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This report is based on research onto Needs assessment and its analytic tools. In addition, this paper critically examines the nature and role of needs assessment as a tool in consulting practice.
A Needs Assessment is a systematic exploration of the way things are and the way they should be. These “things” are usually associated with organizational and/or individual performance (Stout, 1995).
A needs assessment should be designed to identify and prioritize needs, while a need analysis should break and identified need into its component parts and determine solution requirement. Practical and pragmatic needs assessments provide a process for identifying and prioritizing gaps between current and desired results (Kaufman, 1979).
Need Assessment is defined as an investigation, undertaken to determine the nature of performance problems in order to establish the underlying causes and the way in which training can be addressed. Goldstein (1993) describes need assessment as the phase of the instructional process that provides the information necessary to design the entire program. A training gap is defined as the difference between the required standard of the job and incumbent’s performance. Need identification is the starting point in any training and development activity. Need identification or assessment is not a routine function, because it should conduct carefully and in a diagnostic manner.
The assessment begins with a “need” which can be identified in several ways but is generally described as a gap between what is currently in place and what is needed, now and in the future. The purpose of a training needs assessment is to identify performance requirements or needs within an organization in order to help direct resources to the areas of greatest need, those that closely relate to fulfilling the organizational goals and objectives, improving productivity and providing quality products and services. Indeed, there are various reasons why needs assessment is not conducted as it is described as being a difficult process, time consuming and lack of resources in carrying out the tasks (Miller & Osinski, 1996). On the other hand, Desimone and Werner (2002) argued that incorrect assumptions are usually made about needs analysis being unnecessary because the available information already specifies what an organization’s needs are. According to Miller and Osinski (1996) the needs assessment is the first step in the establishment of a training and development Program. It is used as the foundation for determining instructional objectives, the selection and design of instructional programs, the implementation of the programs and the evaluation of the training provided. These processes form a continuous cycle which always begins with a needs assessment.
A needs assessment is a systematic methodology used to locate the need before we intervene with the solution. The assessment helps us to locate the gaps in the plan of action or the existing strategy and helps us manage at the micro and macro levels. A needs assessment is carried out for an individual, an organization, team and even society issues. Some of the scenarios where needs assessment is widely used are organization development, disease outbreak, war/terrorism, drug abuse, poverty, sports etc. Needs assessment gives us a fair amount of insights about the situation that we are dealing with, before we go ahead and intervene. Gap could be easily determined with the use of analytical tools possessed by Needs assessment. They are used to identify strategic priorities, define results to be accomplished, guide decision related to actions considered and creates an evaluation criterion to judge the success and also have continual improvement within the organization (Stout, 1995).
Models of Needs Assessment
There are plenty of different models proposed by the eminent researchers. Needs assessment models are based on the variety of profession and applications. All the different models and a small description of these models are mentioned below:
Arthur’s Performance Evaluation Matrix:
(Arthur, L.1993. Improving Software Quality. New York: John Wiley and Sons)
The context of Arthur’s Performance Evaluation Matrix is usually used for the development or improvement of software’s. Bottom to top assessment is what this model emphasizes on. The assessment begins with very end-users such as the customers and suppliers. The model deals with identifying the defects created in the cycle and usage of data to identify the causes of the defects. It does not answer the society or the organizational results, but focuses on the development and improvement of their products (Anonymous, Models, n.d)
Burton and Merrill’s Four Phase Model:
(Burton, J. & Merrill, P. 1998, Needs Assessment: Goals, Needs And Priorities)
Internal and External factors are recognized by this four phase model. Additionally, this model focuses on “the application of needs assessment in the development of instructional materials at the level of a course” and intentionally does not address societal and organizational results. It avoids the society and the organizational results, because the authors Burton and Merill believe that their assessment tool helps in development of instructional materials (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Gilbert’s Performance Matrix:
(Gilbert, T. 1978, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance)
