L&D Challenges – A 9 Part Series: Challenge #1





9 Challenges You Must Address to

Enhance Your Company’s Skills Training Program

(For those in Operations, Process Improvement, HR or L&D)





In most United States corporations, there is an opportunity to systematically improve the development and delivery of skills upgrade training.  While many organizations have improved all or portions of the process, many have not.  Let’s look at an outdated, reactive model and then look at a more systematic and effective way to address each area where deficiency/opportunity exists.

The outdated process and pattern of developing and implementing training often goes something like this:

Supervisors and managers make a request for training. They tell you:

  • What training they want (a best guess about the topic and the content to include)
  • How they want it delivered (based on what is familiar – often instructor-led training)
  • When they want it delivered (there’s rarely enough lead time and not enough in the budget)

The training team:

  • Scrambles to find a SME for each topic and gather the content
  • Struggles to pull together a rough design and assemble the product
  • Realizes there’s not enough time or budget (and may reuse last year’s training)
  • Does the best it can to deliver the training

The results aren’t great, so the cycle repeats, paving the way for the almost inevitable emergency request, “I need training NOW on XZY!”

It’s a reactive, ineffective approach. How about we shift the paradigm to one that that addresses 9 Roadblocks to organizational skills improvement?



We would appreciate your perspective.  So, let us know:

  • your ranking of the above 9 from Most Important to Least Important in your organization (actual)
  • then send us your opinion on what the ranking should be.


To begin to advance this conversation (we hope it becomes one) each week we will provide our insight and recommendations about each roadblock above. This week we address:





Understanding What Training is Needed



The training needs assessment process is pretty much as it has been for years.  The ideas below are a guide to achieving an improvement in the training needs assessment process by moving to a more formalized process and a process that involves, as the starting point, perhaps surprisingly to many, the senior leadership at a company and at a site.


Detailed Thoughts:

Historically, the process of assessment was a variant of the following: ask front line supervisors where deficiencies existed in skills and then ask/gain input on the matter from front line employees.  The process was informal, with a focus on skill gaps existing now.


Two (2) new conditions for a successful training needs assessment process:

  • Get input from 3 stakeholder groups:
    • senior management (likely a new group)
    • training leaders and supervisors
    • employees
  • Define in writing a repeatable assessment process that will work in your organization


Getting Input from Three Stakeholder Groups

An effective training needs assessment process uncovers and balances the goals and needs and desires of business leaders, the training leaders, and learners.

For business leaders, the assessment should be based upon strategic and tactical expectations. A couple of question stated here provide an example.  (a) Will we be entering new channels with defined revenue expectations and what does that mean for the skills we need? (b) Will we be shortening the life of our products due to competitive or customers’ changing needs and how does that impact on skills required? (c) Will we be expecting share and revenue gains based upon improved products with zero defects and improved functional performance?   These types of strategic inputs from senior leadership are essential components of the assessment process as it links the knowledge, skill, and achievement gaps and goals to revenue expectations, improving the likelihood of defining tangible business value derived from training.

For training leaders, the assessment should focus their attention on important challenges the organization faces, including clearly understanding what training is needed and demonstrating the value of training based on the gaps it is designed to close and gaps that it has historically closed. Training leaders should also use the training needs assessment to challenge the existing methods, design and the quality of the training. Perhaps most importantly, if the leadership input above indicates significant challenges, then the training leaders must translate those goals, strategy changes, etc. into ideas and plans to address those inputs.

Learners can input what skills they know they are deficient in, but no one knows what they don’t know so training leaders must have the insight to find out that aspect of gaps in skill requirements. their work.


Define in Writing a Repeatable Assessment Process

The repeatable process should achieve the following:

  • Reveal meaningful business goals and the job roles that matter most to achieving those goals
  • Identify knowledge, skill, and performance gaps related to those goals
  • Identify and assess existing and available training.


Stage 1: Uncover the Goals and The Roles

Business Stakeholders are an important source for insights into organizational goals, strategic direction, the organization’s tolerance for risk/innovation, and decisions regarding priorities and potential trade-offs.

However, different stakeholders often have different goals which may be partly due to their role, organizational home, or functional goals. As such, engage multiple stakeholders so decisions are not guided by a single perspective and, as a result, inadvertently miss the mark. An effective training needs analysis finds an appropriate and reasonable balance among the stakeholders.

Stakeholders provide insights and guidance to establish:

  • Why something should be done
    • What are the organizational goals?
    • What obstacles stand in the way?
    • How will achievement be measured?
  • Who will be impacted?
    • Which role or roles are critical to achieving the goal or will be impacted by solving the problem?
  • What must change
    • What achievement must change and how?


Stage 2: Describe the Gaps in Business Terms

Employees have an important part to play in the training needs assessment process. Their input will focus on the work itself. They will describe the work when it is done at the highest level and provide insights into areas where there are issues and gaps.

When the training needs assessment process is properly structured and consistently applied, SMEs will be able to fully describe the requirements of the job, including:

  • Work outcomes and outputs
  • Process tasks
  • Important job-specific measures
  • Knowledge and skill requirements
  • Related gaps in knowledge, skill, and achievement

Many organizations have considerable documentation available that describe the roles, processes, and related accountabilities of each job. In addition, organizations often have actual performance data for the role or process, which can be used to highlight gaps and narrow the focus of the need’s assessment. Such data should be reviewed and evaluated and can be included in the assessment.


Stage 3: Assess Existing Training

Assess existing training to determine which training is “fit for use” and determine where needed training is missing.  Inventory the available training and be sure to look for the little-used or hard to find training. Assess each training product for how well it addresses the knowledge, skill, and work requirements and, in effect, how well it supports the business goals.

The benefit of this kind of assessment is that high-quality training will be retained, and poor or unneeded training will be eliminated, and marginal training can be improved.



A successful training needs assessment balances the goals of the organization, the learning function, and the learner and ensures the organization is focused on high-value and high-impact training initiatives. Once an effective training needs assessment is defined and then is complete, thoughtful training design decisions and content development activities can get underway.



About the Authors


Marty Abbott is one of the foremost experts on training grants and new jobs and retained jobs incentives, having over 20 years of experience in that area.

Contact him at marty.abbott@the-imgroup.com




Brian Blecke is a learning consultant and strategist with more than 25 years’ experience. As a founding partner of Actio Learning, he uses a diverse set of tools, models, and experiences to help his clients align learning outcomes to business goals, design innovative learning solutions, and create measurable achievement improvement.

Contact him at bblecke@actiolearning.com