Clear, systematic, and ongoing identification of learning and development needs relate to performance gaps and ensures effective learning across an organization. However, the process can be seen as a rigid, box-ticking annual exercise unless it’s aligned with internal and external organizational drivers. The need for organizational agility means L&D professionals need to constantly recognize their organization’s performance needs.
How Learning and Development needs are identified
Identifying learning and development (L&D) needs starts with knowing the organization’s current and future capability needs, and then assessing existing levels of skills, attitudes, and knowledge. This assessment can use formal and informal methods. Such an analysis will allow decisions about what learning is needed at individual, team, or organizational level. These gaps should be interpreted and prioritized within the wider organizational strategy.
The learning and development process needs to flow from business strategy. Its aim is to produce a plan to make sure there is sufficient capability to sustain current and future business performance.
Analysis of Learning and Development needs
A clear analysis of Learning and Development needs that informs such a strategy is important because:
- Organizational performance depends on having the right people in the right place with the right skills at the right time.
- It can give insight into the realities of the learning environment employees experience.
- Providing relevant learning opportunities can build organizational effectiveness as well as enabling staff to achieve personal and career goals which can increase employee engagement.
- Having a clear idea of the performance standards expected provides a foundation for L&D professionals to evaluate effectiveness and demonstrate the impact and transfer of learning.
- Well-planned learning can be an effective retention strategy, particularly when linked into talent strategies.
Knowing which current performance standards, as well as those expected in future, is the first step when reviewing skills needs. Keeping an open mind helps; nobody honestly knows what jobs will exist in the future, so developing agility and allowing people to be prepared for them is important. Next, for each category of employees covered, consider the following questions:
- Which capabilities will be required to carry out the roles?
- Which capabilities already exist in the workforce (formal or informal)?
- What are the gaps between existing capabilities and new/future requirements?
Gathering data on learning needs
After planning the frequency, extent and nature of the analysis of learning and development, the next step is to decide how the information can be collected. Potential methods include:
- Organizational data and intelligence – ‘mining’ the existing data that’s collated in the organization is a great start point.
- Formal interviews and/or focus groups with stakeholders – these will often be primary sources of information on plans, work organization and changes.
- Informal conversations with stakeholders – ‘coffee chats’ are a good source of finding out what is needed.
- Team meetings – attending team meetings across the organization can give insights on performance needs.
- Observations – engaging with the learners’ current ‘real world’.
- Questionnaire-based or other surveys of managers, employees, and their representatives.
- Existing data – for example from management information systems or virtual learning environments/ learning management systems.
- Information and analysis from competency frameworks.
- Performance management data.
- Documentation – for example organization wide business plans, objectives and work standards, job descriptions and person specifications.
A mix of these methods at the same time will give the best results.
Much of this data will be sensitive, particularly where individuals’ knowledge and skills gaps are exposed, so confidentiality must be respected.