A friend of mine recently discovered a suspicious mass and, given her family history of cancer, immediately assumed she was about to die. Convinced of the seriousness of her illness, she spent the first 10 minutes of her consultation asking the doctor about different cancer treatments - before she'd even been given a cancer diagnosis (thankfully, it was NOT cancer and she's fine). Fortunately for my friend, her doctor graciously invited her concerns and countered them with descriptions of the tests he would order before jumping to conclusions about her diagnosis and treatment.
But what if he hadn't responded so sensibly? What if my friend's doctor figured he didn't have time to order all those pesky tests and decided it was quicker to prep her for surgery? What if he'd allowed my friend's insistence on a cancer diagnosis to discourage him from performing further testing? Or, what would've happened if he'd assumed she was healthy based on her physical exam from last year? I'm sure we'd all call the guy a quack - negligent, lazy, and potentially dangerous. Yet the moment we swap out the word "patient" for "organization" and "doctor" for "training," a failure to assess needs seems more acceptable/less crazy.
When front-end analysis is short-changed or completely dismissed, training designers become the equivalent of a quack — randomly applying training solutions without first understanding what's needed. While we all expect doctors to ask lots of questions, examine symptoms, and base their diagnosis and recommendations on these data, in the business world we readily shun this critical step the moment we encounter resistance from clients, SMEs, or managers who would rather fast-forward to results.
I've found that most resistance to needs assessment falls into three categories: concerns about time, a lack of understanding about the process and the benefits, and mis-guided assumptions.
Source of resistance: Crazy deadlines can drive this response, but I find this objection most often comes from clients or SMEs who just don’t see the long-term benefits of needs analysis.
How to address it: Educate clients, SMEs, and managers by explaining the cost of NOT doing a needs analysis. By spending a little bit of time up front to investigate the causes of a performance gap, organizations may save more time, money, and resources in the long run by ensuring that training really addresses needs.
For some great ideas on how to accelerate the needs analysis process without sacrificing quality, check out Allison Rossett’s book, First Things Fast.
Source of resistance: Clients, SMEs, or managers may feel like your request for more information isn't worth the effort to retrieve it, or they may assume that you can move forward with information that's already surfaced from previous projects.
How to address it: Even if everyone believes they've provided you with all the necessary data, take the time to verify the specifics with them and scrub the data from a training perspective. Most likely the information will lack details about learner characteristics that could influence your design choices or workplace barriers that may impact performance.
Source of resistance: Don't ask me how it happens, but somehow when we end up on the training team everyone assumes that we're "experts." This belief that our institutional or industry experience is somehow a substitute for current data is a dangerous assumption which puts YOU on the hot seat when training fails to deliver the expected results.
How to address it: It's tempting (heck, even a little bit flattering!) to be given permission to skip the needs analysis step because of your vast array of knowledge. Particularly if you've been with the company for years and have strong knowledge of the business, it's easy to assume that you know it all - inside and out. Unfortunately, no matter how "connected" you think you are, processes and perspectives change as you grow and the last thing you want is for training you've developed to come across as out-of-touch with the needs of the business. Don't do yourself or your learners a disservice by failing to verify that your knowledge is valid and that your perceptions are still relevant.
Headed to the Learning Solutions 2011 conference in Orlando this week? If so, and you enjoyed this post, consider attending Sahana Chattopadhyay's ID zone session: Balancing SME Speak with Learner Needs when Designing . It sounds like she's got some really great insights and tips for working with SMEs.
Have a story to share? Tell us about a time you encountered resistance to needs assessment and how you overcame it.
Trina is a learning and communications consultant with thirteen years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.