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Why Needs Analyses are Critical for Corporate Training

You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try a comprehensive needs analysis before building your training and development program, you might find that you get what you need. The Rolling Stones—or whoever said that—knew what they were talking about. Corporate training is a serious tool designed to solve problems and meet business needs. But, how exactly do we determine what our learners need?

That’s where a needs analysis comes in. Essentially, it’s a process that maps out a path from your current state to your ideal state by revealing missing skills, motivating factors, and knowledge base. This is especially important in compliance training. For instance, in 2018, companies in the medical, financial, and internet sectors paid several billion dollars in compliance-related fines, most of which could have been prevented with targeted training supported by a needs analysis [1].

Identify the Performance Gap

This can be a complicated problem. Business analyses cover a myriad of objective measures, called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), that measure the success of a specific activity. For example, common KPIs for manufacturing might include:

  • Production downtime
  • Production volume
  • Material/Solution purity
  • Rate of return
  • Maintenance costs

These kinds of metrics give business analysts (and performance consultants) an objective representation of employee performance on-the-job. So, this is often a good place to start in a needs analysis.

Let’s look at an example. A pharmaceutical company that we’ll call CureAbility, uses a set of KPIs to measure the percentage of the final products rejected by quality control.  At each manufacturing facility, product managers must watch these KPIs closely to minimize financial loss and the risk of regulatory fines. At a quarterly audit, analysts found that the percentage of rejected products at three facilities had risen from about seven units per thousand to over 30 units per thousand over a period of six months. This is a big deal.

Initially, the global product quality team attributed the problem to poor regulation of raw materials. However, before retraining their supply chain managers, they called in a training consultant to conduct a needs analysis.

Map Behaviors to Goals

After finding the performance gaps, the next step – perhaps the most difficult – is to map them to employee behaviors. There are several elements to this mapping process, and many of them depend on the nature of the company’s business as well as the scale of the problem. Here are a few:

  • Directly observe employee work procedures
  • Compare current employee performance to industry benchmarks
  • Interview employees on their work processes and challenges
  • Interview managers about their business objectives and goal-setting methodologies
  • Conduct focus groups where managers and employees can voice their opinions and ideas
  • Look at any existing training to see which key topics it doesn’t cover

To meet the rejection KPIs at each facility, technicians must perform numerous tasks accurately, with great attention to detail. Several technicians are responsible for mixing drug product ingredients to precise specifications and monitoring equipment in each step of the process. If they lack attention to detail, the quality of the finished product will drop and the percentage of rejections will increase.

The analysts discovered this by directly observing how the technicians worked, setting up focus groups to evaluate previous training, interviewing production managers about company culture, and deploying anonymous surveys to gauge employee morale.

Design Corporate Training for Behavior Change

A fundamental goal of any kind of corporate training is to change learner behavior in a positive way. At CureAbility, the results of the needs analysis were shared with the training design team, who saw that targeted compliance training would be the best course to take.  The design team created several learning objectives for the training, framed around boosting the technicians’ knowledge of the mixing process and their adherence to quality assurance procedures. They also proposed training for managers, aimed at helping them foster a strong company culture of quality and precision.

A few months after deploying the training program, another audit found that the rejection KPIs had returned to their initial low level. CureAbility had reduced its risk of regulatory action due to quality issues.


It’s easy to look at a problem and throw training at it, but this isn’t reliable. You may miss the root of the problem. With a detailed needs analysis and a robust follow-through by the development team, your money won’t be wasted on misguided training.


[1] Compliance related fines