I use a technique I call the 360 Needs Assessment. This process involves asking questions at several levels within an organization. The idea is to separate the facts from the opinions. If I can triangulate information, I know that I have a fact, if I can’s substantiate it…well then more investigation is required. Or I know that the information is a minority opinion.
So, I first ask questions of the stakeholders:
- Why do you think this is a problem?
- Have you every tried to solve it before? How? What was the result?
- Why do you think training is the answer?
- If the problem is solved, describe the ideal state, the results, the outcome, your expectations.
- If the problem isn’t solved, what are the consequences?
- Did the employees ever know how to do this in the past?
- Do you think internal or external forces are causing the change.
Then I move to the employees impacted by the problem/challenge/potential training, I want to know if the stakeholders (usually management) know what is going on in the trenches (hint, they rarely do).I use similar questions but not always phrased as below.
- What do you think is causing the problem?
- What do you think is the solution to the problem?
- Are their incentives that drive you away from the desired goal?
- Is the environment conducive to your obtaining the desired outcome?
- Would training in XYZ solve this problem for you?
- Do you feel that you know how to perform the tasks that are required?
- What would you do to solve this problem?
- Have you ever seen this problem before? What was the attempt to solve it?
Then I move to managers of the employees:
- How long has this been a problem?
- Is it as "bad" or "good" as indicated by the stakeholders?
- Why aren’t employees performing (solving the problem?)
- What is the result on the customers or downstream employees?
- Is their another way (besides training) to solve this problem?
- Do you have the right people in place?
- What external or internal factors are contributing this is problem?
Next, I talk to downstream employees
- What problems do you encounter as a result of the performance upstream?
- What outputs would you like to see but are not getting from the upstream employees?
- Why do you think you are not getting what you need?
- How would you solve the problem?
- How often do you meet with employees upstream? (usually never)
- How do you have to compensate for the employees upstream?
Finally, I talk to the ultimate customers; usually they are outside of the organization. This is not always possible for many reasons but can be extremely insightful.
- Please rate the product/service/attention provided by organizations XYZ?
- What would you like to see improved?
- What is fantastic and that you don’t want to see change?
- How has performance changed over time?
- Is the organization responsive to your needs?
- What are your needs?
- How does organization XYZ understand what your needs are?
It does take a while with intense interviews, however, you can cram a number of interviews into a day or week and really get a feel for the answers after doing a half-a-dozen or so.
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