Stop doing training needs analyses!

When I first started working in training and development, it was the fashion to conduct a training needs analysis every time anyone identified an issue within a business. After all, there’s no point in hiring training professionals if they are not doing training work, is there?

The problem is that each time you do a training needs analysis, you presuppose that training is the solution. And sometimes you’ll be right. And sometimes you won’t.

Businesses suffer business problems. To be effective as an in-house trainer, you must have a real grasp of the business. Without that, you’re likely to produce isolated interventions which have little lasting value.

More useful – as well as developing an understanding of what the business is all about – is to do a business needs analysis, spending time analysing business requirements with no presupposition that training will be the solution.

In 1986, Nithin Nohria, William Joyce and Bruce Roberson began the Evergreen Project1, one of the biggest management studies ever undertaken. It set out to determine which management techniques are real indicators of long term success, measured in terms of “total return to shareholders”. Its conclusions were that the major tools and techniques, such as total quality management, Kaizen etc had no effect on the bottom line at all. They discovered startling consistency amongst the successful businesses. Each one of them excelled in four “Primary practices” and any two of four “secondary practices” (and it didn’t seem to matter which two).

Successful companies were great in Strategy, Execution, Culture and Structure.

They were also great in any two of Talent, Innovation, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Leadership (!)

The book neatly summarises the findings in each of the eight “practices”. Turn the summary into a series of questions, tweak it for your business and you have a wonderful framework for a business needs analysis. Use the questions to really discover what’s going on in your business, in a department or team and you’ll find:

  • you gain a greater understanding of the business
  • you can make more pertinent recommendations for business improvement
  • you increase your credibility as a business partner

So next time you’re tempted to do a training needs analysis, stop and think – how do I know that the outcome should be training? If there’s any doubt in your mind, consider instead a small scale business analysis. It won’t cost any more than a TNA and it will reveal vastly more.

To request a business needs analysis, discuss any aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.
1 Nohria, Joyce and Roberson: What really works: The 4+2 formula for sustained business success. Collins, 2003, ISBN-13: 9780060512871, ISBN 0060512784

Isolation ward: socialisation for the self-employed

After years of corporate life, when often the only reason they went into the office was to socialise, many self-employed people feel a tremendous sense of isolation when they strike out on their own.  They yearn for the contact with others, the shared jokes by the coffee machine, the hot gossip, the flirtations, the chance meetings in corridors.

Self-employment doesn’t have to be a lonely business: it’s just that the methods of communicating change.

First, realise that your telephone bill is going to be high.  It’s worth having a separate business line installed so that you can separate your work and home bills.

Second, learn to type.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you use the ‘correct’ fingers, but it does matter that you develop reasonable speed.  Your computer can be your social lifeline, and if you are still pecking out one  word a minute, you’ll find your new social life develops rather slowly.

Then it’s time to hook up with others.  Your contact list is your best friend here.  Get it as up to date as you can, then  make a point of calling two people every day for no good reason at all.  It keeps you within their sights and may sow the seeds for future work.  It’s useful to have something to say to them when you call, but what you choose to say need not necessarily focus on work.  You’d be surprised at how often someone will say, within a week or two of your call “I was just thinking about you – are you interested in talking about a piece of work?”

Equally, e-mail two people for no good reason and you’ll see the same kind of results.

Seek out people with whom you have lost contact through LinkedIn, Plaxo, Friends Reunited or other social networking media.  Don’t do the hard sell with them – be conversational and mention in passing what you are now doing.  Again, you’re sowing the seeds for future work whilst increasing the number of people with whom you can start to have contact.

LinkedIn provides a great space for meeting like-minded (and annoying) people – just like real life –  and the discussion forums can be educational, fun, aggravating and always interesting.  Contacts there can provide sources of  work. Ecademy provides a similar meeting space.

If you are feeling really brave, try Tweeting through Twitter.  It’s a quirky tool and takes a little getting used to, and with practice can start to open up new contacts and, potentially, new business.  The straight hard sell on Twitter puts people off.  Instead, mix social chat with tweets about what you are up to professionally.

If you are working from home, get out of the house at least once every day and take a walk.  Ideally, go to a shop or somewhere where you can have face to face contact with others, albeit just for a few minutes.

Occasionally, attend a networking event – whether a training course, a formal business networking forum or a conference – it does’t really matter.  The main thing is to get in front of other people.  In an earlier blog (“Klingons and wallflowers”), I talked about the joys of networking events, and you may pick up some useful tips there.  If you are well prepared, have your elevator pitch ready and don’t have too much spinach between your teeth, you’ll find that people want to talk to you, and you stand a reasonable chance of increasing your contacts.

Ultimately, self-employment can be more rewarding than corporate life, and if you work at forging contacts, it need never feel lonely and isolated.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.  Take a look, too, at

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

All about choice

I love the word ‘choice.’  It’s one of my favourite words in the English language.  I see choice like a dog – it needs to be taken out and exercised.  Sadly, it often lies in a corner, unwatered, unfed and neglected.

One day, some years ago, I was driving along a motorway in the UK and the traffic came to a standstill.  I tuned in to the local radio station which told me that, because of an accident further down the road, there was now a 35 mile traffic jam which would take at least an hour to clear.  I had some time in hand, called the client I was going to see to check that it would be ok for me to arrive late and decided to have a sleep.  I turned on some gentle music, tipped back the seat and thought that when it was time to move the driver behind me would sound his horn. I wouldn’t treat it as a rebuke, but as a signal that the traffic was moving again.

I was beginning to doze off and heard a caterwauling outside.  A man was standing on the wheel arch of his 4-wheel drive car shouting and swearing at the traffic to get out of his way, because he was in a hurry.

The man was in his mid-thirties.  I suspect that the stress of living may prevent him reaching forty.  This was a man who had seriously misfiled the traffic jam in his mental filing cabinet.

In any situation, there are three choices – what can we control or be in control of, what can we influence and what simply belongs in the it’s so drawer?  In the case of the traffic jam, the screaming man had filed it firmly in the control drawer.  It belonged in the it’s so drawer.

The one thing we can control in any situation is how we react, as long as we have developed the self-discipline to make a choice, rather than simply reacting. That’s not to suggest that we completely suppress our natural emotions; we are not automatons, and we have every right to feel stressed, upset, angry in certain situations.  What we need to do is choose the most appropriate display of behaviour according to the situation.

In any new or stressful situation, think about the outcome you may achieve by choosing different behaviours.  Will you or others feel better if you take one course of action, worse if you take another?

There are two types of choice – free choice and bounded choice.  We can’t have completely free choice because, inevitably, there are social, moral, ethical and other constraints on our behaviour.  On the other hand, the boundaries which we believe restrain us are much looser than we may imagine.  We often constrain ourselves with our self-limiting beliefs then blame the world for restricting our freedom of choice.

So, feed your choice, water it, take it for a walk and feel that hugely liberating sense as you exercise it.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.  Take a look, too, at

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.