement. However, before we jump to a solution (i.e., training), we must understand what problem we are trying to solve.
Our next step is to fully understand the real learning need and how to fulfill it in the best way possible.
But, where to start? What to do? What to ask?
LNA comes to the rescue!
What is Learning Needs Assessment?
A Learning Needs Assessment (or LNA) identifies the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to meet the people’s and organization’s development or operational needs.
In other words, LNA is the ultimate tool to map the ‘bridge’ we need to build between the current and desired skills and knowledge.
An LNA is a mixture of powerful questions we ask the stakeholder(s) to understand better the situation we are facing and how we can help them improve their condition.
Benefits of Learning Needs Analysis
As L&D professionals, we must always encourage organizations to perform regular LNAs. Doing this will help them:
Ensure they have the right people with the right skills, knowledge, and behaviors at the right places.
Launch new products faster and more efficiently.
Become more competitive and adjust to customer demands quicker.
Manage change and adapt to new realities.
Need assessment doesn’t need to happen yearly. Anytime a learning request comes in, you need to perform some variation of a needs assessment. The real magic of a successful and productive LNA is the questions we ask.
5 Key Questions for Needs Analysis
We could raise many questions that will help us get the clues we need to build a solid Learning Proposal, but today I will share the five most important questions to ask in LNA and explain why you cannot miss these… Buckle up!
1. What is the ideal business outcome you would like to experience? Or What results are you trying to accomplish?
This is vital! This type of questions define the relevance and priority of the requested learning. They address the ‘why’ of the request.
Why is this important?
How does it affect the business?
What is the risk of not addressing the situation?
What if you did nothing?
What will ‘success’ look like?
What should learners achieve after the learning experience?
In reality: A manager can request training in communication skills for their team. But if their desired outcome is faster customer service or dealing with difficult people within the team, then training on communication skills may not be the most appropriate solution for the team.
2. What is the problem we are trying to solve? Please provide examples of the behavior or skill that we need to improve.
You need to clarify what business needs or problems led to this request. Specific examples of what needs improvement are crucial to unveil the root cause of an issue. Concrete examples will validate the initial thoughts on the problem or may take us to new ideas of what may be ‘wrong’ and needs addressing.
What is the nature of the problem?
When and where does it occur?
Who is involved?
How often does this happen?
How do you know this is happening? What evidence (data) do you have?
What performance improvement is needed?
Is there a change in or a new business model? Are processes changing?
In reality: Turnover or absenteeism may be the result of a multitude of internal issues. Some could be solved with training (lack of procedure knowledge) or coaching and mentoring (supporting newcomers during onboarding), yet others will need solutions outside of L&D’s purview.
3. How will we measure our success?
It’s not enough to know what the outcome will be, but also how we will measure that. We need to understand the difference between current and desired skills, knowledge, and behaviors.
How will you know we’ve accomplished the outcome?
How, specifically, will things be different when we’re done?
How will you measure the progress?
What do you want people to start/stop/continue doing? Do more/less of? Do differently?
How will we know the learning process was effective?
How will we know how the learners, managers, and other stakeholders perceive this?
What standard will tell us we are progressing towards our goals?
In reality: If you’re improving the performance of a new manager during their onboarding, you need to know what their goals are, how they are tracked, and what priority they have. Some goals are more important than others.
4. What options have you tried so far?
We need to know what the requestor has already tried and how successful it was. This knowledge will give us a good baseline to try things that will have a more significant impact.
What have you tried so far?
What has worked? What hasn’t worked?
What could we do differently?
Why do you think this option worked? Didn’t work?
In the past, what has derailed potential projects like this?
What are the benefits and downfalls of these options?
What other ways are there for achieving the desired outcomes?
In reality: A manager could have tried sending a low performer to a training course before without realizing the main issue is the person’s motivation. In this case, you would work on increasing the motivation before upskilling them.
5. What is the most appropriate way forward?
After clarifying all the points above, we must define the practicalities of the learning. In other words, what’s the plan of action, who is responsible for each activity, when does it need to start and end.
What are the first steps? What are the next steps?
When will we take them?
Who is responsible for them?
What could get in the way? How can we overcome it?
What support is needed?
What resources are required?
What is the deadline for this project?
What milestones will define our project and help us track progress?
In reality: If a new person is joining the team in 2 days, there is very little we can do to prepare appropriately to welcome them. We need to act quickly to ensure they have, at the very least, the essential. But if we are setting up a year-long leadership program, we need to ensure we have plenty of time to plan and prepare. Remember, even though these are the cannot-miss questions for your LNA interview, many others will let you gather as much information as possible. These are also important since your next step is to develop a robust learning proposal.
If you want to take your LNA game to the next level, consider the following bonus tips:
Prepare your questions in advance (main ones and follow-up)
Listen carefully and take note of all details provided to you
Analyze the info gathered carefully and avoid jumping to solutions
Always connect daily activities and organizational strategy
Lastly, use all the information gathered to present a purposeful, effective, strategically aligned, and fun learning experience!