Putting the NEED in Needs Assessment

It’s time for the next installment of the Performance Improvement Process Model or PIPM. A couple weeks ago, I talked about the difference between an opportunity and a “good” idea. This post will address the next step in the model “Want or Need.”

I’m an old dog. As hard as it might be to teach me a new trick, my good friend and mentor Dr. Roger Kaufman keeps trying. He has written extensively about the difference between needs and wants. The problem starts when we used need as a verb instead of a noun. I do this ALL the time – publicly and in private correspondence with Dr K. Thankfully he is patient and reminds me of the error and we keep moving forward. One day it might just stick!

When we use need as a verb, like “I need a new boat” (my wife may have heard this once or a dozen times) we are going right to the solution and not considering other potential options. Seriously! Look at it! In dire need of replacement.

My 208 Lowe FS175

I know… it’s a sweet boat and I have caught a lot of fish in it. There is no need here what-so-ever. There were some issues with the old gal (my boat NOT my wife). Mostly ancillary equipment like the trolling motor, bilge pump and *gasp* the stereo didn’t work. Long story short, I didn’t need a new boat, rather, I wanted to get all the little irritants fixed so my fishing trips would be more enjoyable. I have talked about this misuse of need and the jump straight to solutions in past blog posts as well. See Just gimme training and Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly).

How did I get onto boats and fishing!? Okay – seriously, if I keep using need the wrong way, what’s the right way? It’s so simple. Kaufman (1998) has been trying for decades to get everyone on the same page and define it as “a gap in results.” For example, I want to catch more fish. I currently catch an average of 20 a summer. I want to catch 50. The gap between my current and desired results is 30 fish. A new boat may or may not close that gap. In reality, the best way to close in on 50 is simply to spend more time fishing.

Let’s shift over to a work related example of needs. Did you know that cashiers get measured on the number of items they scan per hour? It’s called the ISAH or “Items Scanned per Active Hour” and it is calculated by averaging the total items scanned per hour when cashiers are actively signed into their registers. Generally, good industry performance is 500 ISAH.

In this fictitious example, our experienced cashiers have an average ISAH of 900. The rock stars of retail. Cashiers with 3 months experience or less have an average ISAH of 250. Based on customer feedback, there is dissatisfaction with slower transactions. They prefer to get through the checkout line fast. What’s the need?

The gap in results at the worker (cashier) level is to increase the cashiers ISAH from 250 to 500 or better. The gap in results at the workplace or organizational level is the level of customer dissatisfaction. Improving the cashier’s ISAH will contribute to increased customer satisfaction.

If you can’t describe the problem or opportunity in terms of a gap in results, it’s a want, not a need and you should proceed directly to the stop sign, take a breath and give your problem a second look. It’s probably not the real cause of whatever is giving you business pain. Next up – the Needs Assessment. Stay tuned!

References

Kaufman, R. (1998) Strategic thinking. A guide to identifying and solving problems. (Revised edition.) International Society for Performance Improvement and the American Society for Training Development. ISBN: 1-56286-051-8.

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Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis?

Words are important. I hate to admit it – but they are. There are some folks who love to sit argueand debate from dawn until dusk about the best verb to use in a performance objective statement. I am 180 degrees opposite and want to get the verb that the majority agree on and move on! In my experience, the subject matter experts are pretty good at choosing a verb that works.

There are two terms that continue to get used interchangeably, Needs Assessment and Needs Analysis. Even worse is the fact that both can get shortened to “NA” by practitioners which can lead to even more confusion. Want to get crazy? Add in Training Needs Analysis (TNA) which is also often described as the “NA.”

If you want to find “the” explanation of NA and NA, be prepared for an arduous search through the Internet and many many texts where authors have put their own spin, tweak, massage and a coat of rust-o-leum paint on the definitions. I say “the” because there is no single definitive explanation.

While analyzing a previous client’s training system, the NA and NA terms were being used in very interesting but not necessarily accurate ways. To help clarify how the terms are related (but different) I headed to NeedsAssessment.org to do my own research. Watkins, Meiers and Visser’s (2012) FREE book A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results is an exceptional resource which helped me to develop the first version of this diagram:

na v na2
Needs Assessment vs. Analysis Concept Map

With some feedback from my colleagues John Egan and Julie Maiilé (merci mes amis), the diagram was tweaked, spun and massaged into the picture above which tells this story:

A performance problem or new opportunity starts with a Needs Assessment. When you do a Needs Assessment you will (should?) use both needs analysis and performance analysis. The results of the Needs Assessment works to improve results through the implementation of non-training and/or training interventions.

If a training intervention is required, then you will have to do a Training Needs Analysis. The TNA uses task analysis to determine what has to be trained and what doesn’t.

One of the big ah-hah’s in this client’s situation was that the Needs Assessment function resides within the training system and was being done by training specialists. How many non-training interventions do you think get recommended?

This is a very macro view of Needs Assessment aimed at making us all a little wiser about when we should use NA or NA… or maybe never use the acronym at all? If you want to learn more, go get that book! Did I mention it’s free!?

May 2018 Update: This is by FAR the most popular post I have made and still gets looked at most every day. I have updated the concept map to a full process model and it is available in the Performance Improvement Journal, doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785. If you would like a FREE copy – just drop me a line at brett.christensen@workplaceperformance.ca and I will be happy to send it to you! Something for free… ‘magine!

References

Watkins, R., Meiers, M.W., & Visser, Y.L. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results. Washington, DC: The World Bank.