Training Needs Analysis: What it is, and why you need it

The customer service leader sounded desperate.

She had called and told me her team needed training. Her boss had given her a tight timeline and she was looking for quick results. 

When I asked her why, she told me her company was losing customers due to poor service. Fair enough. "So what do your people need to do that they don't know how to do now?"

That one stumped her. 

She had no idea. All the leader knew was she needed things to improve and she thought training would be the answer. She wasn’t even sure what training was needed.

Customer service leaders often send employees to training because they have a vague idea of what they want to improve, but they aren't able to be specific. And that dooms the training to fail. 

The good news is there's a simple fix called a training needs analysis. Here's what it is, why you need it, and some resources to help you do it.

Two business colleagues analyzing data.

What is a training needs analysis?

A training needs analysis is the process of identifying whether training will solve a specific business problem. If training is warranted, the needs analysis will also identify the specific training that's needed and the best way to deliver it.

A typical needs analysis consists of three broad stages:

  1. Communicate with sponsors to clarify goals.

  2. Gather and analyze data.

  3. Present conclusions and make recommendations.

One client managed multiple apartment communities. The vice president of operations wanted a standardized training program for new leasing managers to improve sales, service quality, and consistency.

Here's what that needs analysis entailed.

Communicate with sponsors to clarify goals

It helps to get project sponsors to identify measurable business goals whenever possible. This creates a clear connection between the business and the training request, and makes it easier to measure the impact of the training later on.

The initial request from the vice president was simply to create a single new hire training program for all apartment communities. However, without a goal there was no way to evaluate the program's success.

We worked together to set a goal as part of the needs analysis process: new leasing managers would achieve a 20 percent lease closing ratio within their first 90 days.

Here were the results from the previous eight new hires:

Graph showing the lease closing ratio for new hires after 90 days.

Gather and analyze data

This stage is a bit like being a detective. You have to look in various places to find data and information that will help you crack the case. There are often surprising discoveries as you do your analysis.

For example, half of the most recent new hires did achieve the 20 percent goal. So there might be something different about their training compared to the four who fell short of the goal.

There were a number of data sources examined for the apartment community needs analysis:

  • Interviewed new hires and managers from various locations.

  • Reviewed existing training materials.

  • Analyzed performance data from previous hires.

One discovery is that community managers were inconsistent in how they coached new leasing managers. Some were very hands on, while others spent very little time with their new employees. The hands-on managers generally achieved much better performance.

Present conclusions and make recommendations

The needs analysis concludes when you present your findings to the project sponsor and make recommendations based on your conclusions. The goal is to gain agreement on the best way to develop the training.

The needs analysis for the apartment community made it clear that community managers needed to be more hands on. Helping them become better coaches wasn’t in the original scope of the project, but the vice president was able to make it a requirement for the new program.

We ended up creating guides for community managers to help them coach new hires.

That key insight led to impressive results. In our initial pilot, every new hire achieved the 20 percent goal within 90 days, and the overall average was much higher:

Graph showing the performance before and after the training program was implemented.

Why is a training needs analysis important?

There are a number of benefits gained by conducting a needs analysis:

  • Save time and money by eliminating waste from the training process.

  • Identify factors besides training that influence performance.

  • Focus the training on exactly what's needed to improve performance.

In some cases, training is unnecessary. 

The CEO of a company I worked for once asked me to conduct customer service training to save an important contract. My needs analysis revealed the problem wasn't related to training—so we implemented a different solution and saved the contract.

Sometimes, training is only part of the solution.

I was once asked to conduct sales training for an inbound call center to help agents upsell items to customers. My needs analysis revealed that agents needed to learn some basic sales skills, but they also lacked information about the products they were selling. We provided the agents with product samples and guides, and the agents were able to increase upsells by $1 million in the first year.

At other times, it's unclear exactly what training is needed.

I helped one client reduce new hire training time for customer service reps by 50 percent. A needs analysis revealed the old program spent too much time training employees on knowledge they rarely used, and not enough time helping new hires develop the skills they used every day.

A training needs analysis does not need to take a long time. Some projects can be done in just a few hours, while even more complicated initiatives can be completed in just a few weeks.

Needs Analysis Resources

These resources can help you learn how to conduct a training needs analysis on your own. Keep in mind the goal of a needs analysis is to clarify the objectives and decide what training, if any, is needed.

The training video will walk you step-by-step through the process of conducting a training needs analysis, and it even provides you with complete sample project.

There are three ways to watch it:

Here's a short preview of the video.