When I was doing the research for my upcoming book on training needs analysis and systems thinking I came across an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology (see reference below) which summarised a meta-analysis looking at what factors seem to influence the success of training programmes. One statistic which caught my eye was that their data suggested that only 6% of training programmes were based on a training needs analysis. 6%, not many!
The authors of the study did point out that it was often not clear what a 'training needs analysis' constituted, and that their research looked at published studies, so it was possible that in the 'real world' organisations were indeed carrying out needs analysis activities. So, to try and get some different perspectives on this I asked the question in one of my LinkedIn groups: "Training needs analyses: do they exist?".
Very quickly the question attracted over 100 comments from many different people, and they are still coming, so clearly the question was of interest, and in general showed a lot of frustration with the current situation within organisations as far as conducting needs analyses is concerned.
With so many comments, it is difficult to control specific conclusions, but there were a number of common threads which appeared during the course of the conversation.
Essential but not happening. Many people agreed with my initial proposition that while TNAs are universally said to be essential, they are often not carried out in any significant way.
TNAs take too much time. Organisations want quick results and running a training course is a quick solution (although of course it does not guarantee quick results, which many people pointed out).
What is a TNA? Quite a few people discussed the difference between a training analysis and a performance analysis, seeing the performance analysis as something which came first, to identify what factors are affecting performance, followed up by the training analysis to decide how training can contribute. Interestingly, several of these comments mirrored what I have seen in the standard TNA literature, that these are sequential events, which, from a systems perspective, runs the risk of creating stand-alone solutions which do not necessarily integrate with each other.
The lack of clarity about what a TNA actually is seems to mean that all kinds of activities can fall within the definition of a TNA, ranging from gut reactions to systematic organisation-wide surveys.
Adult learning. Another thread was the common lack of understanding amongst non-training professionals as to how adults learn, leading to inappropriate solutions.
Developing baselines. The intimate relationship between a training needs analysis and an evaluation was also pointed out: how can you carry out an evaluation of the effectiveness if you have no idea what the original problem was.
An interesting exercise, in eliciting views, and one which highlights how far the training profession has to go in making organisations realise how important it is to really think about the reasons for embarking on training programmes.
For more information see: Arthur Jr, W., Bennett Jr, W., Edens, P.S. & Bell, S.T., "Effectiveness of training in organizations: a meta-analysis of design and evaluation features", Journal of Applied Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2003, 88, 234