Many organizations roll out the same training year in, year out, and are surprised when people finish a course questioning its relevance to their role. That’s because the learning and development needs weren’t properly identified in the first place, wasting valuable time and resources.

Learning and development (L&D) professionals need to ensure that the interventions they make do three things: first, are built on the accurate identification of the L&D need; second, focus on the organization’s priorities which will bring a positive return on investment; third, provide a valuable experience for the participants, raising the level of their skills and their motivation to do things differently.

Given the current economic climate, in which many organizations have been through bruising restructuring and downsizing, a focused investment in L&D has the potential to restore staff motivation, engagement and retention.

Identifying the needs

L&D needs are identified through a formal or informal Learning Needs Analysis (LNA). The analysis can cover the whole organization, a specific group of people or an individual.

An organization-wide LNA involves the structured gathering of data about the current skills and capabilities in the business. Once analyzed, the data can be used to create an organization-wide L&D plan.

A focused investment in L&D has the potential to restore staff motivation, engagement and retention.

An LNA can also be carried out on a specific group of people. For example, a company wanting to expand into international markets will need to identify the new skills and capabilities required of its sales force. These can be formalized in a competency framework which details the specific behaviours required for success in the role. Each individual’s L&D needs can be determined through a self and manager assessment which forms the basis of the individual’s development plan. The data gathered may also reveal some development needs across the sales force which can be used to design group interventions. These could range from delivery of pitch to improved peer to peer coaching or cultural awareness.

Development centres are another effective way of identifying L&D needs. Properly constructed and executed, development centres provide a comprehensive and objective identification of strengths and development needs and can be used to assess current skills or potential. As they are relatively resource-intensive, most organizations use them selectively; for example for high potential individuals, where they are used as part of the talent management process.

An individual’s L&D needs can also be identified through the ongoing performance management process. In everyday situations, managers have the opportunity to identify the L&D needs of the people they manage and they can use this information to provide guidance and coaching.

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