21 Questions to ask before Designing Any Training Program – part 2

This is part 2 of an easy way to conduct a needs analysis.

Performance problems can be caused by a myriad of things; perhaps your organization has undergone a downsizing, or perhaps a department is understaffed or their equipment is unreliable.  Unfortunately many managers and organizations assume that poor performance is directly linked to a lack of skill or knowledge which can be solved by training.  In my 20 plus years of consulting experience, I’ve found that what is initially presented as a training problem is often something else entirely.

Before embarking on any training program it is imperative that a needs analysis is conducted in order to pinpoint the exact cause of poor performance and to ascertain if the poor performance can be solved by applying training.  Unfortunately, most organizations skip the needs analysis, assuming that they already know the cause.

The following 21 questions will help you to pinpoint the true cause of a performance problem and also help with the design process by ascertaining what training truly needs to be created.  Ask these questions of the individual in the organization who is requesting that you design and develop a training program to address an assumed training issue.

8. What organizational factors might be playing a role?

When organizations are in flux, a sense of ennui trickles down to every individual’s performance.  If the organization has been talking about an acquisition or merger, it can cause people to change their work habits.  If a downsizing has occurred and more work needs to be accomplished with less people, it’s logical that poor performance will follow.  Perhaps the department has had three different managers in the last 18 months, and every manager has a different perspective on how the work should be done; eventually people start to second-guess their abilities and perform at a minimal level in order to “play it safe.”

9. What training already exists?

Often you’ll find that a “training problem” is a frequent issue within the organization, and one that has been addressed in the past.  Determining what training already exists is helpful in two ways: 1) it helps you to determine what training people have had in the past and alerts you to look for reasons why that training did not “stick,” and 2) it should minimize your need to reinvent the wheel because it’s probable that you can repurpose the existing training content.

10.  Have you researched the market for off-the-shelf training solutions?

Before determining that a custom training solution is necessary, ask the requester of the training if they have spent any time looking for generic, off-the-shelf, training solutions that may fit the bill.  Why reinvent the wheel? Very often topics such as customer service, financial acumen, software, and soft skills training are already in existence and can become a low-cost, highly effective training solution.  It’s also possible to find a product that “almost fits” and to request that the vendor modify it or repurpose it for your organization’s needs. Either way you will save time and money over trying to custom-create something yourself.

11. What training has the audience had in the past?

Similar to question number nine, this question helps you to ascertain what knowledge or skill your expected training audience has already acquired.  It’s not necessary that this training has occurred through your organization.  For example, perhaps some workers have had college-related experiences that make them more capable than others.  Or perhaps a few workers have come to be employed at your organization from one of your vendors or competitors.  Very often you’ll find a range of tenure within our organization; the “older” workers will have had training that was delivered a few years ago while the “newer” workers are at a loss.  Again, if you discover that they have had no training, you may indeed have a training problem on your hands.  But, if training has been delivered to the audience, and they still are not doing the job as expected, other factors are impacting worker performance and it is your job to discover what those factors are.

12. Does the audience think they need training?

This is a great question because whether or not your audience needs training is only half the equation – the other half is whether the audience is ready and willing to accept training.  One manufacturing organization, which was trying to cross-train its workforce, had a problem with trainees simply not showing up to the training classes!  No matter what they did to entice or cajole the workforce, the workers simply would not leave their stations to go to the training because they did not feel it was of benefit to them.

13.  What if we don’t train them?  What’s the worst that will happen?

Sometimes an intervention is more expensive than the problem being experienced.  A retail organization which had a 112% turnover at the hourly level, was contemplating providing management training with the expectation that better managers would equate to happier staffers and therefore increase tenure.  With just a bit of research it was determined that training really would not be worthwhile for two reasons: 1) in the retail industry, 112% turnover is not that bad and 2) the company really had a hiring issue – choosing to employ teenagers without a strong work ethic and being in an urban location without a nearby bus route, which often impacted their employees’ ability to arrive at work.

14. How will this training tie to business goals?

If there is no business outcome expected from the training, it will be hard to enlist the support of the organization and it’s possible that your project will be canceled if it seems to be a “nice to know topic.”  Your time and effort are valuable commodities, so you will want to ensure that there is a true business goal such as increased sales, decreased accidents, reduction in personnel, or the like, that it is associated with the training.