The Performance Matrix, provided by Gilbert focuses on the process improvement. He provides two types of performance matrix, a Full scale model and a truncated version. The author believes that any research on performance needs to be carried out at the higher level. The author begins his discussion at the ‘Philosophical’ level and then gets down to the ‘Tactical’ and ‘Logistical’ level and then the study is reduced to a ‘Simplified performance matrix’ (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Gordon’s Front End Analysis Model:
Gordon, S. (1994) Systematic Training Program Design: Maximizing Effectiveness and Minimizing Liability. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
This model identifies the unavailability of resources or any faulty shortcomings. Gordon’s Front End Analysis Model can be used to document and analyze an individual’s performance and cannot be extended to the societal or organization level (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Darraugh’s Six step Model:
(Darraugh, B. 1991. It takes six.(six step model). Training and development journal, v45, n3, p21)
The Six step model is very much similar to the Rossett’s Training needs assessment model. Darraugh provides a set of fifteen question for conducting the assessment. These questions orient towards the needs but are not determine the link to the societal, organizational or individual accomplishments. Therefore this model does not provide complete guidance in conducting the needs assessment (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Ostroff and Ford’s Levels Perspective Model:
(Ostroff, C. & Ford, J.K, 1989, Assessment training needs: Critical levels of analysis)
This model is based on the three content areas, Organizational, Task and Person given by Mc Gehee and Thayer. Ostroff and Ford’s model elevated the model to the next level by introducing a ‘Levels’ dimension, which includes Organizational sub-units and Individual. Twenty seven discreet analyses can be carried out based on the similarities and differences between each level. This model is considered to cover almost every possible theory (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Hannum and Hansen’s Needs Analysis Model:
(Hannum, W. & Hansen, C. 1989, Instructional systems development in large organizations)
Their model supports a top-down, Societal needs assessment. Their model can be used to examine only an individual’s performance and can be used to document the process insufficiencies. The model is strong on the research methods and helps to collect hard as well as soft data (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
Johnson’s Training Requirements Model:
(Johnson, D. 1996, Take two classes and call me in the morning: the case for training wellness)
Johnson’s Training Requirement Model focuses majorly on the ‘Training requirements planning’. It does not focus on the performance problems. The model utilizes the ‘Market Survey’ to identify the desired training programs. Based on the survey, the requirements are to be ‘Defined’ and ‘Analyzed’. The evaluation continues with short-term and long-term feedback (Anonymous, Models, n.d).
All the above models are used widely. Analysis and the collected data is used to provide soulution, this are the major purpose of the above mentioned models of needs assessment.
Reason for Needs Assessment
The major reasons behind using ‘Needs Assessment’ are as follows:
Gives us the information of what will be accomplished.
Expected changes in performance.
Economics involved (Stout, 1995)
Any kind of developmental initiative needs a lot of money to be invested. Some organizations tend to implement a solution in a hurry without considering whether they are the correct intervention. This will result in heavy losses, especially if it involves huge capital or operational expenditures. Organizational development programs are one such solution that needs a thorough analysis before any intervention is carried out. A wrong solution can result in loss of lot of money and at times destabilize the working atmosphere (Stout, 1995)
Process of Needs Assessment
According to Stout. D (1995) the needs assessment is carried out as a Four Step Process
Step 1: Perform a GAP analysis:
Performing a gap analysis is the first stepping stone in performing needs assessment. Actual performance of the organization is checked and compared with the theoretical standards set already. This step involves,
Analyzing the current situation:
The current goals, internal and external constraints, environment and knowledge of the employees are determined. In short as the same suggests it analyzes the current overall situation of the organization.
The desired situation:
The desired conditions for the organizational and personal success needs to be identify. Jobs/tasks, the knowledge, skills and abilities required to attain that goal are the prime focus of this analysis.
Gap between the current situation and the desired outcomes are identified once this step is completed. As we perform the GAP analysis, we look for the problems or deficits, impending charges, opportunities, strengths and different mandates such as government or foreign policies.
SWOT analysis provides us with the Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Whereas, the PEST analysis provides us an insight into the Political, Economical, Social and Technological factors (Stout, 1995).
