A simple training needs assessment

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 18, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling, Collaboration

Susan Heathfield suggests a facilitated process to conduct a simple training needs assessment. The basic steps to Susan’s approach look like this (she explains them fully in her post):

  • get a group of people together who have similar jobs
  • each person writes down 10 training needs
  • each person calls out their training needs and facilitator writes them on a flip chart—no duplicates
  • the group votes on the needs they think are most important (using, for example, a dotmocracy)
  • the group then develops how they will implement the priorities
  • the facilitator should take note of each person’s first two training needs to see whether they are represented in the group decision

Obviously, as the same suggests, this is a simple training needs assessment but I would like to suggest a modification which illustrates a general point. People have difficulty listing what they know ‘off the top of their heads’. Sure, if you ask for 10 things you will most likely get 10, but it can be hard and only reflect what’s happening to you in that point of time. There is very little context to help you remember what you really know. The following maxim should be headed: we only know what we know when we need to know it.

So I would suggest people conduct a short anecdote circle (15–30 min) before they write their list of 10 training needs. The facilitator might ask a question like: when have you felt that you didn’t have the right level of skill to your best work or when have you felt the need for a new skill that would provide a marked improvement in productivity? This type of question is designed to elicit stories and as each person hears the stories of others they will remember things that will help them reflect on what training needs are really required.

Last year we conducted a much larger training needs assessment for the Department of Defence on the topic of occupational health and safety. Mark talks about some of the things we learned here. What stood out for me was the marked difference in the what we learned from people’s stories compared to what was gleaned using surveys.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Barb Krell says:

    Hi Shawn, I am facilitating a blended course in Human Resource Management and for the area of training & development was exploring for some interesting ways than the text book example of doing standard needs assessment.
    I concur with your reference to the need for context and the use of anecdotes would be most helpful, as well as a more palatable way for many individuals to express a “lack of knowledge/skill”….as even if individuals do “know what they need to know” in terms of their training needs- sometimes might not be willing to directly admit to a lack of knowledge/skill in this group setting…….

  2. Hi Barb, how are you doing the assessment? Always like to hear about new and interesting approaches.

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