What Will Training Really Fix?


“We need training on _____”

As a company that creates custom learning solutions, many of our conversations start something like this. A client comes to us with a specific need, a deadline and maybe even an idea of what needs to be produced. It’s our job to find out what the real story is.

In the short term, the need seems simple. Maybe your company has just merged and there is a push to get a more consistent look and feel across a wide range of eLearning. Or perhaps the National Sales Meeting is three months away and you need to make reps excited to sell your newest product. You’re hearing things about “mobile” and feel like the training you deliver to your customers should be more “modern”, but you aren’t quite sure what that really means or what problem you are actually trying to solve.

This is why analysis is so important. It’s an essential, yet often overlooked, part of the process of creating a truly impactful learning solution.

One Story, Many Meanings

At the beginning of a project, clients will give us a picture of what “reality” is. They will tell us the problem they are having, what employees need to be doing differently and why it isn’t happening. They know they are having symptoms, but they may not be able to immediately pinpoint the underlying cause. Or they may think they know the cause when other factors are also causing the performance gap.

We listen to these stories to look for the desired outcome, then make it our mission to uncover what behaviors, knowledge and skills are needed to reach that outcome.

In other words, we look for a performance gap: the real star of the story.

Training is Just Part of It

We love to create interactive eLearning courses, elegant mobile apps and engaging game-based learning, but these solutions by themselves are seldom enough to solve a performance issue. Any good Human Performance Technology (HPT) model will show you that there are many factors external to the performer that impact their performance. We like to use David Wile’s model with our clients:


In our 2016 Learning and Remembering Survey, 16% of respondents cited an organizational issue, aka something external to the performer, as the primary challenge they face when delivering meaningful training. Many other responses, such as having too much complex content or lots of regulation, are also somewhat external to what training can “fix”.

Take the Time for Analysis

A well-conducted analysis is a crucial step when you truly want to solve a performance issue. A good analysis will:

  • Find out what results a job is supposed to produce for the company.
  • Identify if it is something that can be trained.
  • Look at internal and external factors that impact performance.
  • Identify what impacts results and what does not.
  • Separate fact from opinion.

Of course, you must choose the right type of analysis to conduct depending on the business need.

Watch “Measure Twice, Cut Once”

I partnered with Stephanie Sullivan to deliver a presentation called Measure Twice, Cut Once: How Analysis Drives Training and Business Results. You can view the recording of the webinar below!

Training Needs Analysis Worksheet (Free Download)

A soundly conducted Needs Analysis should always be the first step when you need to improve performance or change behaviors. Regardless of the type of learning solution you plan to create, taking the time to properly assess the situation and gather appropriate information will go a long way towards assuring the success of a new project.

Below, you will find a five-step process for conducting a Training Needs Analysis. When we help organizations with their analysis, we recommend they follow these steps, or a similar variation. In order to help you through these five steps, we have created a 10-question Needs Analysis Worksheet you can fill out and use as a starting point for new project. You may fill out the form below and download it for free.

Interested in learning more about analysis? Watch our recorded webinar: Measure Twice, Cut Once: How Analysis Impacts Business Results.

And now, the five steps of a standard Training Needs Analysis.

1. Receive Training Request

Whether you receive a formal request for training or a more vague indication that there is a problem you are expected to solve, now is the time to start gathering some basic information. In this step, you will formulate an initial instructional goal (which can be revised later) and clarify your target audience… including their characteristics, background, and current skills. You will also decide if the training can be developed internally, or if you will need an external vendor.

2. Formulate a plan

Chances are you will have quite a bit of content to gather and organize. You’ll also need a plan for refining your instructional goal to make sure it aligns with business objectives. Step two is all about figuring out what information to gather, who to get it from, and how to get it. Zero in on your instructional goal, profile your learners, and carefully identify the skills or behaviors you want to impact.

3. Gather the data

In Step three, it’s time to collect data and refine your plan based on data that emerges. You’ll be collecting data using methods such as stakeholder interviews, locating source content, focus groups, and task analysis.

Interviews, focus groups, and locating source content are all fairly straightforward tasks, but you may or not already be familiar with the task analysis technique. This involves isolating an individual task and identifying the current results, the desired standard, level of importance, frequency of the task, and more. Quite honestly, we could give a full workshop on just the task analysis step alone. Here’s a worksheet you can use.

4. Analyze data and conclude the process

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data, it’s time to analyze the information gathered and formulate findings and recommendations. You should then revise your instructional goal based on the data you’ve gathered. You should now have new insights on your learners that will affect the content of the solution, the delivery format, and other constraints.

