Identifying Training Needs

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The effectiveness of the training function is heavily dependent upon effectiveness of processes used to identifying training needs. This is the first critical step on the road to competence development and performance enhancement.

An inadequacy at this stage cascades to all the subsequent training processes.

I have seldom seen organizations give this stage the importance, it deserves. Traditionally , training needs analysis got integrated into the yearly appraisal form. On examining form after form in companies ranging from textile companies to technology companies to direct marketing companies ,we find that the appraisal process is focussed on attribute assessment. This is followed by a column on training needs. Logically , this seems to be the correct way of doing things. First we assess the performance of the person , then based on the performance gaps , we identify the training needs. Logically absolutely correct.After reality testing , absolutely wrong.

The correlation between attribute assessment and actual performance of the person is a question mark. This is visible in the large amount of heartburn among employees after the appraisal process is over.Thus ,attribute assessment puts us on the wrong track from the word "Go". The subsequent training needs identified , even if we follow the process vigorously , would be incorrect.

This mistake gets multiplied and the blinkers of this framework get totally clogged if this is the only system of identifying training needs. This is like going to New York , when we actually want to go to Tokyo.

Moreover , the perception of the team leader responsible for filling the appraisal form is limited. This invariably results in non-value adding statements such as ,"Management Development Program" or "Supervising Development program" in the training needs column.

I still remember the words of a learned HR head who when responding to a querry on the process of identifying leadership competencies said ,"We identify them in consultation with the line managers".This is a good statement of intention but it conveys little about the quality of the process of consultation. This statement by itself indicates the lack of creative effort in exploring alternative methods of identifying training needs. Thereafter , even if we have a great system of measuring training effectiveness , it is of no use.

Thus , it is no surprise that when an organization is in trouble, the training budget is the first one to get eliminated . Training does not seem to be fulfilling any significant purpose. Faulty training needs identification is at the core of this problem.

The framework for identifying training needs is mapped below :

We shall address each of the "Sources of training needs" mapped above .

  1. Organization Needs :

  2. Performance Research : Performance Research is a process of mapping the processes , competencies and dominant mental model of a set of employees. It can be focussed on either a department or a level in the organization hierarchy such as "Sales Trainers" or " The front line sales personnel". It encompasses a holistic approach to enhancing the performance of a set of identified personnel.

    An FMCG Company "X" conducted performance research for its Sales Trainers. This threw up a large number of competence and performance gaps. These gaps became the contents of a customized training program designed to enhance the competence of those sales trainers.

    Performance Research is the process through which training can have a direct and visible impact on performance.

  3. Paradigm Shifts : Paradigm shifts are like juggernauts in the business arena. If an organization piggy backs on them , it gains. If it does not, it gets steamrolled by them.

    Training is the medium through which the power of technology shifts can be harnessed. For example , VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology shift , which enables STD as well ISD calls at 1/10th of the regular rates. Inspite of such massive gains , how many organizations are utilizing this technology ?

    Scanning the environment for paradigm / Technology shifts has to be a part of the Training needs identification process. There are practically no organizations , that I know of , which practice's this. More often than not , it happens because of the exhortation of a visionary leader and it stops happening as soon as the leader leaves.

  4. Competency based Performance Appraisal System : The bad experience with attribute based appraisals has resulted in exhortations of "Putting the appraisal system in the Dustbin". The implementation of a competency based appraisal system , conceptualized on the basis of job analysis gives credibility and validity to the appraisal process.

    This has a cascading impact on the training needs identified through it.

    This is borne out by the experience of a Co , "A" which found a buy-in for its training initiatives when they were clearly linked to competency gaps and competency stregths identified through a competency based self appraisal system.

    I would like to point out a major blind spot in the training needs identification process prevalent in most organizations. Training needs evolve not only out of competency gaps , but also competency strengths. Training has to be focussed not only on filling competency gaps but also on enhancing competency strengths.Training deptts. generally focus all their effort on filling competency gaps rather than enhancing already existing competency strengths.

  5. Opportunities for New Competency development : Once the training needs have been identified , the training incharge focusses on fulfilling them . Consequently , the training incharge tends to reject new opportunities for competency development , if they do not figure in the set of training needs identified.We as trainers need to understand that all the knowledge in the universe is not available as of now.Knowledge is in a continuous state of development.Thus we need to be open to explore knowledge frontiers.

    The behavioral competence of being open to Innovations , New ideas , New developments happening in the organization environment can become an important source of path breaking training programs , which can lead the organization to new vistas and realms.

    The prevalence of this blind spot results in the loss of new competencies which could not be acquired and developed because of the weakness of the training needs identification system.