Step 2: Identifying Priorities and Importance:
The next step begins with the analysis of the collected data. Depending on the importance of the need which was achieved by step 1 the concerns are prioritized. Example: Legal mandates and Cost effectiveness becomes a priority compared to the Executive pressures. We have to focus on those needs that have more value and will have a great impact (Stout, 1995).
Step 3: Identifying opportunities:
Major concerns and the development/improvement opportunities are indentified once the needs are prioritized. Solution for specific needs has to be analyzed in this step. This step involves a detailed investigation and analysis at the organizational and individual level. This step not only enables the organization to handle the current situation but also prepares it for the future (Stout, 1995).
Step 4: Implementation of solutions and growth opportunities:
This is the final step and it involves the implementation of the solutions for the specific issues. Some of the solutions that can be implemented are,
Programs such as one on one or group coaching, Mentoring, Classroom, Video learning, Workshops, Active learning, Vendor course, CBT etc. are considered as alternatives for solutions.
Organizational Development program
Organizational Programs include, Strategic planning exercises, Organizational restructuring, Performance management and effective team building are the different alternatives which are highlighted as solution alternates (Stout, 1995).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Needs Assessment
The table below summarizes the key advantages and disadvantages of major methods of assessing training and performance needs. The table below is used from (McCoy, McCoyTraining.com, n.d) which explains the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of needs assessment.
â€¢ Provide relevant, quantifiable data
â€¢ May built management
â€¢ Don’t build employee
â€¢ Not necessarily focused on
â€¢ May not identify causes
â€¢ May not provide visibility
Questionnaire and Surveys
â€¢ Reach many people in short
â€¢ Build involvement
â€¢ Relatively inexpensive
â€¢ Yield relevant, quantifiable
data that are easy to
â€¢ Anonymity may encourage
â€¢ Require time and skill to
â€¢ Low response rates or
â€¢ No opportunity to clarify
â€¢ May restrict freedom of
â€¢ May lead to unrealistic
â€¢ Build involvement and
â€¢ Provide relevant data
â€¢ Provide visibility
â€¢ May elicit key topics not
â€¢ On-the-spot sharing &
synthesis of different view
â€¢ Moderately time-consuming
(but less so than individual
â€¢ Moderately expensive
â€¢ Difficult to conduct
â€¢ May be difficult to analyze
and quantify data
â€¢ Build involvement and
â€¢ Allow for clarification
â€¢ Provide relevant data
â€¢ Easier to conduct than group
â€¢ May uncover information that
wouldn’t be brought up in a
â€¢ Expensive in terms of time
and travel costs
â€¢ Require interviewing skills
â€¢ May be difficult to analyze
and quantify results
â€¢ May make interviewees
â€¢ Build management
involvement and sponsorship
â€¢ Provide visibility
â€¢ Allows synthesis of opinions
of key decision-makers
â€¢ Can help identify resource
â€¢ Time-consuming and
difficult to manage
â€¢ Fails to build lower-level
â€¢ Poor source of quantifiable
â€¢ May lead to “groupthink” or
Observation of Work Situations
â€¢ Builds employee involvement
â€¢ Provides excellent information
when coaching an individual
â€¢ Builds your credibility
â€¢ Generates relevant,
â€¢ May provide excellent stories
â€¢ Requires a skilled observer
â€¢ Does not involve
â€¢ May change performance
or be perceived as spying
â€¢ May be logistically difficult
Benchmarking and Independent Research
â€¢ Learn from industry leaders
â€¢ Can build your credibility
â€¢ Availability of free data on
â€¢ Avoid rediscovering what is know
â€¢ Does not build involvement
â€¢ May not be directly relevant
â€¢ Data from different
organizations may be
â€¢ Requires significant
Table 1: Advantages and Disadvantages of Needs Assessment, Adapted from Managing a Small HRD Department, by Carol P. McCoy. McCoy Training and Development Resources, 1993, p. 23.
