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

About davidcottonuk
I'm an international trainer, speaker and facilitator. I've worked in 4 continents and 40 countries, delivering all aspects of leadership, management and behavioural skills training to local and national government and nearly every industry sector. I've written a dozen books, and scores of journal articles.

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