By the end of this step, you should clearly know what the optimal training solution is and why. You’ll also know whether you can complete the training internally, or if you need to bring in an outside vendor.

5. Plan next steps

Your final step in the Needs Analysis will be a comprehensive report, which will serve as the road map for your solution design. This report will include the final instructional goal, profile of the target audience, learning objectives, and a summary of the tasks or ideas being taught. You’ll also lay out the constraints to consider in your design, and the potential delivery method. When you have all five steps of the Needs Analysis process completed, you should be well on your way to developing an effective learning solution.


We have a created a simple, 10-question worksheet to help you kickstart your Training Needs Analysis. Use it to ask the right questions, zero in on the “need to have” information, and make a sound plan for identifying the right learning solution.

When You May Not Need a Training Program

Training - too expensive to use as a band-aid.

I want to tell you a story.

Your sales reps are supposed to upload sent proposals to a shared server for future reference or reuse by other team members. One problem: the company firewall restricts access to the portal when reps are not on the company Internet network. When they are able to get connected, the portal is painfully slow. IT knows about the issue but has not fixed it. Since the sales reps are busy, they have learned NOT to upload completed proposals to the portal.  Instead, they email each-other asking for past proposals when they need them. As a result, work gets duplicated, and the reps spend lots of unneeded hours working around an inefficient process.

When the VP of Sales notices that a large number of proposals are not ending up in the portal, he pushes for a series of six 20 minute eLearning courses on “Sales Process Awareness.” The company pays an eLearning provider $30,000 to create the courses and organizes an all-day instructor-led training session for sales reps on best practices.

The sales reps take the courses and attend the training… then go back to their regular jobs. Their day-to-day work does not change. In fact, they are even MORE busy playing catch-up from all that time they were taken away from their jobs to complete training. The portal still does not work correctly and proposals are still not getting saved. The problem continues.

That’s right, folks… sometimes training is not the answer. Improving performance is as much about process as it is awareness.

Analyze Until You Find a Root Cause… then take action

While the story above is fictional, I think it is a great example of a situation where training and eLearning are used as the solution to a problem that is a process problem, not a skill or knowledge problem. When we skip past the “A” in ADDIE, forgetting to conduct a thorough and thoughtful analysis, we risk embarking on a fool’s errand with little hope of success.

Training can help accomplish many things…

  • Help new hires learn the basics.
  • Introduce a new process or procedure.
  • Provide opportunities for practice and reinforcement.
  • Teach people background information and foundational knowledge.
  • Give people a “so what?” or “what’s in it for me?” that motivates them to perform better.
…But if a process is dysfunctional, re-teaching someone how to do it is not going to solve the problem. Sometimes, your team members are already motivated to do their jobs well, but they feel frustrated or limited by the structures in which they work. Over time they become numb to this frustration and just deal with it because “that’s the way things are around here.”

The Role of eLearning Providers

As consultants, we often end up producing some form of eLearning, mobile learning or gamified learning solution to help clients meet their objectives. But we also take the time to analyze the state of their business and make recommendations for process improvements when appropriate. It’s our job to offer the perspective of a neutral third party that knows a thing or two about helping people do their jobs better.
Use flow charts and process mapping

In a recent post discussing compliance training needs for the healthcare sector, I referenced a past project for a major pharmaceutical company that needed to implement good research principles across its organization. A pure “training” solution might have involved a serious of eLearning courses or instructor-led courses showing what the new principles are and telling people how to follow them. Since our client actually needed people to follow the principles and not just abstractly know about them, we had to take a more holistic approach. We learned that people didn’t need training on the principles – they needed training on how to audit their current functional areas and determine where principles need to be applied. They also needed a process defined for formulating implementation strategies.

Another recent project, conducted for Harlan Laboratories, had us creating an all-new curriculum for lab technicians. We spent lots of time on-site interviewing people and seeing what the work was like first hand before making any recommendations. If we had skipped this step, we would not have seen the necessity of forgoing eLearning and creating physical materials the techs could carry with them in their lab gear. More on how we make sure solutions hit the mark with target learners here.

Put People in Position for Success

Organizational change has to happen at both the macro and micro level. Too often, C-level folks assume that delivering training to drive “better awareness” for front-line team members will help them perform better. In so doing, they neglect to examine the organizational structure those team members are working inside of… and what role that structure plays in both their positive and negative performance. They also forget to address company culture issues that prevent people from speaking up when a problem is happening again and again.
Whether you develop learning solutions internally or rely on an outside vendor, make sure the responsible parties take their time to complete a thorough analysis… and have the experience and confidence to recommend process improvements when necessary. Because after all, an eLearning course is a pretty expensive band-aid.