Needs Assessment as a tool for Consulting Practice and Critique for Best Practices
Methods of needs assessment can be classified into seven main types, each of which can take many different forms in practice. The different types of needs assessment approaches are as follows:
Gap or discrepancy approach
Reflection on action
Critical incident review
Learning for needs (Grant, 2001)
According to Grant (2001) Peer review is rapidly becoming a favorite method for needs assessment. Grants’ report was accepted in 2001 by the National Center for Biotechnological Information. In peer review doctors assess each other’s practice and give feedback and perhaps advice about possible education, training or organizational strategies to improve performance. Internal, external, informal, multidisciplinary and physician assessment are the five different type of peer review described in a good CPD guide. (Grant, 2001).
However this peer review method for needs assessment comes with ample of drawbacks. Some of these drawbacks are mentioned below:
Double Blind system is rarely used due to its impracticality. Reputation of the author always have some impact on the way others judged the paper this is the most common accusation made. An uncontroversial and poor paper written by an established researcher pass the review process whereas an excellent paper written by a new and upcoming scientist can be rejected (Anonymous, Disadvantages of Peer review, 2008).
Editor’s posses’ lots of decision making power who are very well connected by the author and referee. At times these authority possessed by the editors is misused. Many times their lots of omission by the editors and therefore, editors are often accused of arbitrarily rejecting manuscripts before they reach their readers (Anonymous, Disadvantages of Peer review, 2008).
Source of the researchers funding is one of the major conflicts of interest which needs to be spotted by the peer reviewers. However, the research is accepted if it follows all the researching protocols (Anonymous, Disadvantages of Peer review, 2008).
Peer reviews have no grading system and different journals have their own standards. This makes it difficult to rank and judge the expertise and quality of the editors and reviewers (Anonymous, Disadvantages of Peer review, 2008).
A consultant is hired by a company either during a time of distress or simply to improve an existing system. Very often it is due to the peer nature of the issue that an external source is required to solve it. A consultant has a lot of pressure to solve the problems that he/she has been asked to look into. A ‘Needs Assessment’ provides the consultant with insights to what he/she is going to deal with.
A thorough needs analysis is essential for a large-scale learning initiative to succeed. Needs assessment consultants will seamlessly work with your company to interview subject matter experts and other key stakeholders, diagnose the learning gaps and help you specify learning objectives that support your business goals.
Consultation is a very tricky job. When a consultant is asked to address an issue, the credibility of that consultant is at stake. Since the money involved is high, an organization expects the intervention to work wonders for them. It is the consultant’s job to collect the required information by using a technique that suits the organization and also the issue that is dealt with.
An issue can range from sales decline to rebellious employees to scandals. The test of choice depends upon the situation. A questionnaire can be used among the employees to get information about a sales drop, but a personal interview or focus group is required to address an issue such as a rebellion or a scandal.
The best practices that should be followed by the consultants with regard to prove efficient and effective for its clients are as follows:
First of all the consultants need to familiarize themselves with the work environment and the culture of its clients before deciding on the method of research.
The consultants need to have a different perception of its clients. Being bias would impact the performance and would hamper to analyze the problem effectively.
While conducting interviews the consultants need to give enough space to the informants so that they could gather as much information as possible. Once the informants are comfortable the core of the problem could be identified.
Proper mind mapping and stake holder analysis also gives a clear picture about the client and may help in further analysis of distortion which may be the reason of the clients’ issues.
The questionnaires should be easy to understand and should not lead to conclusions. In addition, the consultants need to avoid use of buzz words and should simplify the question for easy and better understanding of the participants.
I would like to conclude that needs assessment is one of the most important tools for the consultants as it helps for evaluate the situation and gives an insight of the organization. Needs assessment forms the foundation for resolving clients’ problems as it helps to reach the core of the problem instead of artificial makeovers. The outcome of the consultant’s intervention has tremendous impact due to the approach, method or techniques used for needs assessment. It is the nervous system which helps to rectify the cause of distorted heart beat of the organizations body.
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