When I first learned about instructional design, no one ever told me that there are, in fact, three different types of training needs assessments. I thought that there was just one type, a performance gap analysis, with a standard set of questions. While this is the type of assessment you will perform most often, it is not the only one you need to know about.
What follows is a brief description of each of the three.
Performance Gap Analysis
The first type of training needs assessment is the performance gap analysis. You’ll perform this assessment when there is a difference between the way employees are currently performing an aspect of their job (actual performance) and the way management wants them to do it (desired performance).
Your goal is to figure out what training you need to design to close the gap between the two. To do so, you’ll need to define both actual and desired performance in as much detail as possible as well as find out what is causing the gap.
A lack of knowledge and skill is certainly one possibility. But, you should also investigate other possible causes such as a lack of proper tools or materials, time, or authority. In the latter case, training alone won’t close the gap and may even be a waste of resources.
You’ll need to perform a variation on the performance gap analysis when something new is rolled out that requires employees to be trained. That something new could be a new product, competitor, market, process, system, role, set of responsibilities, or law.
In this situation, you’ll only need to define the difference between how employees perform their work today (actual performance) and how they will perform it in the future as a result of the new thing (desired performance). You don’t have to investigate other possible causes of the gap in performance since the new thing is clearly the culprit.
Annual Training Plan
A second type of needs assessment is the assessment you’ll perform to create an annual training plan. Your goal is to identify both performance problems as well as anything new slated for the coming year.
You can think of this type of needs assessment as the performance gap analysis on steroids. You’ll ask the same questions, but it will be a much bigger effort because it is focused on more than one problem and more than one new situation.
A third and final type of needs assessment is an assessment to create a curriculum for a single position. I’ve most often performed this type of assessment when a company is hiring a lot of people into a particular role.
The focus of this assessment is very different than either of the previous two. In this case, you’ll need to identify the specific areas of responsibilities and tasks for the job.
I’ve used a focus group technique called the DACUM method to do this. During this process, I work with between 8 and 12 top performers currently doing the job to define exactly what the job looks like. I then use that information to put together a curriculum that covers key responsibilities and tasks.